By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
Hal Chase – Signed by the Buf-Feds in 1914
It’s extremely difficult to sum up this baseball legend in a few paragraphs. Hal Chase often was a star in his career, and he usually was a scoundrel. No matter where he went, including a stay in Buffalo, he attracted attention.
Chase arrived in the major leagues in 1905, and he is considered by many to be one of the first stars of the New York Highlanders – who eventually became the Yankees. He was often in the league leaders in batting, and he was considered by acclimation the best fielding first baseman in the business. But Chase also established a reputation as a troublemaker, and New York finally dealt him to the White Sox in 1913.
In June of 1914, Chase decided he was sick of the White Sox organization and told them he was planning to jump to the Buffalo franchise (nicknames the Buf-Feds) in the new Federal League. Chase played two innings for Buffalo on June 25, and was served with a restraining order. About a month later, Judge Herbert Bissell overturned the order by saying a baseball contract was “a species of quasi-peonage unlawfully controlling and interfering with the personal freedom of the men employed.” Chase was free to play in Buffalo.
In 75 games, “Prince Hal” set personal bests for batting average and slugging percentage. A year later, Chase led the Federal League with 17 homers while playing a full season. The 1915 team had picked up the nickname of the Blues, and they finished in the middle of the pack. At the end of the season, the Federal League went out of business. It left behind plenty of debts and a well-known stadium – Wrigley Field in Chicago. Buffalo’s stadium at Northland and Lonsdale (the Hamlin Park area) was torn down for salvage, and turned into lots for building construction.
Chase signed with the Cincinnati Reds for the 1916 season (no American League team was interested him), and stayed through 1918. Problems developed when three players testified that Chase had offered them bribes to throw games. Chase was cleared, but was released at the end of the season.
He signed with the Giants, but rode the bench when word made the rounds that Chase was trying to bribe players once again. That was it for the majors, but word came out in 1920 that he might have been a middleman in the famed “Black Sox” scandal of 1919. Chase played some semi-pro ball, but soon was done with the sport and barely got by as he worked low-paying jobs. Late in life he expressed remorse for his actions, and died in 1947.
Joseph Overfield’s book, “The 100 Seasons of Buffalo Baseball,” offered some valuable help in the writing of this entry.
If you’d like to learn a lot more about Hal …
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