“It was a happy throng of fans who reluctantly made their exit through the gates at Federal Field yesterday afternoon and saw the doors close behind them for the last time this season, and it was a happy club that bade its constituents farewell as it boarded a train last night to begin its last campaign of an eventful year.”
–Buffalo Courier, September 9, 1915
Unbeknownst to those joyous fans, it would be almost 105 years before the Queen City would again welcome Major League Baseball to its temporary home in a field named for an iconic hotdog company (Sahlen’s) that may have been the brand consumed on that day long ago.
The year of 2020 has been anything but a normal so it only seems fitting that the Major Leagues return, albeit temporarily, to Buffalo in this year. On July 24, 2020, the Toronto Blue Jays announced that due to the COVID-19 pandemic and not being able to play in Toronto due to border restrictions they would make Sahlen Field in Buffalo, New York, their new home away from home for the 2020 Major League Baseball irregular season. While it has been the home to the Minor League Buffalo Bisons since 1988, this would be the first time since 1915 the city would host a Major League team.
With that announcement it seems fitting to take up pen to paper and look back 105 years to the summer of 1915 in Buffalo, a summer when baseball was king in the Queen City. Hosting the Bisons of the International League and the “Blues” or BufFeds as they were also called of the Federal League, it was a good summer for the national pastime. Among other highlights, it boasted a visit from the great Ty Cobb to Buffalo for an exhibition game against the Bisons, the farm club of his Detroit Tigers in July.
We can draw some parallels between the year 2020 and 1915. In this year we are struggling to find a new sense of normal. The pandemic has ravaged around the globe and forced many out of work and others to work from home. Instead of social gatherings of friends and family at the ballpark or the local bar or at a friend’s BBQ, we are forced into being socially distant and friends have become Zoom companions as we all wonder what may come next for our nation and our world. In 1915 the world was in its second year of World War One. While the United States did not join the conflict until 1917, it weighed heavily on the minds of the country, including here in Buffalo, as each newspaper splashed the headlines of the war on the first page. 1915 saw the first instance of aerial combat and the first use of poison gas as a weapon of mass destruction. In a parallel between 2020 and 1915, Pluto was first photographed on March 19, 1915, and at that point was not classified as a planet. In the year 2020, the jury is still out on whether Pluto is truly a planet or a mere planetoid.
So as we look forward to the rest of the summer here in Western New York, I want to take a look back each week with professional baseball and the world. In the current time, the Toronto Buffalo Blue Jays will begin play on August 11, 2020. As we follow them in the dog days of August, we will follow the Federal League’s Buffalo “Blues”. On August 11, 1915, they would lose to the St. Louis Terriers at Federal League Field 8-0. What will be the fate of the Jays at Sahlen’s Field on August 11, 2020?
As we follow the exploits of Toronto’s Vlad Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio, we will learn the stories of “Prince” Hal Chase, “Emery Board” Russ Ford, and the immortal Tyrus Cobb playing here…on his day off. We will also gaze through the looking glass of time and view our city 105 years ago and the lives of its inhabitants.
Lead image: 1935 Buf-Feds teams, whose nickname were the Blues. They were the last major league baseball team to play regular season games here until August 11, 2020 when the Toronto Blue Jays hosted the Miami Marlins. (Photo courtesy of The John Boutet Collection, Grand Island, N.Y.)
Paul Langendorfer is an avid sports fan with a deep passion for the National Pastime, especially when it comes to the New York Yankees. Born and raised in Buffalo, New York, Paul holds a B.A. from Canisius College, a M.A. from the University of Colorado at Denver. He is the author of the book Baseball in Buffalo. His current project is a contributor to the Seasons of Buffalo Baseball 1857-2020 book, which is being published by Billoni Associates Publishing and is due to be released in October. Paul currently resides in Buffalo with his wife and two children.