By Steve Cichon
There is really so much to say about Luke Easter.
Perhaps Buffalo’s greatest sports hero of the 1950s, the hulking legendary Negro League star was one of the first handful of black men to play in the American League.
After two years of slugging home runs for the Cleveland Indians, Easter came to the Buffalo Bisons and the short right field fence at Offermann Stadium and became an instant fan favorite, sending balls over the fence and over the scoreboard. He was the first black man to play for the Bisons in the modern era.
Even wearing glasses, Easter was still one of the great home run hitters in baseball when he joined the Bisons in 1955, and his 40 homers helped him grab the 1957 International League MVP Award.
He wouldn’t have admitted it then, but the first baseman was 40 when he joined the Bisons. Although he did wind up playing until the age of 49 with the Rochester Red Wings, Easter had been making plans for the days after his playing career by making sausage. Professionally.
Easter’s first dalliance in the world of processed meats came in Cleveland, where his brother-in-law was a butcher.
“You know, good sausage is just like a good woman. Hard to find. And I got both,” Easter told a throng of fans at a meat store in Akron, Ohio. But in Cleveland, it was his name on someone else’s sausage. In Buffalo, he was president of Luke Easter’s Sausage Products, on Bailey Avenue near Genesee.
Aside from providing some side income, working on the trucks delivering sausage provided the kind of exercise Easter needed to keep his body going during the offseason. And throwing around 100-pound bags in the factory, Easter said in one interview, was better than the workouts he’d get in at the Michigan Avenue YMCA.
After Easter was cut by the Bisons and picked up by the Red Wings, a “Luke Easter Night” was held during a doubleheader at Rochester’s Norton Street Stadium between the Herd and the Red Wings, hoping to attract some Buffalonians to make the trip.
Among the plaudits and gifts he received were a diamond watch, a color TV, an electric razor and five pounds of a rival brand’s wieners.