Brian Dorsett played just 29 games for the Bisons in 1991 but was part of a playoff run that got within one game of an American Association title and was captivated by the big crowds at then-Pilot Field.
The parent Pittsburgh Pirates had a stacked lineup back then, but Dorsett was intrigued enough by what he saw that he re-signed for 1992 knowing he'd likely stay in Buffalo. Turned out to be a decision that went very well. Dorsett had the best season of his career and it's largely why he's been chosen for induction into the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame.
"I'm really excited because Buffalo meant so much to me through the years and I have such great memories there," said Dorsett, who will become the Hall's 101st member in ceremonies before Friday's game against Syracuse in Sahlen Field. "I was able to play in the old Rockpile [War Memorial Stadium] and to get brought in for a playoff run in '91 and then sign back with the Pirates in '92 to play in Buffalo the whole year and have my best year really cemented things. It was a big-league atmosphere, big-league city, loved the people there."
Dorsett, a catcher/first baseman, is best remembered for being the Bisons' first 100-RBI man of their modern era. In 1992, as the Herd won its second consecutive Association East title, Dorsett was Buffalo's most valuable player after a season that saw him bat .289 with 21 home runs and a then-franchise record 102 RBIs. He was the first Triple-A Bison to reach 100 since Pancho Herrera in 1962, and his 142 hits and 35 doubles that season remain team records for a catcher.
Dorsett, 59, was the last cut by the Pirates in spring training in '92 and never got a call to the big leagues that season. But he kept his focus and simply produced night after night for a Buffalo team that went 87-57 and posted the most wins by the Bisons since 1959.
Dorsett's marquee moment in Buffalo came on Sept. 7, 1992, when he collected his 100th RBI in the Herd's second-last game. It came on an opposite-field single to right in an otherwise forgettable loss to Nashville as the Bisons were prepping for the playoffs, but a Pilot Field crowd of more than 17,000 quickly understood what it meant.
The fans started applauding Dorsett and the noise grew as the Bisons called for the retrieval of the baseball. By then, most of the crowd was on its feet and the roar reached its apex as Dorsett doffed his helmet to the fans while standing at first base.
"I'm having chills right now thinking about it now that you bring it up again," Dorsett said by phone from his home in Terre Haute, Ind. "It's such a great memory, one of the best moments of my career. You work hard to re-establish yourself and that year went so well, I really wanted to get to 100. When it happened, it was a moment you don't ever forget. The people were so welcoming and I've always been thankful to the folks that were there that night."
Dorsett's 102 RBIs stood as the modern-era mark until Alex Ramirez passed him in 1998 with 103. Ernie Young's 100-RBI campaign in 2004 is the only other one in Buffalo's modern era and all three players will now be in the Hall.
Dorsett was acquired in a minor-league trade in August 1991 and quickly entered the middle of the Buffalo lineup on the team's first modern-era division champions. He was at the center of the Bisons' infamous rally in Game 4 of the '91 American Association finals in Denver.
Trailing, 9-0, and being no-hit by lefty Greg Mathews, the Herd rallied as Dorsett's three-run homer got Buffalo within 9-5. When it was 9-6 and the bases were loaded, Greg Tubbs lashed a double to left as two runs scored – but Greg Edge was ruled out at the plate in the most controversial final out in franchise history. Buffalo lost that game, 9-8, and was denied its first title with a 12-3 defeat the next night.
"In Mile High Stadium, it was so big and you're so far away from the plate that I couldn't tell. But it was so bang-bang and in that situation, I don't know how you can call him out," Dorsett said. "He had to be safe. That was probably the most incredible game I've ever been a part of. You're getting no-hit going to the ninth, you're losing, 9-0, and you come back and almost score nine runs? Crazy."
Dorsett said he regrets the Bisons' playoff losses in 1991 and '92 because players on those teams were hopeful of bringing the Rich family their first championship. But he remembers the atmosphere on so many summer nights at Pilot Field as the best of his career in the minors.
"That was absolutely the selling point to me to come back in '92," Dorsett said. "It was one of those places that treated you so well. The fan base enjoyed the players and loved the game. Ownership and the front office was excellent. It was an atmosphere conducive to winning. The crowds were big, into the game. ... I always said Buffalo deserved the expansion team. To me, it would have been a lot better than the Florida Marlins."
Dorsett is also part of a three-pronged trivia answer. Along with infielder Russ Morman and outfielder Dave Clark, they are the only members of the Hall to play in both War Memorial Stadium and Pilot Field. Dorsett batted .256 in 26 games for the Herd in 1987, the stadium's last season.
"It was so big and old and you knew that there was a lot of great history there," he said. "I couldn't wait to see it full someday and we had it one night for the Beach Boys (when a record crowd of more than 38,000 attended a baseball/concert doubleheader) and that was a wild feeling. It was such a throwback imagining the old days."
Dorsett's big-league career consisted of 163 games over parts of eight seasons with six teams (Cleveland, California, the New York Yankees, San Diego, Cincinnati and the Chicago Cubs). He batted .224 with nine homers and 51 RBIs and proudly pointed out he was invited to Oldtimers Day at Yankee Stadium.
Dorsett played 76 of his games with the Reds in 1994 (.245-5-26) and put up his signature moment in the big leagues for Cincinnati on April 13, 1994, in Montreal's Olympic Stadium when his ninth-inning single broke up a no-hit bid by future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. In a game memorable for a bench-clearing brawl the previous inning when Martinez was charged by Reds outfielder Reggie Sanders, Dorsett pulled a pitch up the middle to start a two-run rally that tied the game before Cincinnati lost, 3-2.
"I knew he was going to challenge me and I had to be ready to hit it," Dorsett said. "When I drove it up the middle, it was really special and really cool but you're thinking, 'Now let's go win the game.' I was fortunate to be in that spot."
Dorsett is president of his own car dealerships in Terre Haute, taking up the business started by his late father decades ago. He lives in his native Indiana with his wife, Gina. He has three children: Abigail Coons (31) and twins Brittany Young (29) and Brandon (29). Brittany's husband, Cody Young, played two seasons of Class A ball as an outfielder in the Baltimore chain and Brandon Dorsett pitched for two years in the Toronto chain in 2012-13.
"My family ran the car business so it's all I knew looking down the road. It was either stay in baseball or I was going to come work for my dad," he said. "I felt like I could raise a family, be at home and that's really why I didn't choose baseball. I walked in one day (in 1997) and my dad says, 'What are you doing?' and I said, 'I'm here to go to work.'
"It was in February and I think he thought I was going to spring training still. I had been working out and teams were calling but he didn't know yet for sure what I was going to do. Then he knew I was serious and he said, 'OK, let's do it,' and we started growing his business and I've been in ever since."