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Bisons, Buckeyes, Blues, Broncos and more

Buffalo one of many IL locales with Major League history
(Five International League cities -- Buffalo, Columbus, Louisville, Syracuse and Toledo -- have ties to Major League baseball.)
August 13, 2020

The city of Buffalo, New York, hosted a Major League Baseball game on Tuesday night, with the Toronto Blue Jays enjoying a walk-off win over the Miami Marlins. It was the first of 25 Blue Jays games scheduled for Sahlen Field, which ordinarily serves as the home of their Triple-A

The city of Buffalo, New York, hosted a Major League Baseball game on Tuesday night, with the Toronto Blue Jays enjoying a walk-off win over the Miami Marlins. It was the first of 25 Blue Jays games scheduled for Sahlen Field, which ordinarily serves as the home of their Triple-A affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons.

Tuesday night's Major League contest in Buffalo was historic, but it wasn't unprecedented. For Buffalo, along with quite a few other current International League locales, was once a Major League city. These now-defunct franchises, from the National League, American Association, Players League and Federal League, operated at various points between 1876-1915. Here's a look at the big league teams that once played in cities where International League baseball currently exists.

Buffalo, New York
Current International League team: Bisons
Former Major League teams: Bisons (National League, 1879-85); Bisons (Players League, 1890); BufFeds/Blues (Federal League 1914-15)

"Bisons" is the oldest and most deeply rooted team name in Minor League Baseball -- its usage can be traced back to 1877. From 1879-85, the Bisons played in the National League, which was established in 1876 and, of course, still exists. The NL Bisons featured five players who were later elected to the Hall of Fame, including legendary workhorse Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn (1880) and barehanded catcher James "Deacon" White (1881-85).

In 1890, Buffalo was one of eight locales in the Players League, a star-studded "brotherhood" consisting primarily of National League ex-pats that existed for just one season. The 1890 Bisons were terrible, finishing in last place with a 36-96 record. The aforementioned White was on this team, as was a young catcher named Connie Mack.

Buffalo also fielded a team in the short-lived Federal League, a well-stocked "outlaw" circuit that existed from 1914-15. This squad was called the Blues, although some accounts refer to them as the BuffFeds (a portmanteau of "Buffalo" and "Federal"). The 1914 Blues' roster included Ed Porray, the only Major Leaguer to have "Atlantic Ocean" listed as his birthplace. The 1915 Blues were the last big league team to play in Buffalo prior to the Blue Jays.

Columbus, Ohio
Current International League team: Clippers
Former Major League teams: Buckeyes (American Association, 1883-84); Solons (American Association, 1889-91)

The American Association, a rough and rowdy alternative to the comparatively pious National League, operated from 1882-91.Several still extant MLB franchises, including the Pirates, Reds and Cardinals, began as American Association clubs. Columbus fielded an AA club on two occasions. The first iteration was the Buckeyes of 1883-84. That latter squad, per Clippers team historian Joe Santry, featured the man who inspired the term "southpaw" (Eddie "Cannonball" Morris), a deaf player who prompted umpires to invent "safe" and "out" calls (Eddie "Dummy" Dundon), the inventor of the chest protector (Rudy Kemmler) and the purported inspiration for Ernest Thayer's poem "Casey at the Bat" (Patsy Cahill).

Solons, a now (and even then) archaic term for a senator, was an homage to Columbus' status as Ohio's capital city. The only Solons team with a winning record was the 1890 iteration. That team featured the colorfully named likes of Ice Box Chamberlain and Wild Bill Widmer on its pitching staff. Following the 1891 season, the American Association folded. Solons, farewell.

Louisville, Kentucky
Current International League team: Bats
Former Major League teams: Grays (National League, 1876-77); Eclipse/Colonels (American Association, 1882-91); Colonels (National League, 1892-99)

The Louisville Grays were one of eight teams to take part in the National League's inaugural 1876 campaign. Scandal arrived in 1877, however. After a run of suspiciously bad play during a road trip, Grays vice president Charles Chase launched an investigation into his own team and eventually determined that four players had conspired with gamblers to fix ballgames.

Gambling did in the Grays, but Louisville went on to field a team throughout the American Association's 10-season run from 1882-91. The team originally was known as the Eclipse -- it played at Eclipse Park -- and later as the Colonels. The Colonels switched to the National League in 1892 and remained there for eight seasons, dissolving after owner Barney Dreyfuss obtained a share of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Many of the Colonels' best players were transferred to Pittsburgh, including a young shortstop named Honus Wagner.

Indianapolis, Indiana
Current International League team: Indians
Former Major League teams: Blues (National League, 1878); Hoosiers (American Association, 1884); Hoosiers (National League, 1887-89); Hoosiers (Federal League, 1914)

Indianapolis got the Blues in 1878, but the Blues only stuck around for one National League season. The team's only campaign featured pitcher The Only Nolan, who started 38 games and finished 37 of them. Not bad for a 60-game season.

Indianapolis went on to host three different teams named the Hoosiers, in three different Major Leagues. The 1884 Hoosiers went an abysmal 29-78 in the American Association. The 1887-89 Hoosiers, of the National League, also failed to compile a winning record. The team was crafty, however, as it played outside the city limits on Sundays to avoid restrictions on alcohol sales. The 1914 Hoosiers won the Federal League championship, upon which they relocated to Newark and became the Peppers.

Rochester, New York
Current International League team: Red Wings
Former Major League teams: Broncos (American Association, 1889)

Rochester was one of three current International League locales that acquired an American Association team in 1890, along with Toledo and Syracuse. All three of those teams lasted just one season, which turned out to be the AA's penultimate year of existence. The Rochester Broncos went 63-63 during their brief time on Earth. They were succeeded in Rochester by the Hop Bitters of the Eastern Association. The International League Red Wings, Rochester's current professional baseball entity, have occasionally played games using this beer-based moniker.

Syracuse, New York
Current International League team: Mets
Former Major League teams: Stars (National League, 1879); Stars (American Association, 1890)

The Stars of the 1879 National League were, to put it bluntly, a failure. The team compiled a 22-48 record before suspending operations, and it took three managers to get through those 70 games. The third of those skippers was Jimmy Macullar, who in 1879 became one of the first North Americans to play in Cuba.

The 1890 Stars of the American Association fared slightly better, going 55-72. Pat Friel led the team with three home runs, the only homers he hit in his career.

Toledo, Ohio
Current International League team: Mud Hens
Former Major League teams: Blue Stockings (American Association, 1884); Maumees (1890)

The Toledo Blue Stockings of 1884 are a historically significant team, as catcher Moses Fleetwood Walker was on the roster. Walker is widely regarded as the first Black player in Major League history, appearing for the Blue Stockings some 63 years before Jackie Robinson integrated the game for good. A plaque honoring Walker stands outside the Mud Hens' home of Fifth Third Field. The team also has honored him in bobblehead form, and an adjacent building (and ground level bar) is named after him.

Toledo rejoined the AA in 1890, this time with a team named after the Maumee River. The Maumees' leading pitcher was Egyptian Healey, who likely acquired that name as a result of being born in Cairo, Illinois.

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.