SUMMER hereabouts officially ended at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday when the Buffalo Bisons lost an 18-inning one-game playoff for the American Association's East Division championship. But there should be no tears.
The Bisons provided a summer of fun for their regular and occasional fans who, for the third straight season, bought enough tickets to top the million mark. The 1990 total was 1,174,358, including a commendable 16,224 in one-day sales for the playoff game. From those enjoying the ease of the corporate boxes to those stamping their feet (and starting the "wave") in the metal bleachers, Pilot Field was a good place to be for everyone in the summer of 1990.
The team cooperated with 48 wins and only 26 losses at home despite more than 100 roster moves engineered by the parent Pittsburgh Pirates. Pittsburgh made it a daily adventure to be a Bisons' fan. With so many player changes, "Who's on first?" was more than an Abbott and Costello routine. In a way, it was symbolic of the whole season that Wednesday morning's losing pitcher was making his Buffalo debut.
But that's the way it is in the minor leagues, even with the minors' all-time attendance leader.
So, for all the fun of 1990, Buffalo baseball fans have good reason to hope that a major league team will call Buffalo home sometime soon. There was good news on the expansion front Tuesday when Bisons President Robert E. Rich Jr. made known the list of 13 investors who are joining him in Buffalo's application for a National League franchise.
It is a representative group that includes local and out-of-town wealth, two minority businessmen, persons involved with the Buffalo Sabres and Larry King, the prominent talk-show host. Its make-up should be another positive factor when Rich makes his presentation to the National League Expansion Committee later this month.
That's when Buffalo will go up against the likes of Denver, St. Petersburg, Phoenix, Washington and Miami in the competition for two expansion openings. Rich can present a strong ownership group, a beautiful (and expandable) baseball stadium with a real grass playing surface, steady support from local governments and a budding player-development farm system.
The minus side is Buffalo's comparatively small and declining population. The 1990 Census preliminary counts show that the Buffalo metropolitan area, consisting of Erie and Niagara counties, lost 57,627 people (or 4.6 percent) in the 1980s. Optimists argue that the sag occurred early in the decade and that the area is really on the rebound. That may well be true, but no hard statistics yet support the notion. So it doesn't help Rich's presentation.
Anyway, the best numbers are those from the turnstiles. No competitor comes close to Buffalo in fan support of a baseball team. Washington has lost big-league teams twice. Denver, with a better attendance history than most, did not hit 500,000 in 1990 in the same league as Buffalo.