By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
If you are a local sports fan who hasn’t been to the Buffalo History Museum to see its Icons exhibit, well, what are you waiting for? It’s a first-class look at the area’s rich history in athletics, with a variety of one-of-a-kind items on display.
And if you liked the exhibit, you’d like something of a book version of it as well. It’s called “Makers, Moments and Memorabilia.” It’s all about Buffalo’s sports heritage, told through words and photos. You can purchase it at the History Museum, or at other retailers in the area.
Greg Tranter put the book together. He’s the area’s top collector of Bills’ memorabilia, and he donated his collection to the History Museum. Tranter, the president of the museum’s Board of Managers, had some help along the way from other sports collectors. Reading the book almost guarantees a few “where did they get that?” moments when it comes to photos and objects. And if you are a little weak on the subject matter, the book serves as a good primer for our history in that area.
Greg took a break during a recent book-signing appearance to chat about the backstory behind the book:
Buffalo Sports Page: How long did it take for the Icons exhibit at the History Museum to go from idea to opening?
Greg Tranter: The Icons exhibit started in late 2015 when I made the donation to the museum. We talked about doing a Bills exhibit that featured the collection. We had a few conversations, and we thought we should do a broad-based sports exhibit. Part of that came from the fact that I have several friends who are collectors of Buffalo sports items. I could get them to loan that stuff for the exhibit. It took from March of 2016 to November of 2017 to open. It was the period when we raised money and decided what the exhibit would be. That’s typical of a major exhibit.
BSP: Did a book idea come up along the way?
Tranter: That came later. I had no idea. We did think of doing an exhibit catalog of 10 pages featuring some of the artifacts, but that never came to fruition. Part of it was that we didn’t have time. We were so focused on getting the exhibit done. Doing that at the same time would be pretty difficult.
BSP: When did the book concept come along?
Tranter: It was in May of 2018. It came about when I went to Melissa (Brown, Executive Director of the museum), and said, “We don’t seem to collaborate with Western New York Heritage, and they publish an historical magazine and have done books in the past.” I thought we should collaborate with them, and she said to reach out. I got together with Doug DeCroix, and we talked about possible projects. I asked if he’d be interested in doing a book. We do so much research to prepare for an exhibit that never gets displayed. He said, we’d definitely be interested. I asked if he ever thought about a sports book that we could do with the Icons exhibit. Well, he looked at me with almost a stunned look. Then he said, “At the last board meeting, someone said, ‘Why don’t we publish a sports book?’” But his group didn’t have any content knowledge. I said that we have all the content knowledge we need. All the research had been done, so it was ready-made to be turned into a manuscript.
BSP: There’s so much material out there when it comes to Buffalo’s sports history. I learned some things reading your book. What did you learn along the way?
Tranter: Number one, the manuscript was the easiest part of the book. The research was time-consuming that was pretty much done. When I looked at it, I realized we didn’t have anything on the Buffalo Breskis or the World Tennis Team. I had to do some research there. But 80 percent was already done. I filled in as I was writing it. It took four months to write the manuscript.
The hardest part was the photographs. We wanted it to be heavily illustrated to bring everything together. The easiest part turned out to be the old photographs. From 1857 to 1923, it’s in the public domain. Once you found the photograph, publishing it was easy. The hardest part is that usually the copyright of photos is owned by the photographer. It’s not owned by the newspaper or the team. We had to chase down photographers. What made it more complicated is that if there’s a trademark in the photo, you have to go to who owns the trademark – the Bills, the Sabres, whatever – for approval. I tried really hard to get the photos that you don’t normally see. I wanted unique photos. That process started in March of this year, and we got the last approval two days before we went to print it.
BSP: The photos of objects might be the best part of the book. There are items that will make people go, “Where did they find that?”
Tranter: What was the best about the artifacts was that it came from my collection or one of the other four collectors who had worked on the Icons exhibit. With the five of us, we had all of the artifacts that were in the book. We brought a photographer in to take all the photos, so the copyright issue was simple. We tried to match the story with a cool photo. One of the stories in the back is about Doug Goodwin, who played for the Bills for only three games. We had a collector who had his game-worn jersey, and we had a photo of him in his game-worn jersey. Then we added the story, so we could have all of that together in the book.
BSP: How has the reception to the book been?
Tranter: Everything I’ve heard has been really, really positive. People have been taken by the photographs and the artifacts, and of the unique stories that are in it. I tried to tell stories that people either didn’t know anything about or knew a little bit about it. They might know about Alexander Mogilny coming here, but they didn’t know the depth of it. Or maybe they remembered Bob McAdoo coming here, but they didn’t know how that happened. Some people don’t remember a women’s softball team or World Team Tennis franchise. My favorite story is that the Boston Red Sox were actually born in Buffalo.
BSP: One thing that impressed me was the sponsorship of the book. That’s an interesting way of putting it all together.
Tranter: I thought that we could get some of our Icon sponsors to publish the book. I asked Doug how much money we might need to publish it, because part of my objective was just to get it out there. I didn’t care if I got any money out of it. I was doing it for the love of doing it. If we could get sponsors, then the museum and Western New York Heritage could split the proceeds. He was intrigued by that. We needed about $25,000, and then the proceeds were gravy for the organizations. I took the list of donors from the exhibit, and went to the ones I thought would be interested. For example, I went to Independent Health, and they immediately said yes. I had good relationships with the Baird Foundation, and they became a sponsor. Then there’s NTD Data, and New Era came aboard.
BSP: It seems like we are headed toward some sort of structure that would house a Sports Hall of Fame in Buffalo. The History Museum’s exhibit seemed like a good sign of what it might be like some day. Is that the way you are thinking?
Tranter: I think it’s farther off that I hoped when I donated my collection to the History Museum. We had gone down to the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh. That’s the same type of concept of what the Buffalo History Museum does here. In 2005, they decided to add a wing to the museum, and it is called the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum. I would love the History Museum here to do that. But we’d have to raise a reasonable amount of money to do that. What we did with Icons shows that it is possible, and we have a good relationship with the collectors to do what we want to do. Hopefully I will love long enough for that to happen.
BSP: Someone once told me, “When you write one book, you’re a guy that wrote a book. When you write two books, you’re an author?” Are people asking what your next project is?
Tranter: Oh yes. I’m working on book number two right now. I’m taking 75 objects from the Bills’ collection and telling the history of the Bills through those objects. I’m working with Jeffrey Miller, who has done several Bills books. We have a contract, and we owe them the final manuscript on January 15. Hopefully it will be out next fall.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)