A late start to his career and appendicitis kept Ollie Carnegie a minor league Babe Ruth. The son of Italian immigrants, Carnegie was a semi-pro superstar on the sandlots of his native Pittsburgh. The young slugger turned down contracts from the Pirates and Senators, preferring to keep his steady job in a steel mill. When he did give pro ball a shot in 1922, appendicitis ended his baseball dreams after just seven games. It wasn’t until Carnegie lost his job to The Depression and was well into his 30’s that he decided to give the game another try.
After a summer in the low minors, Carnegie joined the Buffalo Bisons of the International League, just one rung below the big leagues. He finished in the top five in home runs four out his first five seasons with the Bisons, and though he seemed perpetually on the verge of being signed by a Major League team, his age and a 1936 ankle injury kept him in Buffalo. Just when the 39 year-old was being written off as over the hill, Carnegie finished first in home runs (54), RBI (136) and total bases (358) and was second in slugging percentage (.649) and third in hits (182). He was voted the 1938 International League’s Most Valuable Player but astonishingly, no Major League contract materialized.
By then Carnegie had accepted that he’d never be a big leaguer and spent the next few years cementing his reputation as the greatest and most beloved ball player to ever play in Buffalo. After he hung up his spikes “The Bambino of Buffalo” tried his hand at managing the Bisons before becoming a scout, riding around in a personalized station wagon given to him by his grateful Buffalo fans.