This article will conclude our four-part series looking at the past and present of the Toronto Blue Jays’ minor-league affiliates. We have previously profiled the single-A Lansing Lugnuts, the high-A Dunedin Blue Jays, and the double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats. We finish with the Herd in Buffalo, NY: The Bisons.
In a working-class town like Buffalo where the Bills and Sabres dominate the sports world it could be hard for a triple-A baseball team to get some attention. This is the town that is best know for football and hockey. The echoes of four Super Bowl appearances, Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, and other greats are still to familiar in our memories. Hockey greats such as the French Connection and more recently Ryan Miller and Jack Eichel are the names that come to mind in Buffalo sports. The Buffalo Bisons have been there even longer than these historic sports franchises.
The Bisons got their start way back in 1877. The City of Buffalo was given a shot to be part of the Major Leagues and was included in the National League from 1879-1885. The team then became a Minor League team and was included in the formation of the International League in 1886 where they stayed until 1970.
At that time, Buffalo’s franchise was moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba. The team returned in 1979 as part of the double-A Eastern League. After a rejuvenation of baseball in Buffalo the Bisons became part of the of the International League once again, making them the triple-A level team they are now.
Since 1985 the Bisons have been affiliated with a few different baseball clubs. Once rejoining the triple-A level they were part of the Chicago White Sox system. That was short-lived association as the team became a part of Cleveland’s organization for a season in 1987. The Pittsburgh Pirates enjoyed the partnership with the Bisons from 1988 to 1994, time where the Pirates were in the playoff conversation regularly. In 1995, the Bisons got back together with Cleveland after a good blind date a few years prior. That relationship did end in divorce, however, and the Bisons married up with the New York Mets in 2009.
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Finally we get to the Blue Jays part of this long story. Since the beginning of the 2013 season the Bisons have been part of the Toronto Blue Jays organization and have already seen the benefits of the relationship. The Blue Jays have been growing the depth in their system and are now looking to keep top prospects moving through the triple-A level. This depth has also created a steady bus ride system between Buffalo and Toronto. That quick ride through Niagara Falls and a jog down the QEW has created a consistent flow of talent back and forth between Buffalo and Toronto.
The Bisons club has won seven League Titles and has four Division Titles. They currently play at Coca-Cola Field, which is in the heart of the downtown area. It is just a short walk to the Buffalo Sabres arena and surrounded by wonderful places to eat and a few breweries. The Bisons moved into the downtown area in 1988 and have called Coca Cola Field home ever since.
Over the years many players have come through Buffalo on their path to the Majors. The Bisons have 17 players that have been enshrined within the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. The list of inductees is below.
Johnny Bench, Lou Boudreau, Dan Brouthers, Jim Bunning, Jimmy Collins, Frank Grant, Ferguson Jenkins, Connie Mack, Bill Dickey, Pud Galvin, Bucky Harris, Gabby Hartnett, Joe McCarthy, John Montgomery Ward, Jim O’Rourke, Herb Pennock, Ray Schalk, Charles Radbourn, Joe Tinker, and Deacon White
The team has also produced a bunch of quality Major League players, and here are some highlights:
Milton Bradley, Russell Branyan, Asdrúbal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo, Bartolo Colon, Coco Crisp, R.A. Dickey, Lucas Duda, Freddy Garcia, Brian Giles, Matt Harvey, Travis Hafner, Roberto Hernandez, Maicer Izturis, Cliff Lee, Ryan Ludwick, Victor Martinez, John McDonald, Magglio Ordonez, Jhonny Peralta, Brandon Phillips, Manny Ramirez, Richie Sexson, Marco Scutaro, Grady Sizemore, and Tim Wakefield
The team has had a historic past but the future is looking just as good. This past season with the Bisons was all about depth, but going into 2017, some of the Blue Jays prospects might be moving in at some point in the season.
Connor Greene had a solid season last year but stumbled some in double-A. If Greene can get back to the form he had in Dunedin he could be a big contributor for the Herd this season. It also appears that Rowdy Tellez may get a chance to be the everyday first basemen. Tellez just had an incredible year with the Fisher Cats and looks ready for his next challenge. Depending on how things go this coming Spring Training he could land in Buffalo.
The Herd needs to fill out its roster but in the coming months the Blue Jays typically grab a bunch of Spring Training invitees that fill out the roster in the triple-A level. Buffalo opens their season at home on April 6th versus the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.