The Houston Sports Museum Mystery

added 11/16/2009 by Dr. Bill McCurdy

The mural of Buff Stadium sees few visitors now.
Dr. Bill McCurdy

(Editor's Note: This column is re-posted with permission from the Pecan Park Eagle. If you have any additional information about the missing museum content, send Bill an e-mail at the link above.)

Fans of Houston's baseball history have spent the past few months wondering what was to become of the artifacts that once were on display at the Houston Sports Museum. The museum closed earlier this year when the Finger Furniture store on the Gulf Freeway that housed it on the original site of old Buff Stadium closed their doors for business. The small museum was located within the store, built around the spot where the home plate of Buff Stadium still stood, imbedded in the floor as a signature on owner Sammy Finger's dedication to preserving the memory of Houston baseball history.

Opening in the 1960s, the museum started as a baseball-focused effort, with all artifacts coming from Sammy Finger's personal collections and items donated or loaned to him on a handshake by his baseball pals. Over the years, football and basketball items crept into the picture too, and the place was renamed from baseball to the "Houston Sports Museum."

Without a curator or knowledgeable dedication to how items were handled, many of the items were faded in the display cases from improper lighting. The volume of items also led to a condition which could only be described as careless storage in the company's warehouses. For example, Sammy Finger died around the turn of this new century. When former Houston Buff Jerry Witte died in 2002, his family tried to reclaim the items he had loaned the museum years earlier. The items could not be found. There was no record at Finger's as to what they were, nor any detail on hand in writing that noted whether the Witte items were there as gifts or loans.

Cut to the story chase here. Once Sammy Finger's son Bobby Finger died two or three years ago, the family started moving toward changes in their operations. At first they were going to change their business name to Ashley's. That plan didn't work out, but the family supposedly decided to shut down the Gulf Freeway location and museum, anyway, as a business decision. No plan was announced for the future of the museum.

Buff Stadium's home plate still sits quietly.
Dr. Bill McCurdy.

On Halloween Saturday morning, Bob Dorrill of SABR and I stopped off at the old Finger's store on the Gulf Freeway, just to check out what was happening. It was still open as a furniture inventory liquidation business operation, but without the Finger name in place. We found the physical setting of the old museum still in place, of course, with all the old artifacts now removed.

We asked to speak with anyone at the store who could tell us anything about any plans for the museum and its artifacts. We were directed to a floor manager who talked as though she knew what was going on. Unfortunately, I cannot remember her name, but I do recall what she told us.

The store employee told us that the furniture liquidation business will continue for a while, but that the store would eventually re-open again. I'm not sure if it will bear the Finger name again, but it apparently will still be owned or controlled by the Finger family.

Our informant said that plans included sprucing up and re-opening the museum. I asked about the Buff Stadium mural. I've been especially concerned that it might just be whacked down with the wall to make room for more sales space. The store woman told us that it was going to be preserved and that they actually were working on ways to make it more even and secure against the wall. The display items supposedly will be returned to the museum. She said they were currently in storage.

We also asked about the lighting problem that had faded so many of the items in the past. She even indicated that they were aware of that issue and that they will be working to improve display conditions.

That's all we know. What actually happens now, remains to be seen.

I'd still like to know what happened to that larger than life sculpture of pitcher Dickie Kerr. It was transferred from the Astrodome to the Houston Sports Museum years ago where it remained on display for quite a while. Then, one day, suddenly, it was gone.

I never found anyone at Finger's who could tell me what happened to the Kerr statue beyond offering the familiar vague statement that it's in storage somewhere.

The mystery rolls on.

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