When Babe Ruth was a young, 19-year-old breaking into baseball in 1914, the first game he pitched as a professional was against the Buffalo Bisons in in Baltimore. Pitching for the Orioles, Ruth shut out the Bisons on that day, 6-0.
In fact, The Buffalo Courier’s headline on the game read “Orioles’ Back Lot Pitcher Proves too Good for the Bisons.” It’s just one of Ruth’s surprising ties to Buffalo baseball, which boasts its own rich and unique history from its professional roots in the late 1800s to the Toronto Blue Jays playing their home games in the Queen City over the summer.
It’s all covered in “The Seasons of Buffalo Baseball 1857-2020,” a collaborative effort featuring James Overfield, whose father, Joseph Overfield, wrote “100 Seasons of Buffalo Baseball” in 1985. The new book picks up where Joseph Overfield’s left off, covering baseball in Buffalo right up until the Toronto Blue Jays played their final game in Buffalo.
“My father had plans to revamp and update his book,” James Overfield, a retired history professor at the University of Vermont, said. “Sadly, he passed in 2000 before he got to it.”
During the fall of 2016, Overfield came across a box in his basement in Vermont full of The Bison Gram, a Buffalo Bisons publication that came out four times a year from the late 1980s to the early 1990s. Overfield’s father was a contributor to the publication, covering the history of baseball in Buffalo. Finding the box was the push Overfield needed to consider revamping his father’s book.
“From that discovery, it was only a matter of time before I decided to take on my father’s book editing and writing challenge,” he said. “The end result is an expanded 400-page book, with more than 150 black and white and color photographs, cartoons and images.”
Overfield originally intended to publish his father’s Bison Gram articles as a book. A conversation with Buffalo native Paul Langendorfer, who published a photo book titled “Baseball in Buffalo” in 2017, pushed Overfield to do more.
“He said, ‘Hey, why don’t we go further, and not only publish the articles, but update your dad’s book,’” Overfield said. “That’s how the plan started percolating in our minds.”
Michael Billoni, the one-time general manager of the Bisons, was brought into the mix as well, Overfield said. He took on the role of project manager, assistant editor and publisher of the book.
“A key step was contacting Mike Billoni,” Overfield said. “He knows a lot of the baseball folks in and around Buffalo.”
For Billoni, the book represents the quintessential telling of Buffalo’s baseball history. Billoni was also involved in Overfield’s father’s book.
“I have been doubly blessed as I worked closely with Joe Overfield on the original ‘100 Seasons of Buffalo Baseball’ book and now, 35 years later, we are announcing an update of that book with his son, Jim,” Billoni said. “I know Joe and the other original members of our Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame Committee are smiling down upon us with great pride.”
Brian Frank, who runs the Herd Chronicles website on Buffalo baseball history, also contributed to the book, Overfield said.
“He's probably the one person who's closest to filling the shoes of my dad,” he said. “He is intensely interested in this stuff and knows a lot and has done a lot of good work.”
The original book consisted of three parts: Year-by-year summaries, features on players and stats for every player to play in Buffalo professionally. The latter has been dropped from the new book as that information is now available on the internet. Back when the original book came out, that wasn't the case.
“He collected all the stats from old baseball publications, baseball guidebooks and by going through old Buffalo newspapers,” Overfield said.
The timing of the book allowed Overfield to include the 2020 Toronto Blue Jays and their stint of home games this summer at Sahlen Field. Along with Ruth, Hank Aaron is mentioned in the book for his ties to Buffalo baseball, as is Vlad Guerrero Jr., who spent time last year with the Bisons before playing here again with the Jays. Fans, famous vendors, mascots and memorable games are also covered.
The book is also an opportunity for Overfield to continue his father’s mission of making Buffalo’s fascinating baseball history available to everyone.
“The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree,” he said, adding that he still has emotional ties to the region and the sports teams here. “The idea of continuing the work, or in essence, completing it, was very satisfying.”
“The Seasons of Buffalo Baseball 1857-2020” will be available in November, and can be preordered at www.milb.com/buffalo/fans/seasons-of-buffalo-baseball.