By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
A mere two weeks ago today, I covered the game between the Sabres and Capitals at the KeyBank Center. It was an odd atmosphere, overshadowed by a huge decline in the stock market and reports about the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The media wasn’t allowed into the locker room after the game, and the Sharks were about to be banned from their own arena.
I usually hate to quote myself, but that night I wrote that “we don’t know what day-to-day life is going to look like by the end of the month.”
It wasn’t my best moment of clairvoyance. Virtually everything on my calendar for the next month was erased three days later.
I have been sequestered at home more or less for the past week-plus like many others, and it became obvious that I wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while … and that I needed a project. Luckily, I already had one in mind.
Two summers ago, I ranked all of Buffalo’s sports numbers from 0 to 100 for Buffalo Sports Page. Last summer, I did the same for Buffalo’s biggest trades. I had given some thought as to what might be a good list for this summer, and decided that it would be fun to look over the list of free agents.
I thought of doing to top 50 incoming and top 50 departing free agents in Buffalo’s sports history. There were two problems. One, it would be very difficult to research the players who left that way. Two, such a list of departing players would be really depressing. Do you really want to re-live the departures of Chris Drury and Daniel Briere?
That idea turned into the thought of listing the 100 biggest free agent signings in Buffalo’s history, and that’s what I’ve done. By biggest, I am talking in terms of impact. That means the players who had long careers here receive the most attention, but the flops should not be ignored either.
The phrase “free agent” had to be defined for these purposes. We know the traditional way that players have jumped from team to team after finishing a contract. Undrafted players are a natural for this list. I have also included waiver transactions, since the original team and the player has no idea where that player might be going when the decision is made to let him go. And cash transactions are allowed in a few cases when they are made between leagues, as opposed to between teams in the same league. No expansion drafts or dispersal drafts qualified.
The NFL has had free agency in one form or another for 30 years. Therefore, the Bills dominate this list. The Sabres have some names to contribute, although the smaller roster size limits their contributions. Surprisingly, the Bisons turn up here with some names from the past. Remember that Buffalo had a National League team in the early 1880s, and also had its own players until major league teams essentially took over the supply of players of their minor league affiliates in the late 1950s.
The other sports don’t fare as well. Free agency hasn’t been a major part of player movement in the National Lacrosse League. There were some signings in the early days, but the origins there are cloudy. The Bandits, for example, had a free hand at acquiring Canadian talent in their first few seasons, and it’s tough to categorize moves then.
Records aren’t too good about Buffalo’s soccer teams either. I did find a representative of the Stallions who qualified, but it’s tough to know where the players from the Blizzard and Flash fit in. The Braves played in an era where free agency wasn’t present in pro basketball, so their candidates were players like Jim McDaniels, Johnny Newmann and Steve Kuberski. Not good enough.
I chose not to include any signings by the Bills during the 2020 free agent period. We’ll see how players like Josh Norman do in the fall (hopefully).
Care to know some of the honorable mentions? There are a few familiar names who didn’t make the cut: Marv Bateman, Joe Daley, Joe Danelo, Patrick DiMarco, Frank Gore, Corey Graham, Percy Harvin, Carter Hutton, Kirby Jackson,Jim Jeffcoat, Manny Lawson, Nick Mike-Mayer, Trent Murphy, Jordan Phillips, Jeff Posey, Scott Radicic, Robert Royal, Brandon Spikes, and Troy Vincent. Some of them are a year away from making such a list, I would guess.
The information came from all sorts of sources. Once again, my collection of media guides from Buffalo sports teams came in handy – and reminded me how I missed print versions of such publications in recent years to this day. Then it was on to computer searches, particularly places like hockey-reference.com and pro-football-reference.com. The Buffalo News supplied facts through stories, and Wikipedia provided plenty of launching points for further searches.
After all that, I think it’s an interesting list, containing plenty of surprise successes and stunning judgments (both ways) in evaluating talent. If you are a Buffalo sports fan, you will like it.
No. 100 will arrive on this website at 7 a.m. on Wednesday. It’s the first of five “free-agent” signings that feature stories that are extremely unusual. The first one, in fact, has some details of an event that I’ve never seen covered in national sports history – let alone locally.
Every other day, the next name on the list will be revealed. This is mostly to spread out the series so that it fills the summer. I reserve the right to speed up the process, especially if life returns to “normal” and events allow it.
A diversion is needed these days. Maybe this series can provide one every other day in the coming weeks.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)