(PHOTO: LUKE EASTER'S "25" IS ONE OF ONLY THREE NUMBERS RETIRED BY THE BUFFALO BISONS ORGANIZATION.)
Following Grant, the next Black player to play for Buffalo wasn’t until 68 seasons later... but he was quite possibly the greatest Bison of all time. A man so popular whose feats were so memorable that not only is his jersey number one of only three forever retired by the team, he can also be quickly identified by Buffalo sports fans by just his first name; Luke.
Luscious Easter was a giant in every sense of the word. From his six-foot, four-inch, 240-pound frame to the massive home runs he hit out of Offermann Stadium, Easter was a folk hero.
“Buffalo fans have always worshipped their sport heroes, but few have ever attained the near mythical status accorded to Bisons great Luke Easter.” — plaque in the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame
Easter first joined the Bisons in 1956, signing on with the club two years removed from his sixth and final season in the Major Leagues. For the newly independent Bisons franchise that had just decided to sell stock to the general public in a plan to become community owned, the timing to add their most iconic player couldn’t have been any better.
“He was the ideal man for the situation, with his outgoing personality, his charisma and his ability to hit the long ball,” The 100 Seasons of Buffalo Baseball.
From 1956-1959, Easter hit 114 home runs and drove in 353 with the Bisons. Of his many memorable games, he will always be remembered for one at-bat on June 14, 1957 when he became the first player ever to hit a home run over the Offermann Stadium centerfield scoreboard, which stood 60 feet tall and 400 feet away from home plate. It’s estimated the ball traveled as much as 550 feet.
Two months later, Easter accomplished the feat again. And with Offermann Stadium seeing its last game in 1960, Easter went down in history as the only player to ever clear the scoreboard… and he did it twice!
A member of both the International League and the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame, Easter’s iconic status still holds strong as one of the greatest athletes of any sport the City of Buffalo has ever seen.
Following Easter’s unforgettable tenure with the Bisons, the team had a number of different Major League affiliations that produced some legendary players. One of Easter’s teammates during the partnership with the Kansas City Royals (1957-1958) was outfield Joe Caffie, who lead the team in batting average twice, including an International League batting title in 1957 with a .330 mark. Nicknamed ‘Rabbit,’ Caffie led the Herd in triples twice and stolen bases once in his four standout seasons and helped Buffalo capture their third Governors’ Cup Championship in 1957.
Buffalo’s affiliation shifted to the Phillies from 1959-1962 and produced one of the greatest single season performances in team history. In his lone year with the Bisons, outfielder Ted Savage was named the 1961 International League Most Valuable Player after leading the circuit with a .325 average to go along with 24 home runs and 65 RBI. Savage also led the Bisons with 29 doubles and 31 stolen bases to help the club capture the Governors’ Cup and the Little World Series that season. A year later, Philadelphia sent 19-year old pitcher Fergie Jenkins to Buffalo in his first year as a pro. The future Baseball Hall of Famer appeared in three games for the Herd.
Highlighting a three-year affiliation with the Mets from 1963-1965 was an outfielder dubbed the Amazins’ first home-grown superstar, outfielder Cleon Jones. Before appearing in 1,201 games for New York, Jones spent two seasons with the Bisons and hit .274 with 31 home runs and 119 RBI in 260 games.