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Eulogy for the Buffalo Braves, What have we Learned?

October 24, 2011 Leave a comment

NFL President Roger Goodell paid a visit to Buffalo last week, mentioning that improvements to Ralph Wilson Stadium (to the tune of $100 million) would enhance the chances of Western New York keeping the Bills. Setting up a showdown between taxpayers, ownership, and the NFL, the scenario is somewhat reminiscent of the Buffalo Braves departure in 1978, captured in this vintage column written by legendary “Courier Express” writer Phil Ranallo.

What’s New, Harry   July 11, 1978

SINCE IT’S HIGHLY DEBATABLE whether a city really needs a professional basketball team – or any pro sports club, for that matter – it can hardly be argued that Buffalo is about to be swept down the drain now that the basketball Braves are gone.

Nevertheless, it’s safe to say that the loss of the Braves – from Buffalo– is a giant step backward.

Personally, I find myself in deep mourning. The death of the Braves has depressed me. It’s as if I’ve lost a close friend. No kidding. I’m tempted to affix a black band to my right coat sleeve.

The Braves were dear to me because I have long been hooked on the sport of pro basketball. I enjoyed watching the Braves play – lose or win.

They were also dear to me for a selfish reason. I enjoyed writing about them, and their presence in Buffalo made my job easier, since Randy Smith and Co. afforded me with material with which I managed to pound out 50-to-75 columns a year.

During the club’s eight years in existence in Buffalo, I grew to regard the Braves as one of our community’s symbolic institutions. On my list, the Braves ranked right up there – a couple of spots ahead of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

I FELT THAT the departure of the Braves could possibly do economic damage to the city. I felt that their loss might even have an extremely harmful psychological impact on our town.

Now, though, I’m not so sure – about the psychological impact, I mean

Four days have passed the day of infamy – since the NBA club-owners stripped Buffalo of its franchise and rewarded John Y. Brown for his ruinous ownership of the Braves by giving him the votes to move the team and, in effect, the right to thumb his nose at Buffalo.

Four days have passed since the NBA owners, by a 21-1 vote, deemed Buffalo unworthy of a major-league basketball team after eight years of membership in the NBA.

Yet, in Buffalo, from my vantage point, not too many folks seem to care.

There has been little weeping at the death of the Braves – and almost no gnashing of teeth.

THE REACTION OF Buffalonians boggles the mind. Save for diehards who didn’t seem to be stronger in number than a corporal’s guard, the reaction to the death of the Braves has been a giant yawn – or a two-word comments, “Good riddance.”

I got the feeling that if they ran a referendum asking the townspeople if they wanted the NBA bosses to change their minds and keep the Braves in Buffalo, half would say, “Tell me what the Braves are and I’ll tell you if I want to keep them here.”

Included among those whose reaction was a big yawn are the leaders of this town – the politicians who operated out of city hall.

Amazing!

The city’s leaders told us, a while back, that they were ready to take John Y. Brown and the NBA to court – if the league decided to strip Buffalo of the basketball team.

Well, now that the stripping has been done, they’ve changed their minds.

THE CITY’S LEADERS have decided that it’s best not to fight – that it’s better to roll over and play dead, better not to make a peep. They feel that a long, drawn-out court battle would be too expensive for the taxpayers.

They also decided not to go to court – and get this – because they felt that such an action would discourage any future investor from considering Buffalo as the site of a new NBA franchise.

In my view, Buffalo’s refusal to put up its dukes and fight Brown and the NBA will have the opposite effect on future NBA investors when they’re shopping for cities.

I mean, forget Buffalo as a future NBA town – at least in this century.

After all, would you pick for your new NBA club a city that once had a team, but failed show enough interest to fight to keep it?

The city leaders also decided not to fight, it has been reported, because of the about-face the local investors did when head-counting time came.

DURING THE THREE-MONTH period in which John Brown hedge hopped the nation, in search of a new city for the Braves, the city leaders reported time and again that there were several local investors ready to come forward and make a pitch to buy the Braves – if Brown was in a selling mood.

Although no names were mentioned, some of the city leaders – with their constant talk of numerous investors – had me believing there were more Buffalo people trying to buy the Braves than went to games last season.

But when show-time came – when the zero-hour arrived and it became time for the local investors to stand up and be counted – all of the investors remained seated.

The reaction of the guys and gals in this town to the loss of the Braves – as well as the reaction of the city leaders – has got to lead a man to conclude that John Y. Brown is one of the sharpest cookies in the sports world.

JOHN BROWN’S GAME plan was a perfect one. For three months, he drove everybody batty, with his courting of city after city – to the point where everybody had him and Braves up to here.

Then he pulled off his stupendous deal.

And nobody as much as hollered, “Foul.”

Nobody cared where he went as long as he went and they got him out of their hair.

Yes, sir, Brown’s game plan worked to perfection.

Remembering Roger Crozier

April 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Roger Crozier, circa 1972

Tonight the Buffalo Sabres will have a fan appreciation night featuring the return of over 75 Sabre alumni players. Unfortunately the impressive list will not include Roger Crozier, Buffalo’s standout goalie from the 1970’s.

Crozier passed away in 1996 after a stellar career that included a Conn Smythe Trophy (the first player to earn the award on a losing team in the Stanley Cup Finals) with the Detroit Red Wings in 1967 and induction into the Sabres Hall of Fame in 1980.

Phil Ranallo, veteran writer of the “Buffalo Courier Express” newspaper brilliantly recounts Crozier’s  performance during the 1972-73 season in his morning column: “What’s New, Harry?”.

In a style that made him a staple at Western New York breakfast tables for decades, Ranallo describes that coming of age season and Crozier’s appreciation for the Sabres team assembled by General Manager Punch Imlach, and defenseman Tim Horton, who watched Crozier’s back that season.

WHAT’S NEW, HARRY?

Phil Ranallo, February 22,1973

AT LAST, LIFE IS beautiful for Roger Crozier or almost as beautiful as life can get for a fellow who holds down one of the most terrifying and dangerous jobs in the world of fun and games.

For the first two years of the existence of the Buffalo Sabres, Crozier stood smack-dab in the center of the bull’s-eye. The cat-quick goaltender was the Sabres’ first line of defense.

Pucks, pucks, pucks, pucks, an endless barrage of rock-hard pucks was fired at him. Tending goal for the Sabres was like being positioned at the wrong end of things in a shooting gallery.

Roger survived those two frightening years; but ended up with more lumps and bruises than a guy who had picked an argument with a cement mixer – while inside the cement mixer. It was enough to give a fellow a nervous twitch.

THIS SEASON, THOUGH–heaven, at last! Players still swarm in on Crozier with sticks in their hands and knives on their feet. But the Sabres have taken some of the pressure off “No. 1,” the gutsy guy who resides in “No-Man’s Land”, the crease, that oblong area in front of the net.

“Yes, Life is a lot easier on me now,” says Crozier, who in his 13-year career has collected numerous badges of his trade-three broken jaws, one broken nose, one broken cheekbone and facial crocheting that adds up to “maybe 300 stitches.”

“It’s easier because we’re a good hockey team now. We’ve come ‘quite far quite fast because of the great job management has done-Punch Imlach and Joe Crozier.

“At the beginning of the season, when we went through 10, games unbeaten, we didn’t really know how good we were, and wondered whether we were just lucky.

“NOW THAT WE’VE GONE through 60 games, it’s different. We know we’re not a flash-in-the-pan team, We think we’re as good a hockey club as there is in the league-with the exception of Montreal, maybe.”

Then Crozier spoke of the Sabre defense and paid special tribute to Buffalo’s geriatric marvel Tim Horton, the 43·year-old Sabre who is making his mark as hockey’s George Blanda.

“I’d watched Horton play for years, but never realized how good a defenseman he is. I didn’t appreciate him (until I played behind him.

“Nobody takes the puck away from Tim in the corners and nobody can check him in front of the net, He’s unbelievably strong, He’s great at getting the puck out of ‘our end of the rink,”

THE CONVERSATION SWUNG back to goaltending and Crozier confessed that he does not regard it as the greatest job in the world-or in hockey. He mentioned the pressure of being the last line of defense pressure that gnaws at a goalie’s stomach-literally in Crozier’s case, since he is prone to attacks of pancreatitis.

“If a forward or a defenseman is playing badly,” Crozier said, “he gets a chance to go to the bench and get re-organized. But a goalie has to stay out there-and it’s murder on him when he’s having a bad night.”

Crozier said he has one fear-the fear that he will play a bad game, “It’s the same-fear every goalie has when he first hits the ice-because he can’t be sure if he’s going to be good or bad.”

SO WHY DID CROZIER become a goalie? “When I was a kid, goaltending seemed like a pretty good idea,” he explained, “I worked at it hard and the first thing I knew it was the only position I could play with ability.”

“If I had my choice over again, though, if I could go back and start all over again, I’d be a forward or a defenseman-for sure,”

Sabre fans are happy that Roger Crozier, the great goaltender with the marvelous moves, does not have that choice.  Tonight, when the Sabres meet the Vancouver Canucks in Memorial Auditorium, could be a special night in the life of Roger Crozier. Roger could reach a milestone, if he makes 26 saves, he’ll reach the 4,000 save plateau as a Sabre goaltender. That’s more than half-ton of vulcanized rubber he has kept out of the net in less than three years.

Remarkable.

 

Ranallo’s account portrays unlikely rise of Randy Smith

February 18, 2011 2 comments

As the NBA All-Star Weekend approaches, we go back in the way-back machine to 1978. In the Braves’ final year in Buffalo and his team in a state of disarray, Randy Smith took the nation by storm and was voted the All-Star game’s Most Valuable Player. The game featured several amazing shots by Smith who had joined the Braves in its early years after being selected as a 7th round draft choice in 1971.

Phil Ranallo, veteran writer of the “Buffalo Courier Express” newspaper brillantly recounts Smith’s stellar performance in his morning column: “What’s New, Harry?”. Ironically, the Braves’ coach at the time, Cotton Fitzsimmons, had doubts about Smith’s abilities, especially in clutch situations. In a style that made him a staple at Western New York breakfast tables, Ranallo recounts not just Smith’s All-Star performance, but also the unlikely path that brought him there.

WHAT’S NEW, HARRY?

Phil Ranallo, February 7, 1978

   LET’S ALL HOPE THAT Cotton Fitzsimmons was paying close attention Sunday afternoon as Randy Smith – with the world watching – did everything with the basketball but take the air out of it.

   If Fitzsimmons was all eyes as Randy transformed the NBA All-Star game into “The Randy Smith Show,” Cotton’s worries are all over – at least in any future critical late-game situations the Braves may find themselves.

   I’m willing to bet that, from this moment on, whenever the Braves are in desperate need of a field goal in the dying seconds of a basketball match, Fitzsimmons will know exactly what to do.

   I mean, Cotton will do the logical thing.

   He’ll order Randy to take one of those high-percentage shots of his, one of those dazzling high-arching 35-footers – the kind that way, way up there, gather a little snow, then come down and go, “Swish!”

   What Randy Smith did Sunday, in the Atlanta Omni, is straight out of Frank Merriwell – or straight out of the wildest dreams of little kids who go to bed with their arms wrapped around a basketball.

   And what Smith did – what happened to him in the Omni – could not have happened to a more deserving fellow.

   FOR A LONG TIME now, Randy Smith has been one of the best basketball players in the business. And for an equally long time, all he ever got in the plaudits or recognition department – beyond the city limits of Buffalo – was the business.

   Despite the fact that talent oozes from his every pore, what Randy always received from pro basketball America was short shrift.

   In the balloting for this All-Star game, for example, Smith failed to make it among the top 10 guards in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. He picked up fewer votes than Al Lorenzo did in the last Democratic mayoral primary.

   Smith went into this game a veritable unknown basketball soldier.

   But Randy came out of this game a basketball guard of the highest rank, a celebrated hero, a basketball darling – a guy who, figuratively, was carried out of the arena on the shoulders of pro basketball America.

   USING THE OMNI AS his headquarters, Randy introduced himself to the pro basketball world – “Hello, all of you out there in basketball land; my name’s Randy Smith; I’m quite a pro basketball player; so watch and I’ll prove it.”

   Smith, in this All-Star match, showed ‘em all what he really is – a shooting star of breathtaking dimensions.

   With a wondrous, spellbinding demonstration of long-range firing, Smith, the city slicker from the East, won the West.

   Smith, the basketball pride of Buffalo, buried the West in a blizzard of baskets.

   Fittingly, the play on which Smith climaxed his 11-basket performance was his piece de resistance. It left the folks in the Omni – and in television land – gasping.

   The play was vintage Randy Smith.

   Randy stole the ball and dealt it to Julius Erving – and Erving shot and missed. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Smith appeared, leaped, grabbed the rebound, put up a 15-footer and – “Swish!”

    SO NOW THAT THIS All-Star game is history, Randy Smith no longer is a Rodney Dangerfield of pro basketball – no longer is a guy who commands no respect from the nation’s basketball fans.

   They now know exactly who Randy Smith is – a sleek, quicksilver fellow with a marvelous outside jump shot and incredibly fast hands that can catch flies in mid-air and steal hubcaps off speeding automobiles.

   The fans now know that if there’s anything faster than Smith’s hands, it’s his feet.

    It was Smith’s blazing speed, by the way, that gave him his chance in pro basketball.

    Seven years ago, after the Braves drafted Smith seventh in the draft, Randy’s chances of making the Buffalo squad were regarded as slimmer than slim.

    Until he took one of Coach Dolph Schayes’ agility tests.

    THE FIRST DAY they passed out the uniforms that season, back in 1971, Smith popped the eyes of Schayes and the rest of the Braves brass with his performance in the agility drill.

   In this drill, the players ran from one end of the line of the court to quarter-court and back, then to half-court and back, then to three-quarter court and back, and finally to the other end line and back.

   Well, when Randy completed that first agility drill, his closest pursuer still hadn’t made it to the other end of the court.

    Randy was so much the best, so much the fastest, that he could have showered before the second guy got home.

    Right then and there, Schayes and the rest of the Braves people – Eddie Donovan, John McCarthy and Joe Niland – made up their minds.

  “For a kid with this kind of speed,” Schayes said, “there’s got to be a place on the squad.”

   SO RANDY SMITH stuck with the Braves. And now, today, fans everywhere know who he is and why guards who guard him run the risk of going cross-eyed – since it sometimes seems that there are three of him.

   Randy Smith, the fellow who for seven years, night after night, has played beautiful music out there on the basketball court – the guy who has conducted, composed, arranged – has finally been allowed to make all the curtain calls, instead of somebody else.

   Sunday afternoon, in the Atlanta Omni, justice was served.

For more on the Braves see the book “Buffalo, Home of the Braves” which features a comprehensive team history and over 260 vintage photos.

As Aud falls author recalls rise of Braves

July 5, 2010 Leave a comment
Note: It’s been over a year since the release of the book Buffalo, Home of the Braves. We’ve reposted a column written by Jerry Sullivan of the Buffalo News from 2009. The book is now classified as “out of print” but there are still a limited number of copies available online from the Sun Bear Press web site and Amazon.com.

 

Jerry Sullivan

May 22, 2009

I can see it from the third floor of The Buffalo News, a crumbling carcass of steel and brick. You think of the ghosts and memories contained in the old Memorial Auditorium, and in the hearts and minds of the athletes and fans who spent so many hours there.

Tim Wendel remembers. Wendel grew up in Lockport. He came of age in the 1970s, when pro sports in Buffalo were at their zenith and two daily newspapers were there to record the moment. Wendel would run out of his house on cold winter mornings to pick up the old Courier-Express, and to see what Phil Ranallo had to say in his column.

Wendel went to Syracuse to learn journalism. He got work as a sports rewrite guy at the Courier, editing Ranallo’s stuff. He was on his honeymoon in September 1982 when he got a phone call from a friend who was watching his apartment. Your apartment’s fine, the friend said, but your paper closed.

He ended up in Washington, D. C., where his wife got a job with the Post. Wendel wrote a book about the 1980 U. S. Olympic hockey team. He covered baseball and wrote a baseball novel about Fidel Castro.

He remained a Buffalo guy at heart. He and his brother, Chris, sat around at family gatherings, rehashing games from their youth. One day, they were carrying on about the Braves when a relative said, “Why don’t you guys shut up and write about it?”

That’s where the idea for the book started. Wendel got access to the Courier archives and reread Ranallo’s old Braves columns. Chris said he should start calling some of the old Braves. The first call went to Ernie DiGregorio.

“I said, ‘I want to talk about the Braves,’ ” Wendel said Thursday. “His reaction was, ‘Wow! Yeah, let’s talk about the Braves.’ All the guys felt that way.”

Wendel’s labor of love, “Buffalo, Home of the Braves,” was more than four years in the making. On May 30, Wendel will be at New Era Cap on Delaware Avenue for a book signing and release.

The book is 216 pages, coffee table size, and costs $89. That’s a tad pricey, but it’s hard to place a value on people’s memories. There are some 250 photographs, most by Robert L. Smith. There are eight chapters, one for each year of the Braves’ existence. Wendel’s text is accompanied by 15 of Ranallo’s columns.

“We’re bringing Ranallo back to life, so to speak,” Wendel said. “Once again, I’m playing straight man to Phil. I’m writing the narrative and he’s the voice of outrage and reason.”

Wendel traces the team from its inception through the playoff seasons to the grim departure, after Paul Snyder sold the team to John Y. Brown. There are eerie parallels to the current sports scene. Snyder wanted to regionalize his franchise. The Braves played as many as eight games a year in Toronto.

“The Braves’ so-called home games in Toronto, about a 90-minute drive north of the border, often grated on the team’s die-hard fans,” Wendel writes.

Sound familiar, Bills fans?

Wendel talked with most of the main parties, including DiGregorio, Bob McAdoo, Randy Smith, Jack Marin and the coach, Dr. Jack Ramsay.

“They all hold a sweet spot in their hearts for Buffalo,” Wendel said. “They realize this is where they came of age. They talked about how great it was to play in the Aud, and how great the fans were, and about going out at night. They talked about going to Cole’s and seeing Bobby Chandler and the Bills there.

“They loved the Aud. McAdoo, Randy, Marin, it was almost Field of Dreams stuff, about shooting a basketball at the Aud. They loved shooting there.”

It’s good to know that, as the Aud was coming down, a Buffalo guy was retrieving its brief but precious NBA memories, which live forever.

Courier’s demise brought heartbreak to Buffalo

September 20, 2009 Leave a comment

Courier Expressby Tim Wendel

Twenty-seven years ago, The Buffalo Courier-Express folded. I’ll never forget it because I worked there and I was on my honeymoon when it happened. Of course, that unfortunate turn of events was well before cell phones, emails and texts.

My new wife and I were driving around the West – Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Francisco – and we weren’t exactly regular about checking back home. That resulted in one of the most bizarre conversations of my life.

I called back to Buffalo, to the friend who was keeping an eye on our apartment. “How’s it going?” “Your place is fine,” he replied, “but your paper folded three days ago.” We rushed back in time for the vote about the paper’s future.

On the table was an offer from Rupert Murdoch, which would have meant significant cuts in editorial staff. At the meeting, I sat next to Phil Ranallo and I remember him muttering “It’s Jonestown” – a nod to the drinking of the fatal Kool-Aid – as the measure was voted down.

To this day, I find it amazing that Murdoch ownership was fine for The Boston Herald and eventually The Wall Street Journal but somehow beneath Buffalo.

I saw Phil one last time after that. A quick chat. Everything was unraveling fast for C-E folks by then. Some were preparing for an abrupt retirement. Others of us were scrambling to find a new job. I became the sports columnist for The (Syracuse) Post-Standard and soon parlayed that into a move to the Bay Area and eventually a staff job at The San Francisco Examiner.

To think too much about Buffalo back then was to risk too much heartache. Best to make tracks and put down new roots out West. After all, that’s where we were when all of this happened, right? But, of course, one can never forget where he’s from. Western New York. The Courier-Express.

Working next to Phil. Listening to him talk about arguably his favorite basketball team, the Buffalo Braves. Those are the times I find myself thinking about on such sad anniversaries.

Book release; Behind the scenes

August 29, 2009 Leave a comment

cover6It’s been several months since the book ‘Buffalo, Home of the Braves” hit the shelves. In the whirlwind of activity since the May 30th release, I’ve only recently been able to put it all in some perspective. In recapping the events, truth does sound much stranger than fiction:

Thursday  May 28th: After four years, endless editing, and a small fortune of investment, I finally hold the book in my hands. My initial thoughts focus on how much girth the finished book has. It feels heavy and looks great.

I pick up about 30 boxes of books from Village Press in that is located in Traverse City, Michgan (where I’ve resided for the past 21 years), and load them into a rental car for the 10-hour ride to Lockport where my parents still live. I realize then that the book project has taken me back at least a dozen times to the Buffalo area, usually on a seven hour route through southern Ontario. This time I have hundreds of coffee table-style books in the trunk that would be difficult to explain to Customs agents.

Instead I take the long way, along the southern shore of Lake Erie through Cleveland. As the sun sets in the west, I drive through Cleveland, just the Cavs are about to tip off against Orlando in the NBA Semi-finals. Part of me wants to stop and take in the game, but I think better of it and carry on.

Friday May 29th: Up early to prep for the next day’s book signing, also trying on the fly to figure out a way to set up a production line arrangement for pre-ordered books that need to be mailed out. The first ones go out from the post office in tiny Gasport, New York,  a few hundreds yards from the grade school that I attended many years ago. That’s the way it is on this trip, a sense of urgency with getting the book thing right, sprinkled with odd flashbacks to the past.

In the afternoon I deliver the first book personally to a one, Mark Savone. Mark and I first met at the “Farewell Old Friends” event back in November that celebrated the tear down of the old Aud. Since then he has called almost weekly to get an update on the book, saying each time that he can’t wait to get his hands on it. I set the GPS to his home in Tonawanda, arriving promptly at the annoited time. Standing there by the street is Mark, guiding me in, waiting wearing a Yankees jacket. Our first customer sees the book and he’s excited, therefore I’m excited.

Next stop is the University of Buffalo. I had met the UB basketball coach Reggie Witherspoon a few months earlier, and knew he was a Braves fan growing up in Western New York. I took a chance and stopped by the basketball office, figuring that he might be in. I first ask to drop off a copy, and the front desk manager goes back to see if Witherspoon is available.

To my surprise Reggie has me come back to his office. We talk for a few minutes and he begins to provide a back story to many of the events and photos surrounding the Braves. He obviously likes the book, and I’m even happier. I have to leave for a scheduled appointment at the UB Bookstore (early on they wanted to carry the book followed by several local independent bookstores). Witherspoon informs me that he won’t be getting much work done today because he plans on reading the entire book.

I meet up with Dennis May who I also met at the November Aud event. He had agreed to help us out with the book signing. After bringing the UB bookstore their books, we stopped back to see Reggie Witherspoon (he was still liking the book). Dennis rides along as I fulfill a bookstore order in Orchard Park, and although he’s a good ten years younger then me, I’m impressed by his vast knowledge of Buffalo sports history.

Saturday May 30th: My brother Tim arrived late Friday night. After a quick breakfast at Tim Horton’s, we arrive at the New Era Cap Company who graciously let us use the meeting room at their Delaware Avenue flagship store for our book signing.

The event goes well, not too overwhelming ,but a steady combination of fans, season ticket holders, team personnel, friends, and family.  One person has driven an hour from Rochester, others hang out to talk about the Braves legacy and how they could be permanently honored at the new HSBC Arena

Bob Smith, the photographer makes an appearence, John Boutet fills the room with his amazing collection of Braves memoribilia, and John Murphy of WIVB (and the voice of the Buffalo Bills) arrives to interview Tim for a story for a future sports cast. The two hours goes by quickly and sales for the day reach my expectations. We pack up and retreat to a local bar for a late lunch.

We receive a call from Paul Ranallo, son of the late Phil Ranallo. Paul had reached the signing late and wanted a copy of the book. I invite him to the bar, and hear first hand, stories of the great Buffalo Couier Express sports columnist. A beer or two is in order while the tales (and jokes) of Buffalo’s glorious sports past flow.

With the conversation winding down. Another call comes from our parents who have stopped by the Aud demolition after the book singing event. They think it was worth visiting, I’m not so sure. After some deliberation, Tim and I make the seven block trek to where the Terrace Street entrance is/was.

Aud 5-30-09We were able to get much closer to the site than I imagined. Looking west through a chain link fence, we were able to see a crane with a claw like device working away on a facade, somewhere in the orange balcony section. In the open air on a warm Saturday the place where we spent so many cold winter family nights is slowly dismantled.

Next: Dealing with the news of Randy Smith

The Making of the Book (Part 1 )

August 13, 2008 Leave a comment

By Chris Wendel
Summer 2004: My brother Tim and I wax poetic about Phil Ranallo, the late, great columnist for the now defunct Buffalo Courier Express newspaper. Ranallo’s column “What’s New Harry” was a breakfast staple during our adolescent days growing up near Buffalo in Lockport, New York. I recall making the mad dash to the paper box on cold mornings, just to read the column while eating my morning cereal. Tim was fortunate to work with Phil at the Courier after college in the early 80’s. We wonder where the old columns are if they still exist at all.

November ’04: Tim informs me that old issues of the Courier exist in the archive section of a Buffalo library. I decide to take my first of what turns out to be many trips back to Buffalo to view old articles and microfilm of the Courier Express. I live in Michigan and use the trips to visit my parents in Lockport and look at the columns. Revisiting the Ranallo columns 25 years later is somewhat surreal. To my relief his writing stands up well over time and I still can’t stop reading them.

January ’05: I’m back in Buffalo collecting columns with the help of the library’s helpful staff. Looking at microfilm for a few hours causes serious eye strain but fortunately there are also plenty of old columns that someone literally cut out of the old paper and mounted on typing paper. After reading 50 or so columns and several conversations with Tim it is apparent that Phil has a soft spot in his heart for the Braves. We decide that the Braves have been placed on a shelf long enough and their story that needs to be retold.

April ’05: Another trip to Buffalo and more research. Tim is an accomplished writer and I enjoy the grunt work of finding pictures and assembling the Ranallo columns. The format is unclear until I talk with Mike Romstadt of Village Press here in Michigan. The debate between us will continue for months. Mike thinks that this has the makings of a high quality coffee table style book that should be printed in a limited quantity and sold for a premium price. I run this scenario past several people I know and trust. Two camps quickly develop; the first includes those who think that there likely is a market out there (that already pays hundreds for decent game tickets) for a high quality book about the Braves. The second consists of folks who know little or Buffalo or sports and think that I’m nuts.

What we’re lacking is pictures. Finding the photos is a story we will save for the next installment.