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.
WHAT’S NEW, HARRY? February 26,1977
On February 13, 1977, Don Edwards played a role in perhaps the most unusual event in Sabres history. A day after Edwards reported to Buffalo from Hershey, Sabres general manager Punch Imlach ordered coach Floyd Smith to have Edwards replace expected starting goaltender Al Smith. The events of that month are captured in this vintage column written by legendary “Courier Express” writer Phil Ranallo.
DON EDWARDS, THE KID goalie who in two short weeks has made it as the people’s choice—despite the tremendous handicap of starting out as Punch Imlach’s personal choice—is listed in the Sabre press guide as standing 5 feet 9 inches and weighing 160 pounds.
Well, the other night, after Edwards put a horse-collar around the necks of the Philadelphia Flyers in that dandy hockey match, I got my first up-close peek at the young man —in the Sabre dressing room—and I’ll tell you this:
If Don Edwards stands 5-9 and weighs 160, so does Bill Shoemaker.
One look at Edwards convinced me that Paul Wieland, the Sabres’ director of public relations who compiled the
data in the press guide, should never serve as commissioner of weights and measures. Or be described as a fellow Edwards whose chief characteristics include the trait for which George Washington is best-remembered.
Paul Wieland, I now suspect, is the guy who measured—and okayed—Rene Robert’s hockey stick before the Philadelphia game.
The best one can say for Wieland is, if Don Edwards stood 5-9 and weighed 160 when Wieland took his “stats,” Edwards was standing on two unabridged editions of the Random House Dictionary and Frankie Christie had a heavy foot on the scale.
EDWARDS IS SMALL-SMALL, believe me.
If you didn’t know the Sabre players and walked into their dressing room, with the purpose of picking out the team’s last line of defense, the team’s last man between victory and defeat —the goaltender—the last guy you’d pick would be Don Edwards.
Since goaltending is one of the most hazardous jobs in all of sports, you’d never dream that Edwards is the guy who is more than a match for those 6-4, 200-pounder bruisers with the flailing sticks in their hand and the flashing bayonets on their brogans.
When Don Edwards strips, peels down to his skivvies, there Is almost nothing to him.
Since Thursday night’s game was unusually long—it was after 11 o’clock before the Sabres’ room was opened to, the press —the first thought that struck me, when I got my initial look at Edwards, was:
What’s this kid doing up this late?
IF I’D HAD ONE, I WOULD have given Edwards a lollipop. He looks just like the kid who delivers my newspaper. He’s one National Hockey League goalie, I’m willing to bet, who could get on a bus for half-fare.
Standing there, in his skivvies, Edwards did not look as tall —or as wide—as his goalie stick.
I couldn’t help but wonder how in the world Edwards, when he dons all of that heavy goalie paraphernalia— the pads and stuff—manages to stand up.
I’m not kidding, if Edwards went out on the ice without the padded armament of his profession, he could hide behind one of the goal-posts.
I you got a dressing-room peek at Edwards, you’d swear that if one of Bobby Orr’s rising shots —the kind that Orr used to fire when he was Bobby Orr —struck Edwards in the midsection, it would render poor Don airborne and drive him into the red seats.
WHY, IF EVERYBODY ON the Sabres’ squad was Edwards’ size, Seymour Knox and his brother, Norty, would be much wealthier gentlemen than they already are—if that’s possible. Because the Sabres could make their road trips in a Volkswagen.
But can this kid ever tend goal!
This kid is as good-looking a goaltender as he is good-looking.
I mean, Edwards is handsome.
Gals who get a look at Edwards, with his mask off, must go daft when they see that head of dirty blond hair and that shining face with the fine features—and that little blond mustache.
Gals have got to want to pick him up and hug him. If Edwards didn’t have that mustache, he could be in trouble if a gal did pick him up. Because she might be tempted to put him over her shoulder and burp him.
BUT IF SHE DID, SHE’D be burping the hottest goaltender in the NHL. Since joining the Sabres on Feb. 13, this 21-year-old kid from Hamilton, Qnt., has worked seven games—and has skated off a winner six times.
Two of his victories have been shutouts. He has a goals against average of 1.71—best in’the NHL. He has stopped 154 of the 166 pucks fired at him, for an efficiency rating of .927—best in the NHL.
Punch Imlach, the man who brought Edwards up from Hershey and touched off that furor—by ordering Floyd Smith to play Edwards in the Feb. 13 game, instead of backup man Al Smith—has been labeled a genius, the world’s No. 1 judge of hockey talent. ‘
As Edwards keeps notching victory after victory, Punch Imlach keeps enjoying the last laugh, night after night, on his critics who lambasted him for pulling rank on Floyd Smith.
Since I was one of Imlach’s critics, a lot of people have been telling me they think it’s time I apologized to Punch.
Well, okay. I’ll apologize—when Imlach stops laughing.
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.
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.
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.
It’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.
We 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
Buffalo News sportswriter had a great column on the Braves’ anthology: “Buffalo, Home of the Braves” this morning. He spoke with Tim yesterday, and was it was nice to have the column published before next week’s book signing and Jerry’s well deserved Florida vacation.
We heard from a lot of Braves’ fans today, many transplanted to other parts of the country but still with a strong affinity to Western New York and the Buffalo Braves, just like us. At day’s end we’re ending up as the number two sports story, what’s #1? The west wall of the Aud that came crumbling down as its demolition winds down.
The book “Buffalo, Home of the Braves” is close to completion. On Saturday, May 30, 2009, a book release celebration event will be held in Buffalo.
From 11 AM – 1 PM that day, author Tim Wendel will be available for the signing of purchased copies of the book in the Community Room of the New Era Cap Company, located at 160 Delaware Avenue in Buffalo.
“Buffalo, Home of the Braves” can also be purchased online prior to the celebration event from SunBear Press.
There is solace in knowing that the files for the book “Buffalo, Home of the Braves” are now safely in the hands of our printer Village Press here in Michigan. They have given us a 3-4 week timeline before we have the now 216 page coffee table style book in hand, and copies are available to directly ship off to pre-orders.
We’re feeling solid about having an initial book release in May with a ceremony/book signing in Buffalo. There were obvious lessons learned through this process, but we also feel good that we refused to compromise quality and the vision of producing a high-quality once in a lifetime book.
The numerous delays and postponed release dates have been a source of frustration. A month or so ago, I emailed those dedicated fans that had preordered the book, some more than a year ago. After explaining how much longer the process was taking, almost everyone responded that they could wait a bit longer.
Painstaking were the endless edits of the manuscripts that had to be shifted through for grammatical and historical corrections. Thanks to Mitch Gerber and Eric Brady for helping us out, pointing out obvious errors that were quickly corrected. We also had an eleventh hour conversation with long-time WKBW TV sports anchor Rick Azar, who provided previously unknown information about the team’s early genesis.
So stay tuned in the few days for frequent updates and more importantly, an actual book.