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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