Buffalo Stadium and Segregated Baseball

Professional baseball began as a collection of company teams in the newly industrialized northeast of the 19th century, and through most of the 20th century the pride of industrial cities often stemmed from the exploits of the local team. Houston, as a city with growing industrial importance, was no different. Although Houston only received a major league team in 1962, the city's relationship with America's game stretches back to the 19th century, and for 33 years Buffalo Stadium served the teams, white and black, professional and semiprofessional, that called Houston home.

Built in 1928 with funding from the St. Louis Cardinals, Houston's Buffalo Stadium stood at the corner of Leeland and Bernard streets (now Cullen Boulevard). The Cardinals purchased an interest in the Houston Buffaloes in 1920 and then provided $400,000 for the 14,000-seat stadium. With covered seats stretching down both the first and third base lines, the new stadium pulled the center of baseball away from Houston's growing downtown and the Fourth Ward where Houston's first ball park, West End Park, was located. To increase attendance, lights and night games came to the park in 1930, and the increased corporate nature of baseball struck Buffalo Stadium in 1953 when it was renamed Busch Stadium. The name change reflected the company's interest in the stadium and team; however, locals remained loyal to the original name. The stadium would see nine Texas League championships, multiple exhibition games with major league teams, an exhibition game with Jackie Robinson's All Stars, and the height and end of black baseball.

Buffalo Stadium entertained the African American citizens of Houston with the games of the Black Buffaloes, the Black Eagles, and their black baseball opponents from around Texas and the country. Most black teams in Texas rented the stadium of their local white counterparts. Black teams using white facilities could only play on weekends when the white team had an away game, but interior team facilities, such as showers, were traditionally off limits. Despite the indignities of segregation, the ability to play in a white stadium allowed black teams to achieve a higher level of play unhampered by uneven surfaces and muddy outfields that plagued other stadiums. After only two seasons the owners of the Black Buffaloes sacrificed the quality of play for a location closer to their customer base and returned the team to West End Park. African Americans who made up much of the Fourth Ward population found it difficult to attend games in the industrial southeast quarter of the city. Black baseball would return to Buffalo Stadium in 1949 with the Negro Texas League Black Eagles. Though the Eagles played some of the best Negro League teams from across the country, the team suffered from low attendance. An import from Newark, New Jersey, the Black Eagles had few local players that could establish a connection to the community, and most African Americans now cheered newly integrated teams.

After the demise of the Black Eagles and the Negro Texas League, the Houston Buffaloes would continue to run the bases of Buffalo Stadium until 1961. In the intervening years African Americans returned to the Buffalo Stadium diamond. The Buffaloes followed the lead of major league baseball and integrated their roster. Even while segregation still ruled in public facilities across Houston, Bob Boyd and Hall of Fame outfielder Willard Brown stepped onto the grass of Buffalo Stadium in 1954 alongside white players. While Brown was wrapping up his career in Houston after a successful career in the Negro Leagues, Boyd used Buffalo Stadium as a training ground for his eventual successful career for the Baltimore Orioles. The arrival of major league baseball in Houston was the end for the Houston Buffaloes and their field. Buffalo Stadium was demolished in 1963, and Houston's next home for baseball, the Astrodome, was fully integrated.

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Buffalo Stadium, 1928

Buffalo Stadium, 1928

Opened in 1928, Buffalo Stadium housed both the Houston Buffaloes of the Texas League and the Houston Black Buffaloes who fluctuated between professional and semi-professional ball. The stadium added lights in 1930 to allow for night games, which resulted in greater attendance and revenues. But the rudimentary light systems of the day made pitched balls difficult to see, leading to lower batting averages. | Source: Houston Chronicle View File Details Page

Buffalo Stadium, 1961

Buffalo Stadium, 1961

The last inning played in Buffalo Stadium occurred in 1961. Owners of the new major league expansion team purchased the Houston Buffaloes to secure the rights to baseball in the city and planned a new stadium for the new major league team, the Colt .45s. The stadium was sold at auction, demolished, and replaced with a large furniture store. | Source: Houston Chronicle View File Details Page

Willard "Home Run" Brown

Willard "Home Run" Brown

For most of his career, Willard Brown played for the famed Kansas City Monarchs. Known for his hitting ability, Brown was brought up to the major leagues in 1947 after the successful debut of Jackie Robinson. Unfortunately Brown's most productive years were behind him and lackluster hitting led to Brown's release from St. Louis after one season. Brown moved down to the minor leagues and joined the Houston Buffaloes in 1954 as one of two players who integrated the white Texas League Team. Brown's incredible hitting percentages and home run production in the Negro leagues led to his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. | Source: Negro Leagues Baseball Museum View File Details Page

Robert Boyd

Robert Boyd

Robert Boyd began his career with the Negro League Memphis Red Sox in 1946 at the age of 20. After four successful years with Memphis, Boyd signed with the Chicago White Sox, marking the integration of that team in 1950. Due to concerns about the differences between major league and Negro League baseball, the White Sox sent him to several of their farm teams to develop his hitting skills. Chicago ultimately traded him to the St. Louis Browns in 1954 who then sent him down to their farm club, the Houston Buffaloes. Boyd became the first black player to integrate Houston baseball. During his time with Houston, he contributed to two winning seasons by hitting .310 and .321. Boyd left Houston in 1956 when he signed with the Orioles where he would finally find a home as a pinch hitter averaging .293 over his six years in Baltimore. | Source: Negro Leagues Baseball Museum View File Details Page

Exhibition Game at Buffalo Stadium

Exhibition Game at Buffalo Stadium

Stan Musial of the Cardinals readies for a pitch during an exhibition game at Buffalo Stadium on April 7, 1947. The pre-season exhibition was between St. Louis and the Houston Buffaloes, St. Louis' farm team. Houston lost to the Cardinals 10-2. | Source: Bob Bailey Studios Photographic Archive, Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin View File Details Page

Buffaloes Manager Harry Walker

Buffaloes Manager Harry Walker

Harry Walker kneels next to an unknown player at Buffalo Stadium sometime between 1956 and 1958. Walker led the Buffaloes to Texas League championships in 1956 and 1957. Walker would later manage the Houston Astros in the late 1960s. | Source: Houston Post Photographic Collection, Houston Area Digital Archives, Houston Public Library View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Jarred Stewart, “Buffalo Stadium and Segregated Baseball,” East Texas History, accessed June 25, 2017, http://easttexashistory.org/items/show/163.

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