Baseball Exhibit at Cattaraugus County Museum Highlights Frankees

Credits: Courtesy of Cattaraugus County Museum and Research Library
Credits: Cattaraugus County Museum and Research Library
Credits: Courtesy of Cattaraugus County Museum and Research Library
Credits: Courtesy of Cattaraugus County Museum and Research Library
Credits: Courtesy of Cattaraugus County Museum and Research Library

MACHIAS, NY – Fall’s annual Major League Baseball classic this year highlights the unique pairing of two teams suffering long droughts in bringing home a World Series trophy. The Chicago Cubs are seeking their first title in 108 years, and the Cleveland Indians haven’t tasted victory in the matchup between the best of the American and National leagues since 1948.

And while very few people are living today who can share with today’s baseball fans the actual jubilation felt in Cleveland 68 years ago when the last out was recorded in the sixth game against the Boston Braves, perhaps an even smaller number of people in and around Franklinville can recall those same feelings when their team, the Frankees of the Buffalo News Suburban Baseball Association, won its first championship in 1950.

However, the Cattaraugus County Museum and Research Library can help a visitor experience the thrill of winning a championship and the pride a community can take in the accomplishments of its hometown sports heroes.

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The museum, located in the Stone House at 9824 Route 16, features an informative and interesting exhibit “The National Pastime: Baseball in Cattaraugus County,” which highlights the outstanding amateur career of Ed Tanner of Franklinville and pays tribute to Salamanca natives Paul Owens, the manager of the 1983 World Champion Philadelphia Phillies, and Ray “Slim” Caldwell, a 20-game winner for the 1920 World Champion Cleveland Indians, as well as John McGraw’s playing days in Olean before his outstanding career with the New York Giants.

Museum curator Brian J. McClellan and his staff, having arrange dozens of Tanner artifacts including pennants, autographed baseballs, baseball gloves and uniform patches, along with dozens of newspaper clippings and photographs, have captured the baseball enthusiasm of the area during a time when teams from one end of Cattaraugus County to the other competed with scores of teams from all over Western New York in the Buffalo News-sponsored amateur league which operated for 75 years – from 1929 to 2004.

More importantly, McClellan, along with Cattaraugus County Historian Sharon Fellows, fixed in the display the important cultural impact of sports, in particular baseball, into the fabric of Cattaraugus County life.

“We were very fortunate that Maxine Tanner, Ed Tanner’s widow, donated to our museum a treasure trove of family scrapbooks and artifacts. The scrapbooks, for example, were filled with clippings, programs, photos and other tidbits of historical record that allowed us to produce such an extensive display,” McClellan said.

Maxine Tanner passed away in September of this year; her husband passed away in August of 2007 at the age of 90. They had been married for 66 years.

Ed Tanner helped the Franklinville Frankees win a total of five championships in his 22-year career as a member of the team. The name “Frankees” was invented when Ray Roberts, the team’s business manager, during the victory banquet in the Franklinville high school gym celebrating the 1950 baseball championship, boasted to guest speaker Lefty Gomez, who had played for the New York Yankees, that the Franklinville squad was so good it could “beat the Yankees.” Ralph Hubbell, the legendary sports reporter, who was giving his 6 o’clock sports broadcast for WBEN TV by telephone hook-up from the auditorium, reported the comment.

Bob Feeney, a sportswriter covering the event, then wrote the next day that the team should be called the Frankees after the Yankees and, from that season on, the name was embroidered onto the front of pin-striped uniforms.

Tanner, a multi-faceted ballplayer who batted left and threw right, amassed surreal batting averages and racked up scores of pitching victories in his career, covering over 1,000 games and playing in more playoff games than anyone in league history. In 1978 he was named “Player of the Half-Century” by the Buffalo News and, in 1997, was inducted with the first class of players and coaches into the Western New York Baseball Hall of Fame.

But even with his notable skills and recognized talent on the baseball field, he never turned pro. As he explained to Buffalo News sportswriter Maury May at the News Association ceremony held in his honor in 1978, he had many offers to sign a pro contract, but his father, who was also an outstanding amateur baseball player himself, “wouldn’t sign the contract.”

Instead, following his father’s advice, Tanner devoted himself to his railroad career and built a family, continuing to play a game he loved and came so naturally to him on Sunday afternoons during the summer baseball season.

The museum is open Mondays through Thursdays, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., and may be reached by calling 716-353-8200.

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