WHAT’S NEW, HARRY? November 29,1980
(Preamble by Chris Wendel) Several things happened to me today that led to the reprint of this 1980 Phil Ranallo column. First was reading a Facebook post discussing the concept of an outdoor stadium in downtown Buffalo. Next was a friend (who grew up in LA) asking me why Buffalo never had a major league baseball team. The last was seeing this column in a pile of papers in my office. This column has a little of everything: The questioning of Ralph Wilson’s motives, discussion of a stadium that could breathe life into an ailing downtown, and the prospect of major league baseball in Buffalo. Enjoy this work from “Courier Express” sportswriter Phil Ranallo:
Last weekend’s happening — the influx of out-of-towners and their two-fisted spending — served as a fine example of what a big league baseball franchise could do for our town.
Revelation that the invasion of all those Steeler faithful may have had as much as a $l-million economic impact
on the community had to open a lot of eyes.
I’m talking about the eyes of all — the city and county fathers’— as well as the residents of the area, many of whom have long opposed construction of a stadium suitable for major league baseball.
WHAT TRANSPIRED last weekend —-the business the visitors brought to our hotels, motels, restaurants, taverns, etc.—could be the greatest possible advertisement for construction of a baseball stadium in downtown Buffalo.
It should provide the Erie County Sports Board with, ammunition in its fight for such a facility.
Perhaps Ralph Wilson had all this in mind when he made the decision to hustle tickets in Pennsylvania for the Bills-Steelers game.
It’s my guess that Wilson would do anything in his power to help Buffalo build a downtown stadium and land a big league ball club.
I’m sure Ralph isn’t averse to a big league baseball team being located here and competing for the Buffalo sports entertainment dollar.
LAST WEEKEND’S goings-on were unique for a regular season pro football game. Almost all the fans, generally speaking, hail from the area represented by the home team.
Not so, though, in, baseball.
A baseball team with its long home stands, does something that neither a pro football team nor a hockey team does. A baseball team attracts fans from hundreds of miles.
Many of these fans spend theirvacation time or weekends in the baseball town. They stay in your hotels and motels, dine in your restaurants, shop in your department stores, patronize your theaters, etc.
Why, a big league baseball club performing in a beautiful stadium at the Crossroads would even lure people from suburban Buffalo to the central city.
PERSONALLY, I feel that construction of a new downtown stadium — to accommodate a, major league baseball team would ‘be the most progressive step this community could take.
It would be good for some of the things that are ailing Buffalo — terrific for the city is economic growth and the attractiveness of the downtown area.
With major-league baseball as part of our Buffalo life, sports fans would have somewhere to go during this community’s current sports-dry months — from May to September.
They’d have a baseball club to root for — something that would put a little fun in their lives.
And at reasonable prices, since baseball — unlike pro football and hockey does not turn the pockets of its customers inside-out
THE SAD PART of all this is, it could have happened here in Buffalo long ago. Your newspaper the Courier Express thumped the tubs for a downtown stadium in the late 60’s and early 70’s.
And it definitely would have happened, had it not been for those certain people in certain quarters.
Our head-in-the-sand leaders, men with lack of foresight, acquiesced to the dictates of those selfish certain people!
They built Wilson his 80,000-seat football-only stadium in Orchard Park and thereby slammed the major-league baseball door on Buffalo —and for that baseball fans in Montreal and Toronto will be forever grateful.
Those Canadian cities landed big league baseball franchises, either of which could have been Buffalo’s — if we had the proper leadership.
THE COMMUNITY’S current leaders may get the chance to correct the colossal blunders of their predecessors.
The economic impact the visitors from Pennsylvania had on this area last week should enable our leaders to provide the state with a strong argument for state funding of a new stadium in downtown Buffalo.
By Chris Wendel
Is it just me or is this a trying time to be a Buffalo sports fan? The Sabres dropped another one goal game last night, the Bills teased us last week by almost beating the Baltimore Ravens (a team that many pundits think is the league’s best), and the UB Bulls are in their own downward spiral.
Along with the disappointing performances is the haunting backdrop of random rumors that the Bills are already being peddled to Los Angeles or some other growing warm weather megalopolis. The following scenario was thrown out as part of the conversation yesterday by a fan commenting on a local Buffalo blog:
“…, let me help you on your investigative reporting of the NFL owners’ conspiracy to steal the Bills and install them in LA since you seem to be taking some time. The financing for the new stadium in LA is set and between one of two parties. All they are waiting for is the NFL team to be named which will be the Bills. Once the Bills are named, the stadium will be finalized and for the first 2-3 years while the stadium is being built the Bills will play in the LA Coliseum and then move to the new stadium. The front runner is Ed Roski, owner of Majestic Commercial Realty and who owns the land the stadium will be built on. Tim Leiweke, president of AEG Sports, is also competing, wants to convert part of the LA Convention Center into a downtown NFL stadium. As soon as Ralph passes on, sources have it the owners have already promised Wilson and his daughters they will be paid in cash for market value, and will see to it no other offers surface to keep the Bills in WNY.”
Within the context of a blog comment one wants to dismiss such random nonsense as fiction. Unless the local Western New York media outlets are too financially strapped to explore this LA storyline, it almost has to be treated as conjecture. Still these kinds of conspiracy theory comments get my attention, leaving me a Buffalo fan with foreboding emotions ranging from naïve denial to chronic paranoia.
by Chris Wendel
After finally deciding to place this year’s quarterback hopes on the back of Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Buffalo Bills today released Trent Edwards. At the same time the Bills are plenty of showing potential to secure the worst record in the NFL and the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. The departure of Edwards highlights one of many glaring problems for a franchise that is irrelevant in NFL discussions outside of Western New York.
Edwards, a third round pick out of Stanford in the 2007 draft (by the way, a dud of a draft for quarterbacks) never emerged as a leader and the Bills offense languished in ineffectiveness.
Looking ahead it will be interesting to see the Bills have the opportunity to draft Andrew Luck another quarterback from Stanford. Luck will come in the NFL with a lot more hype and talent than Edwards. All of this begs several other questions:
- Will the Bills pony up the money for a first overall quarterback, similar to the six year $86 million deal Sam Bradford recently signed with the St. Louis Rams?
- How will the impending NFL labor dispute affect the 2011 Bills draft?
- Should the Bill take a high first round pick and choose a top notch offensive or defensive lineman instead of a quarterback?
For now the thought of another Stanford quarterback quarterbacking the Bills may be tough to consider.
By Tim Wendel
Good to see the Blackhawks end 49 years of frustration by capturing Lord Stanley’s Cup. I’ve always enjoyed the Hawks, especially after doing a children’s book with Stan Mikita a few years ago. And I’ll admit it — I’ve never forgiven Philadelphia for taking out the Sabres in 1975. Yes, I was at the famous “fog game.”
But as I watched the improbable ending to this season’s playoffs, an overtime goal by native son Patrick Kane that hardly anybody saw, I couldn’t help but wonder, when is our time going to come?
After all, Buffalo sports haven’t won a title since the Bills in 1965. (I don’t count teams other than the big four.) Certainly it’s high time the losing streak came to an end. Still, when I consider the state of the Bills and even the Sabres, we may be a while longer in the wilderness.
The success of the book “Buffalo, Home of the Braves” began long before it was published, with the establishment of a strong online presence. We started our internet work with A Bigger Voice, a community-building organization out of Colorado and continued drawing interest through the book’s writing, editing, and publishing phases, finding those who fondly remember the “Golden Era of Buffalo Sports” of the 1970’s, when Western New York had three viable professional sports franchises.
A few days ago we formed a Facebook Group Page that has quickly gained over 250 followers and has sparked more discussion about Buffalo’s sports history. Along the way we’ve sold quite a few books, and continue to find a loyal audience of folks who like us, grew up attending Sabres and Braves games at the Aud.
Through our blog site Buffalo Nation and other related sites we’ll continue the dialogue. Look for a new book related to that “Golden Era in Buffalo Sports” that will be released later this year. More on that soon.
My initial reaction to the Buffalo Bills’ naming Chan Gailey as their new head coach? I flash-backed to Lowell “Cotton” Fitzsimmons.
But as I watch the dysfunctional Bills unravel, I’m reminded of the final season of the Braves in Buffalo, when Fitzsimmons was coach. The team went 3-10 in December, 3-9 in January and 3-10 in February in 1977-1978, en route to a dismal 27-55 record. By that point, season ticket sales, including partial plans, had fallen to 2,400. Soon after the year ended, with a 131-114 defeat to Boston, the Braves left Western New York. With John Y. Brown wheeling and dealing, the franchise was swapped with the Boston Celtics and sent west to become the Los Angeles Clippers.
“I think Buffalo got a raw deal as far as the NBA,” Fitzsimmons told my friend Pete Weber years later. “I enjoyed everything Buffalo. What I feel bad about is the franchise … I guess I’ve got to take credit for folding the franchise.”
That brings me back to Chan Gailey. Will he singing the same tune when the Bills leave town? Everyone knows the Bills are in big trouble, seemingly destined to end up in Los Angeles or Toronto or another larger market.
Ironically, if you compare the Braves’ coaches and the Bills’ coaches, the spiral downward is remarkably similar. Both had Hall of Fame coaches, followed by pretenders when the teams desperately needed to win. The Braves’ high-water mark coincided with Jack Ramsay. He was followed by Tates Locke, Bob MacKinnon, Joe Mullaney and Fitzsimmons.
The Bills haven’t been the same since Hall of Famer Marv Levy left after the 1997 season. Those who tried to fill his shoes include Wade Phillips, Gregg Williams, Mike Mularkey, Dick Jauron and now Gailey.
Buffalo fans better pray the Bills’ new guy can make the team competitive. If not, we could be looking at the Braves’ scenario all over again, with Gailey telling us years later how the Niagara Frontier deserved better.
by Chris Wendel
Many of us watched is disbelief this week at the surreal scene in Knoxville with Lane Kiffin making the quick exit to LA to replace Pete Carroll at USC. Kiffin’s career path has a Forrest Gump bent to it, parlaying a dismal stay with the Oakland Raiders and a mediocre one season record of 7-6 into a the head coaching spot with USC.
Hidden in the hijinx that ensued with Kiffin this week was the University of Michigan’s announcement that John Beilein signed a long-term contract as the school’s basketball coach. While Kiffin’s departure from Tennessee was ridiculed, some might say that it is no different from Beilein’s job changing pattern.
I bring up Beilein because of his Buffalo area roots. Born and raised in Niagara County’s orchard country (Burt to be exact), Beilein has the distinction of progressing from high school coach to head coach in the Big Ten Conference without ever being an assistant coach.
There is a marked difference between Beilein and Kiffin, however. Since Beilein began coaching in 1976 at Newfane (N.Y.) H.S.), his average stay at one position is about five years, and it would be fair to say that every school he left had a basketball program that was in better shape then when he arrived.
Kiffin’s one-and-done season at Tennessee could be justified by his narrow window of opportunity to accept his “dream job” at USC, but he has to realize how making that choice radically changes how the press and public view his coaching loyalty. The disarray left in Knoxville and the Vol’s inability to secure Kiffin’s replacement is rivaled only by the Buffalo Bills’ ongoing coaching search.
Somehow I felt that Beilein’s acceptance of a new contract means that he’s in Ann Arbor for the long-term. Time will tell if Michigan made the right choice with Beilein, my hunch is that they did.