Three decades before Houston became a major league city it was a minor league icon—the Houston Buffaloes won the Texas League championship in 1931. Managed by Joe Schultz, a former National League journeyman with a career batting average of .285, the Buffs—a minor league team for the Cardinals organization—compiled a dominant 108-51 record.
Buff Stadium was the hub of Houston’s baseball universe. In the 2013 book Deep in the Heart: Blazing A Trail From Expansion To World Series, Bill Brown and Mike Acosta recognized the stadium’s cutting edge quality. “Close to the University of Houston, it was considered a state-of-the-art ballpark by minor league standards and it featured a Spanish-style tiled roof entryway,” wrote Brown and Acosta. “Buff Stadium became known as a pitcher’s park, measuring 344 feet to the left field line, 434 to center and 323 to right with 12-foot walls.”
Houston’s ’31 team placed #42 on Minor League Baseball’s list of the Top 100 teams. On MILB’s web site, Bill Weiss and Marshall Wright described the path to success for the ’31 Buffs, which conquered the Texas League competition in a byzantine schedule. “In the first half of the 1931 season, which ended June 30, Houston and Beaumont finished tied for first with 50-30 marks, wrote Weiss and Wright. “The league constitution prescribed how the tie was to be broken. Five second-half contests were designated as playoff games. They also counted in the second half standings.”
Houston captured the first half of the season, then tore through the Texas League in the second half with a 58-21 record, which provided a cushion of 14 games ahead of Beaumont, the team with the next best record.
Two future Hall of Famers played for the Buffaloes—Joe Medwick and Dizzy Dean.
Indefatigable, Dean plowed through Houston’s 1931 Texas League competition with his speed. In the 1992 biography Diz: The Story of Dizzy Dean and Baseball During the Great Depression, Robert Gregory wrote, “It was also at Ft. Worth that he pitched his first doubleheader of the season. On June 29, he said, ‘If I beat ’em in the first game, I might as well go ahead and pitch the second.’ He won both, 12-3 and 3-0. The next night, he relieved in the first inning with the bases loaded and nobody out. He struck out the side—and stayed on to pitch eight innings more, went 4 for 4 at bat, stole a base, and said, ‘Shoot no,’ when somebody asked if he was tired after three games in two days. ‘I’ll pitch tomorrow if they want me to.'”
Dean’s dominance resulted in a 26-10 record and 1.57 Earned Run Average.
Nicknamed “Ducky” for his gait, the 19-year-old Medwick hit .305 in 1931. He got called up to the Cardinals in the middle of the ’32 season, played in 26 games, and compiled a .349 batting average for the season. It was just the beginning of an amazing career that ended with a .324 batting average, nearly 2,500 hits, and an MVP Award.
The Baseball Hall of Fame web site states, “Though Medwick could hit for power, it didn’t come at the expense of his ability to put the bat to the ball, as he never struck out more than 100 times in a season. He was a well-rounded hitter, capable of going outside of the strike zone to drive in runs when needed.”
In the 1931 Dixie Series, the Buffaloes faced the Birmingham Barons, champions of the Southern Association. With the series tied at three games apiece, Dean started Game Seven. His prowess on the mound was not enough, however. Birmingham won 6-3 to capture the Dixie Series crown. Dean told reporters, “I thought I had too much speed, but they’re a good bunch of boys and got to me.”
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 17, 2015.