Sunday, May 18, 2008

Were the Buffalo Braves the canary in the Western New York mine shaft?

by Tim Wendel, author of Buffalo, Home of the Braves

Few thought so 30 years when the team switched franchises with the Boston Celtics before heading westward ho to become the Los Angeles Clippers. (The architect of that bizarre deal was a young lawyer named David Stern. But we’ll leave that twisted tale for another day.)

When the Braves left town, some civic leaders predicted that the NBA would be back in a decade or so. Seriously. They said that at the time. But one of the few guys who realized what this bait-and-switch really meant for the fans and the city was Phil Ranallo, the longtime columnist at The Buffalo Courier-Express.

I had the good fortune to sit next to Phil in the old C-E Sports Department in that paper’s last years of existence. He taught me about writing on deadline, how to get to real story and, most of all, how to have a sense of humor.

Phil nailed it when the Braves left town for good. He predicted that it would be a generation or more before the Niagara Frontier had another shot at a team of such stature. Back then we often debated the state of the sports world in late-night bull sessions at the paper. Several times Ranallo wondered aloud if the heyday of Buffalo had already come and gone. How with the economy suffering (this was the early 1980s) that it would difficult to hang on to remaining major-league franchises (The Bills, The Sabres).

Now some like to deride WNY as being behind the times. Unfortunately, when it comes to the impact of globalization, one could argue that Buffalo was cutting edge. It was one of first Rust Belt cities to be sold out by the politicians and see its jobs base flee overseas.

In Buffalo, Home of the Braves, we’re including several of Phil’s insightful takes on the team and the city. The man was ahead of his time and in some small measure our book is a tribute to him and an effort to bring his columns to a new generation of sports fans.

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