Buffalo Could Have Gotten Major League Baseball

Buffalo_Skyline_Viewed_From_Coca-Cola_FieldThe city of Buffalo stands as the 2nd largest city in New York state. A very distant second when it’s considered that New York City and Buffalo are in the same state. A city of over 8 million people vs a a city of 258,703 people according to 2014 estimates. And that figure could be lower considering the drop in population every decade since 1960.

Buffalo metropolitan area is home to an NFL and NHL teams, the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres specifically. Major league sports has a presence in upstate New York. However, in terms of baseball, there are minor league baseball teams. There is no Major League Baseball in Buffalo. Could there have been Major League Baseball in Buffalo? Does is still have a chance?

Before those questions can be asked, lets take a look at baseball in Buffalo and Buffalo itself. And at Major League Baseball.

Major League Baseball in Buffalo was given 3 attempts. The Buffalo Bisons were in the National League starting in 1879. The team was disbanded in 1885. In 1890, the Players League formed and Buffalo had another team called the Bisons. The league folded at the end of the 1890 season. Between 1914-1915, the Buffalo Blues played in Federal League. It is important to note that Major League Baseball banned its players from playing in the Federal League. After 1915, the Federal League disbanded.

The National League was formed in 1878. The American League was formed in 1901. Both would merge into Major League Baseball in 1903, while still operating as separate entities.

Between 1903-1952, Major League Baseball’s reach included these cities: Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington(DC), Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, and St. Louis.

The 20 largest cities in the USA(1900)

  • New York City
  • Chicago
  • Philadelphia
  • St. Louis
  • Boston
  • Baltimore
  • Cleveland
  • Buffalo
  • San Francisco
  • Cincinnati
  • Pittsburgh
  • New Orleans
  • Detroit
  • Milwaukee
  • Washington,DC

Of the cities with teams, the 5 largest cities had at least 2 teams. One of those cities, New York City, had 3 teams. 5 of the nations cities were home to 11 of the leagues teams. Of the 15 largest cities mentioned, 5 did not have MLB teams: Baltimore, Buffalo, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Milwaukee. In 1900, Buffalo had 352,387. Considering that Buffalo had a population larger than Pittsbucgh, Detroit, Cincinnati, or Washington,DC, the city of Buffalo could have had MLB in 1903.

In 1913, the Federal League formed. Buffalo would get a team in that league. The Federal League was short lived.

Fast forward to 1953. The Boston Braves move to Milwaukee and become the Milwaukee Braves. By then, these were the 20 largest cities in the USA in 1950, 1960, and 1970.

1950                                               1960                                                   1970

  • New York City                     New York City                                      New York City
  • Chicago                                 Chicago                                                 Chicago
  • Philadelphia                        Los Angeles                                          Los Angeles
  • Los Angeles                         Philadelphia                                         Philadelphia
  • Detroit                                  Detroit                                                   Detroit
  • Baltimore                             Baltimore                                              Houston
  • Cleveland                             Houston                                                 Baltimore
  • St. Louis                                Cleveland                                              Dallas
  • Washington,DC                   Washington,DC                                    Washington,DC
  • Boston                                   St. Louis                                                 Cleveland
  • San Francisco                      Milwaukee                                            Indianapolis
  • Pittsburgh                            San Francisco                                       Milwaukee
  • Milwaukee                           Boston                                                    San Francisco
  • Houston                                Dallas                                                     San Diego
  • Buffalo                                  New Orleans                                         San Antonio
  • New Orleans                        Pittsburgh                                             Boston
  • Minneapolis                         San Antonio                                          Memphis
  • Cincinnati                             San Diego                                              St. Louis
  • Seattle                                    Seattle                                                   New Orleans
  • Kansas City,MO                    Buffalo                                                  Phoenix

Buffalo’s population peaked in 1950, at 580,132 people. Large enough to field a Major League Baseball team. Buffalo’s population would drop to 328,123 by 1990. Why? A shift in the economy. Buffalo’s geography lent itself to trade thanks to the Erie Canal, railroads, and Lake Erie. The Niagara River generated hydroelectric power for the local mills. By the 1940s and 50s, Buffalo was a major producer of steel and automobiles. Geography has also hurt Buffalo. After the Welland Canal was built, ships could bypass Buffalo while traversing the St. Lawrence Seaway. In combination with the decline of the American steel industry, this meant massive job losses. Many people left the great Buffalo area as well as other cities in what is known as the Rust Belt. Changes in technology also meant less people were needed to produce more steel.

However, let’s look to 1969. Buffalo’s population was around 462,000 in 1970. Buffalo lost a bid for a Major League Baseball team. That bid would go to the cities of Seattle, Kansas City, Montreal, and San Diego. Buffalo would lose another bid in 1991. Denver and Miami were awarded MLB franchises.

This post will not attempt to go into the details of team ownership entry fees (it did play a big role). There is another factor to consider. Buffalo’s population will be the big factor. Currently, Milwaukee metropolitan area is the only MLB market with a population under 2 million. Milwaukee metro has 1.57 million people. Buffalo metropolitan area has 1.13 million, and dropping. The Cleveland Indians are struggling with attendance considering it has a larger(albeit declining) population and a decent team. Could Buffalo, in a climate where money is everything, and things such as luxury press boxes and television deals, sustain an MLB team, considering the population dropping?



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