Old Team Tuesday: The Buffalo Breski’s
Old Team Tuesday is a weekly feature taking a look at former teams that have gone by the wayside. This week’s edition magnifies one of the pioneering franchises in women’s sports.
The effects of the women’s liberation movement and Title IX on American society are nearly impossible to ignore. What were once considered traditional roles are now continuously challenged and overhauled in the name of equal opportunity. In the 1970s, few women were more synonymous with these efforts than Billie Jean King.
After disrupting the pro tennis scene with a torrent of 30 combined Grand Slam victories before her 30th birthday, King defeated Bobby Riggs in the highly-publicized “Battle of the Sexes.” Riggs had managed to beat Margaret Court just a few months prior – the top-ranked female player in the world at the onset of 1973.
King’s status – even before her triumph over Riggs – gave her a uniquely powerful voice in sports and beyond. She used that platform to battle for equal pay, form a union, start a women-centric magazine and charitable foundation, and encourage young girls to take up sports. Part of those efforts included collaborating with her then-husband, Larry King, to found and establish World Team Tennis.
Despite tennis being her most well-known pursuit, it was not her first interest and hardly remained her sole one. As a child, Billie Jean Moffitt played both baseball and softball until her parents nudged her into the more “ladylike” sport of tennis. Her passion and talent for the game of softball never left her, and just two years after WTT got off the ground, King helped create a professional women’s softball league.
--- Out of necessity ---
During World War II, women filled in at countless jobs where the men who regularly held those positions were summoned to battle. This included the roles of athletes and sports stars. When Major League Baseball’s rosters were depleted by the draft, several wealthy businessmen formed leagues for women to play the sport in their absence. This included the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, forever immortalized in the 1992 classic A League of their Own.
Others opted to create ladies’ softball leagues to fill the entertainment void, such as American Women’s Professional Softball and the National Women’s Professional Softball League. Even after the end of the war, several of these start-up leagues continued to operate. Eventually, leagues gave way to occasional regional and national tournaments due to declining interest, participation, and support.
On August 8, 1975, Billie Jean King and Dennis Murphy, co-founder of the World Hockey Association, World Football League, American Basketball Association, and World Team Tennis, sought to reverse that trend. They revealed plans to revive a pro women’s softball league by placing franchises throughout North America, Asia, and the Caribbean. By the following May, 28 teams would work their way through a 128-game schedule in the International Women’s Professional Softball League.
Although reception to the news was lukewarm, the new league offered several new innovations including colored bases, designated hitters, and yellow balls. By the time the window for admittance closed on December 31, the league had found ownership groups in 11 cities, less than half its originally-stated goal. Franchises were planned to play in Boston, Buffalo, N.Y., Detroit, Hartford, Conn., Los Angeles, Reading, Penn., Phoenix, Portland, Ore., San Diego, San Jose, and Santa Ana, Calif.
In January 1976, franchise changes were made ahead of the league’s inaugural player draft. Boston and Portland were out, but Chicago was in. The adjustments gave the league 10 teams split evenly between the Eastern Division and the Western Division. On January 31, 320 players became the first members of the IWPSL.
--- Yes, it’s technically supposed to be possessive ---
In Buffalo, the new team would be nicknamed the Breski’s after owner Henry Breski, who had previously backed an amateur team bearing his name for several summers. In 1975, his squad won the regional championship, earning themselves a place in the national tournament. Buffalo was bounced early from that tourney, finishing in seventh place overall for the year.
The core of the 1975 squad remained intact when the first Breski’s roster was released on May 25, 1976. That included Cindy Breski, Henry’s daughter whom he appointed Director of Player Personnel and starting first baseman.
|An original uniform worn by the Breski's in their first seasons.|
Cindy had been a standout athlete from a young age. Despite Lancaster High School offering no sports for girls when she attended in the early 1960s, she set a girl’s world junior by bowling a 718 game at the age of 16. She became the head coach of Tonawanda High School’s varsity basketball team in 1969 after earning a teaching degree at Brockport State. The following school year, she helped establish a varsity softball team at the school.
By 1975, she had 12 years under her belt in the Amateur Softball Association, and batted .667 at the National Championship to earn All-American status and become the first female recipient of the Amateur Athlete of the Year award from the Buffalo Athletic Club. Her talents on the field earned her one of the richest contracts in the entire league – $3,000 for the season.
Other local players signed on for the IWPSL slate included Liz Cousins, Leda Peterson, Donna Redabow, Dawn Forster, Mary Ann Kluge, and Helen Nikiel. Additionally, the team named Tim Maloney as its general manager and David Florko as its field manager. Florko was seen as an especially promising get for the team. He was the only two-time manager of the year in the history of Buffalo’s ASA chapter. Despite being just 39, he had 14 years of managerial experience that included the 1975 Men’s Open Fast Pitch Championship.
|The Opening Day roster for the Breski's featured several hometown talents.|
--- Humble beginnings and humbling starts ---
As an amateur outfit, Breski’s team had a loyal following. They tended to show up in droves, with more than 7,500 coming to watch a game against the powerhouse Raybestos (Conn.) Brakettes on one occasion. That enthusiasm didn’t fail the team when they made their debut at Legion Field in Eden, New York on May 28. 3,500 fans were packed in and around the rejuvenated 2,000-seat facility for the first games in the history of the newly-renamed Women’s Professional Softball Association.
Their opponent that evening was the Connecticut Falcons, who were the entirety of the 1975 Brakettes squad, and the five-time defending ASA national champions. Originally named the Connecticut Bics after the pen company, the club was re-titled after the corporation withdrew its sponsorship.
On hand for the occasion was Billie Jean King herself, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch while the Eden High School Jazz Band serenaded the crowd. The band continued to supply most of the evening’s entertainment, as Buffalo was swept in the opening doubleheader, 1-0 and 8-5. Connecticut completed the series sweep the following day with 7-6 and 8-4 wins.
A trip to East Detroit for a showdown with the Michigan Travelers proved even gloomier for the Breski’s. In the series opener, starting pitcher Cindy Henderson struck out 12 Buffalo batters, while the Michigan offense tagged the visiting staff for 13 hits and 11 runs in a decisive shutout win.
On June 12, Buffalo traveled to Meriden, Connecticut for a rematch with the red-hot Falcons. After Buffalo took the opening game of their double-header 8-0, Connecticut star pitcher Joan Joyce nearly hurled a no-hitter, until a two-out, two-strike single by Mary Ann Cardillo in the seventh inning broke it up at the last minute. The next night, the scene nearly repeated itself. Buffalo won the first game 5-4, but was again one-hit by Joyce, who recorded 13 strikeouts in a 3-0 victory.
At the end of the month, Buffalo made its first western road swing, and was promptly swept by the Santa Ana Lionettes. Cathy Benedetto of Santa Ana became the first pitcher to work through 27 outs without allowing a hit to a Buffalo batter.
Despite the regular threat of being the victim of a no-hit game, the Breski’s held a 20-26 record entering July and managed to worm their way into second place in the division by July 7. For the next month, they posted a winning record, and maintained control of second place in the East with the Ravens keeping pace down the stretch.
--- Opportunity lost ---
By late August, Buffalo had relinquished their spot and slipped to third, trailing Chicago by four games. The jockeying gave tremendous weight to the teams’ pair of doubleheaders in Eden on August 29 and 30.
In the opening game of the series, pitcher Judy Jungwirth was brilliant in a five-hit, complete-game effort the Breski’s took 2-0. They completed the daily sweep by outscoring the visitors 4-1. The next day, Buffalo had a chance to pull even in the standings, if they could repeat the events of the day prior and sweep the Ravens. Buffalo wound up amassing just two hits in the opening game, a 3-0 loss. But they bounced back in the rubber match and took a 7-6 victory to help keep them within striking distance.
Unfortunately for the Breski’s, that was as close as they got to the postseason. Chicago controlled the second and final playoff spot through the regular-season finale, excluding Buffalo from the inaugural WPSA playoffs.
In the postseason, Connecticut cruised past Chicago and the San Jose Sunbirds to win the WPSA World Series. At the conclusion of the regular season, Falcons pitcher Joan Joyce had put together an unfathomable 39-2 record, threw two perfect games and four more no-hitters, and had an ERA of .013.
Buffalo, meanwhile, found three bona fide stars in Cindy Breski, Maryanne Cardillo, and Helen Nikiel. Both Breski and Cardillo were selected to represent Buffalo on the Eastern Division All-Star Team in Detroit. Cardillo finished the season with 16 home runs to lead the entire league, while Nikiel was one of five pitchers to reach 30 wins after posting a 31-18 record.
--- Shuffling the deck ---
In February, 1977, the Southern California Gems became the fifth original WPSA team to close up shop. Chicago, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and San Diego were the others to be disengaged, while Phoenix (who had been renamed to Arizona midway through the season) relocated to Bakersfield, California. That left Buffalo, Connecticut, Santa Ana, and San Jose as the four survivors heading into the new season. Joining them were the newcomer St. Louis Hummers. Restructuring followed the changes, and the league abolished its divisional layout. The top four teams in the association would then move on to the postseason.
Due to the high cost a 128-game season took on players’ bodies and the league’s bottom line, the season was reduced to 84 games for 1977. In an effort to increase offense and reduce the effect pitchers like Joan Joyce had on the game, pitchers were moved four feet further back from home plate to a distance of 44 feet.
The Breski’s also uprooted themselves from Eden’s Legion Field in favor of Lackawanna Stadium. The team purchased 1,500 additional bleacher seats in order to increase capacity to 5,000. While this decision may have seemed odd for a team that averaged 1,200 fans at a 2,000 seat venue, the new digs in Lackawanna would allow more people to travel a shorter distance to a larger, more centralized stadium, with the end goal being major growth in attendance for the team that had been tops the IWPSA in its first season. It also helped the club land the league All-Star Game, which was to be played in mid-July.
--- Round two ---
Buffalo traveled to Meriden, Connecticut to open their season against the Falcons on May 26. Like the previous year when the two teams opened up the season, it was Connecticut that came out on top, winning the opener by a 13-4 margin. The next day, the Breski’s fell victim to the Falcons twice, as they ended their series winless thanks to 3-0 and 4-2 losses. It didn’t take long for Buffalo to exact their revenge on Connecticut. Following the doubleheader, both teams traveled west to Lackawanna for the Breski’s home opener.
|A sign outside Lackawanna Stadium proudly boasted it was home of the Breski's.|
With winds swirling, Buffalo gashed the guests for five runs in the opening frame en route to a 9-8 triumph. Like they had in the first game of the season, the Breski’s teed off on Connecticut starting pitcher Joan Joyce. In her first two outings, the league’s best player from the previous season had surrendered 23 hits and 13 runs. 2,100 fans showed up to the renovated ballpark for the occasion. The following day, Maryanne Cardillo walloped a fifth-inning grand slam off Gloria Becksford to give the home squad a lead they wouldn’t let go, taking the contest 7-5 to bump their record to 2-3.
As had happened in 1976, the 1977 season got off to a shaky start for the Breski’s. After 20 games, they stood at 10-10, but still had trouble measuring up against the best players and teams in the IWPSA. A four-game round-robin weekend in Hartford versus St. Louis and Connecticut provided them with a great opportunity for a statement win.
After splitting their session against Connecticut, Buffalo looked destined to slip to 11-12 when they trailed the Hummers 1-0 with two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the seventh inning of their Sunday opener. Margie Wright, St. Louis’ rookie ace, worked Pat Stockman into a full count to put the Breski’s down to their last strike.
Her sixth pitch of the at-bat put the nail in the coffin, so to speak, but not for the Hummers. Stockman barreled the ball deep beyond the outfield wall to surge Buffalo ahead 4-1. St. Louis couldn’t rally in their half of the frame, and then took a 9-2 shelling in the night cap to vault the Breski’s to a surprising sweep and 3-1 weekend.
Buffalo used the momentum from their double triumph on June 26 to work their way ever-slowly up the standings, and entered the All-Star Break above .500 and in third place.
--- Cribs ---
With the honor of hosting the All-Star Game bestowed upon the Buffalo franchise, the team hoped to draw a big crowd to show the softball world how serious the area was about fastpitch.
Attendees at the game would once again see the East’s All-Star Squad overrun with Connecticut Falcons. Seven Falcons’ players were nominated to the game, while Buffalo and St. Louis each sent three of their own to round out their side. Buffalo’s participants were Connie Peterson, Val Strachan, and Pat Stockman.
A respectable lot of 2,469 came out to see the East thrash the West (Bakersfield, San Jose, and Santa Ana) 11-5. The game was a runaway from the onset, as Connecticut’s Joyce Compton put the East up early with a two-run shot in the bottom of the first. Entering the seventh, the gap had ballooned to 10 runs, until the West finally scraped together some offense and cut the deficit to 10-5 over their next two innings at the plate. One final run from the East was plated in the bottom of the eighth, to put the score at 11-5. Stockman entered the game in the sixth inning and pitched four innings in relief, surrendering all five of the West’s runs in the process.
--- Reality bites ---
Returning to action proved exceedingly difficult for the Breski’s following the break. 11 of their final games were to be played against fellow playoff hopefuls St. Louis. Buffalo’s season would be made or broken by their efforts against the Hummers.
Their grasp of third place immediately slipped right out of their hands, as they went 22 innings without scoring on a sharp fall back to a .500 record, which put them in a tie with the Hummers and Santa Ana Lionettes. Only the Bakersfield Aggies – who trailed all three teams by 15 games – were mathematically eliminated from postseason contention. On August 2, Buffalo was deadlocked in a three-way tie for the final two playoff spots.
Aside from league-leading Connecticut, Buffalo had more games in hand in the final month of the season than any other team, meaning they had the most chances to dig themselves out of the slump and put themselves into the postseason. Despite the opportunity, they were hopelessly swept and bumped to 32-36, breaking the tie for the final playoff spots in favor of the Hummers and Lionettes. They evened out to win three of their next six games, but ultimately floundered to a 37-42 mark at season’s end. St. Louis, who went 10-1 against the Breski’s following the All-Star Break. The Hummers’ surge allowed them to catch and pass San Jose by virtue of a tiebreaker to earn the second seed in the playoffs, while Santa Ana finished three games ahead of the Breski’s at 42-40 to claim the final spot.
Once again, Connecticut won the IWPSA World Series title for their second win in as many years, but not without its share of drama. One positive the league was able to take away was that attendance at the World Series had nearly doubled from the first year, from 4,800 to 8,000. Buffalo, however, was forced to take a hard look in the mirror and evaluate what it was about the team that saw them come so close to the playoffs, only to choke when they could least afford to.
Offensively, Maryanne Cardillo once again led the Buffalo club in home runs, but came in tied for second overall in the league count. Leda Peterson finished the year with 41 RBI, fourth-best in the league, and her .306 average put her in the top five.
Defensively, the Breski’s had little to brag about at the end of the season. The only categories any of their pitchers were among league leaders in were complete games (Pat Stockman, 23) and shutouts (Stockman, five).
In the stands, Buffalo was fourth out of the six teams in terms of attendance after leading the league in that category the year prior.
--- Hope before dope ---
In the offseason, owner Henry Breski made it known that he wanted to return to Eden for 1978. Attendance at Lackawanna Stadium had struggled, despite the more optimal location and larger capacity. In Eden, he’d led a 10-team league in attendance, thanks to a community that lived and breathed softball. With rumors circulating that the league would once again be inflated to 10 teams, Breski wanted to get back to what he knew worked.
Although the reduced schedule and contraction to a six-team association in 1977 helped slow losses for the IWPSA and its stakeholders, support from original co-founder Billie Jean King was in scarce supply. While franchise owners hesitated to spend any money without a legitimate purpose, King had supposedly been offended when teams refused to buy her women’s sports magazine for distribution at games. Owners cited that it would eat into already pathetic margins, and teams were better off printing and selling their own programs at their home games anyway. As a result of the tiff, King’s magazine featured nary an article on the softball league, eating away a sizeable amount of press it could have been receiving.
A certain level of optimism following the league’s second season quickly went up in smoke.
By March, a 10-team league was well out of the question. King, Dennis Murphy, and Fred Huebner soon left the league for dead. San Jose and Santa Ana bailed, leaving Bakersfield, Buffalo, Connecticut, and St. Louis as the only teams committed to seeing year three for the league. Buffalo’s status then came under fire, not from external sources, but from within the league itself.
It was known to Henry Breski when he joined the IWPSA that he would lose money at first. He claimed that three years would go by before he turned a profit. After just two seasons, however, Breski was $175,000 in the red. Still, he wished to play a role in the league and sport as they progressed.
Tim Maloney, the team’s general manager since its inception, talked to a reporter claiming to have knowledge of a group of interested investors who wished to take over the Buffalo franchise. Intrigued by this opportunity, several league executives attempted to stage a coup and remove Breski from his post despite his commitment to the game.
--- New looks ---
The upheaval proved a success, as Maloney was appointed to lead a 12-person board of directors. In one of their first acts of business, the new leadership group scrubbed the organization of its primary reference to the former owner. No longer would the team be called the Breski’s; it would now bear the moniker “Bisons” after the longtime pro baseball team that had been sold and moved out of Buffalo in 1970 after 94 seasons. Additionally, the team’s green and gold color scheme was scrapped in favor of a red, white, and blue palette.
The changes within the franchise proved upsetting to fans, some of whom even called for a boycott of the team and league for what they considered heinous and petty behavior in spite of the fact membership continued to tumble heading into the IWPSA’s third season.
The association decided to greenlight the year with just four financially solvent teams in vastly different parts of the country. The Bakersfield franchise, who had originally committed to playing in 1978, was now gone, but had hopes to reboot in 1979. In its place were the San Jose Sunbirds, who returned after initially balking at playing on. The St. Louis Hummers were back for a second season, while the Bisons and Connecticut Falcons rounded out the league’s competition. Although the 1978 season had not yet gotten underway, efforts were being made to add six more teams for the following year. Santa Ana planned to relocate to White Plains, New York after a one-year recuperation period, and cities including Denver and Edmonton were being eyeballed as potential expansion sites.
--- Same losses ---
For the third straight year, Buffalo and Connecticut squared off against each other to open the season. The Bisons packed up and traveled east to Meriden for an eight-game set against the Falcons beginning on May 26.
On the first night of action, both teams split the day with one win each. On day two, Buffalo opened the day by rolling to an 8-4 win behind the heavy bat of Maryanne Cardillo. Cardillo paced the squad by collecting four hits – including a three-run double – and five RBI in the first game. Later that night, Joan Joyce – fresh off an LPGA appearance in New Rochelle, New York – silenced the Buffalo batters as the Falcons rumbled to a 7-0 win.
In the second half of Buffalo’s series with Connecticut, the Falcons cruised to a third-day sweep of the Bisons with 6-1 and 4-3 wins before splitting the final day of competition. After the eight-game series, Buffalo’s 3-5 record stood opposite of the 5-3 Falcons.
Their next eight-game series was to be played against the San Jose Sunbirds, who only won one of their eight opening games against St. Louis. Buffalo took five games from the Sunbirds in order to bring their record up to 8-8.
They then traveled to St. Louis to meet the Hummers for the first time that season. Their opening doubleheader featured two tightly-contested wins that the home club was able to sneak away with. Two more sweeps came in the next two twin bills before the Bisons finally took St. Louis for a loss on the final day of the series.
From the onset, it was clear that Connecticut was once again the runaway favorite to win the regular-season title and the IWPSA World Series. After they took five games from Buffalo to open the season, they went 12-4 against St. Louis and only lost once in an eight-game stretch against lowly San Jose. After three series and 24 games, the 9-15 Bisons were already flirting with another early offseason.
--- New lows ---
Consecutive doubleheader splits at home against St. Louis didn’t help Buffalo’s chances much, but problems on the field were paling in comparison to the issues the team faced off it. Following Henry Breski’s exit, the club forged by signing on for another year at Lackawanna Stadium. As a result of the on-field play and the locale, attendance through the first eight gamedays had sunken to an average of 800 spectators.
Through six games in the St. Louis series, Buffalo held an 11-19 mark, which set them at a distant third in the league standings. By July 10, just over two weeks later, they had fallen to a ghastly 14-34 – a stretch of three wins and 15 losses. By comparison, the Connecticut Falcons were 27 games ahead of the Bisons with a 45-11 record of their own.
Not long after, the Sunbirds were forced to cancel their remaining home games because attendance was so pitiful. They planned to play out the rest of their away games on the road as scheduled, essentially becoming a barnstorming team to cut expensive travel and lodging costs not only for themselves, but for the other three clubs as well.
|A mostly-empty stadium provided the backdrop for this contest between Buffalo and San Jose.|
And yet, league officials were still ambitious and hopeful for expansion in 1979. However, their goal of a 10-team league was once again whittled down by a number of factors. In early August, Buffalo general manager Tim Maloney admitted only three cities were now interested in becoming league members.
--- New highs ---
Despite their lopsided record, Buffalo was able to claim a playoff spot by virtue of the horrendous play of the San Jose Sunbirds. In the four-team format, the top-seeded Connecticut Falcons received a first-round bye, while the second place St. Louis Hummers and third-position Bisons would battle in a best-of-five semifinal for the right to go to the IWPSA World Series.
In preparation for their first-ever playoff series, Buffalo scheduled an exhibition matchup against the Rochester Zeniths, a men’s slowpitch team based about 75 miles east of the Bisons’ home field. The mixed-rules doubleheader had Buffalo’s pitchers hurling at their usual, fastpitch pace while their batters were to face much slower, arcing pitches from the Zeniths. The change in pace didn’t bother the men at all, as they stomped the ladies 19-3 in the opener, and then shut them out 4-0 in the finale.
After the losses, Buffalo readied themselves for their trip to St. Louis. Unlike the regular-season schedule, the postseason would feature just one nine-inning game every day for the entirety of the series in an effort to increase attendance and gate payouts. There would be no traveling between venues, as the higher seed in each series would play host for every game.
On August 24, the first game of the series got underway in rough fashion for the Bisons. Starting pitcher Charlotte Graham was dealt the loss, as the Buffalo pitching staff surrendered 22 hits in a 16-2 defeat. The following day, St. Louis chased Buffalo’s starter in the third inning after taking a 6-0 lead on a walk and seven hits. The final score for game two read 11-5 Hummers.
Facing elimination and needing three straight wins to advance to the World Series, Buffalo game into Game Three of the semifinal seeking some sort of defensive spark. Their pitching had been whipped too badly in the first two games for their offense to really make a difference.
In the opening inning, Buffalo drew first blood for a 1-0 lead. They tacked on two more runs in the fourth while starting pitcher Pat Stockman held St. Louis scoreless. After the seventh inning, the Bisons continued to hold their 3-0 lead, and looked poised to extend the series. But in the eighth inning, the wheels fell off and Buffalo lost all control of the game. Stockman, who’d pitched a brilliant game to that point, suddenly struggled to keep her composure, giving up six runs and allowing the Hummers to leap in front. One run in the ninth for Buffalo was not enough to right things, and St. Louis swept the series with a 6-4 victory.
The 61-win Falcons then welcomed St. Louis to Connecticut in predictable fashion, disposing of the Hummers as they had done so often in the regular season to win their third-straight IWPSA title.
For Buffalo, Maryanne Cardillo failed to reach double-digit home run totals on the season for the first time in her professional career. The team, despite needing 2,000 fans per game to break even, plugged on for its fourth season, opting once again to call Lackawanna Stadium home.
--- Make way for men ---
In January of 1979, the International Women’s Professional Softball Association finally ditched its misnomer label. With the addition of teams in Edmonton, Alberta and Philadelphia, the league was truly international for the first time ever.
The six-team league returned to a two-division format for the first time since 1976. The Bisons, Connecticut Falcons, and the new Philadelphia franchise would make up the East, while the Edmonton Snowbirds, freshly-minted San Jose Rainbow, and St. Louis Hummers would be members of the West. The playoff format was also altered, as the regular-season champion would now gain an automatic spot in the finals, while two wild card teams would duke it out before facing the non-automatic division winner in the league semifinals.
On Thursday, February 22, 1979, the City of Buffalo brought professional baseball back for the first time since the International League’s Buffalo Bisons were sold and moved to Winnipeg in the middle of their 1970 season. After a month of organization and preparation, one of their final responsibilities was to name the new club, which would enter the AA-level Eastern League. At a board meeting on March 27, team officials re-instituted the “Bisons” nickname, much to the chagrin of the softball organization.
Despite the rich history the name carried among the city’s baseball teams for over nine decades, team president David Florko lambasted the decision, fearing the softball team would be overshadowed and forgotten about come summertime. While the baseball Bisons got underway in April, softball fans had to wait until June 2 to see their squad take the field for the first time.
Struggles throughout the spring daunted the Philadelphia franchise, and in late May, the team was abandoned. Not wanting to lose another team and need to alter the playing schedule, a last-minute replacement was pieced together on June 8 in the shape of the New York Golden Apples.
--- Not gone, but still forgotten ---
Connecticut was once again the opponent in the regular-season opener. Bisons starter Kathy Neale guided the home team to victory with a two-hit, complete hit shutout. The Falcons fought back in the second game to earn an opening day split.
Unlike any of the previous seasons, Connecticut stumbled out of the gate, appearing more mortal than ever before. Through their first 15 games, they lost six contests, several of which came at the hands of the Bisons.
On June 19, Buffalo’s Gloria Becksford silenced St. Louis’ bats with a 1-0 no-hit victory to open a doubleheader the two teams wound up splitting.
By July 6, Connecticut had sorted out the issues plaguing their team, and hosted the 10-16 Buffalo Bisons with a 14-game win streak on the line. The first victory in the streak had also come at the expense of Buffalo, and by the end of the night, so had the 15th and 16th wins.
New York joined Buffalo for a unique gameday in Connecticut. The Falcons played twice on July 8, first against the Bisons and then against the Golden Apples. In the first game of the day, Falcons’ mainstay Joan Joyce throttled the opposition by tossing yet another no-hitter. Both teams were still scoreless heading into the seventh, but Connecticut took the decision via a walkoff 1-0 win. New York fell victim to a similar fate in the second game, the 20th straight win for the 29-6 Falcons.
Although they held a 28-37 record following August 2’s slate of games, Buffalo was in second place in the east division, but sat well behind the 43-15 Falcons.
As the season dragged along, team management was once again scratching their heads trying to figure out why so few fans were making the trip out to Lackawanna for home games. After leaving the softball-crazed community of Eden, the central venue had become barren, as the 5,000-seat facility was rarely at even 10 percent capacity.
--- Newer highs ---
Buffalo stayed even for most of what remained of their season, finishing with a 40-53 overall record, which put them in second place in the Eastern Division and gave them the right to host the first round of the playoffs against the San Jose Rainbow.
Game one of the series proved exciting for the few fans that chose to show up. Both teams were tied 1-1 after regulation, and needed 12 innings to settle things. Buffalo wound up walking off for a 2-1 victory, the first in postseason history for the franchise.
After four games, the series was tied 2-2 heading into the final, winner-take-all showdown. In the end, San Jose came up short, and the Bisons found themselves packing for a road trip to St. Louis.
Things started much rockier in the Show-Me State for the Bisons than they had in the Queen City. Patti Guenzler led off the series with a home run for the Hummers, and helped provide more offense throughout a 7-2 win.
Buffalo soon found themselves in a 2-0 hole with elimination looming following a 3-0 loss in the series’ second game. They managed to extend the series to a fourth game by taking the third meeting on August 27, but ultimately bowed out to St. Louis, who had a championship rematch to prepare for in Connecticut.
--- Return to roots ---
The New York Golden Apples limped to the finish line in 1979, borrowing money from the league fund in order to pay their players. They nearly had to shut down in the middle of the season, which would have been an even more unmitigated disaster, but thanks to assistance from Bic Pen Corporation – the company that had abandoned the future four-time champion Connecticut Falcons just before their first season – the league remained afloat for just enough time. The dire financial situation they were in prevented the Golden Apples from carrying on to 1980, so the remaining five teams decided to play on without them and without adding any new members.
Despite their desire to throw good money after bad, the remaining clubs were forced to call it quits in May of 1980. Rather than accusations and finger-pointing, the news came to the surprise of few, with most people understanding the logic after seeing the writing on the wall. No marketing, flailing sponsorship deals, skyrocketing cross-continental travel costs, and low turnouts were all major factors in the deterioration of the once-hopeful enterprise.
Meanwhile, organizers including David Florko and Helen Nikiel joined forces with several other locals to form the Western New York Women’s Fastpitch Softball Association. The WNYWFSA would be based in Eden at Legion Field, the original home of the Breski’s. In addition to several area teams, an outfit from Erie, Pennsylvania was admitted to the organization. The league worked to right several wrongs the Bisons and IWPSA got wrong, and ensured women’s fastpitch didn’t die on their watch.