Far too often, the history of career minor leaguers get lost amongst the various superstars, prospects, could-bes, and could haves who pass through teams’ organizations. But in the 1930s, one player stands out. That player was Ollie Carnegie. Carnegie made a name for himself as a sandlot player in Pittsburgh, playing for local town and factory teams, before joining the professional circuit full-time in 1931. In that time, Carnegie set numerous International League records as the Buffalo Bisons prized power hitter. In modern times, memories of Carnegie have been washed away in most people’s minds, but his career home run and RBI records still stand in the International League record books.

Carnegie was born on June 29, 1899 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Italian American parents. He made his professional debut in 1922 with the Flint Vehicles, who were members of the Class-B Michigan-Ontario League. He played only seven games that season, batting .219 in that time. Over the next nine years, Carnegie worked in the local Pittsburgh steel mills while playing sandlot ball. He sat and watched the major league scouts come and go, rejecting contacts as the came because he made the decision to pick to the job security of the mills rather than gamble in the minors.

Carnegie was described by local papers as the “Sandlot Babe Ruth”, demolishing local Pittsburgh pitchers. From 1923 to 1931, he played with numerous local teams including Dormont, McKeesport, Beaver Falls, Canton, South Hills, and Pitcairn. After receiving an SOS from the minor league Johnstown Johnnies in the summer of 1928 for an emergency outfielder, Carnegie played a few games with them until their every-day outfielder recovered from an illness. Johnstown offered Carnegie a contract to continue playing, but like all the other offers he declined.

In 1931, at the age of 31, Carnegie was offered a contract by the Pittsburgh Pirates to play in the minor leagues with the Hazleton Mountaineers, a team which they owned. Originally, Carnegie declined due to his financial security at home. However, he soon lost his job in the midst of the Great Depression and decided to turn to baseball as a full-time profession. He played well with Hazleton, batting .354 with 18 home runs in 226 at-bats. Later that season, the Hazleton club sold him to the Buffalo Bisons, who were members of the Double-A International League. This would be the start of a 12-year record setting tenure.

In his first season with the Bisons, Carnegie batted .345 in 15 games. After the 1931 season was over, he returned to Pittsburgh and played semi-professional sandlot ball with the Dormont, Pennsylvania team. The papers described the “home run hero” as barley being ready for his first game with Dormont, having to change into his uniform in the car taking him to the stadium immediately after it picked him up arriving by train from Buffalo. Right before first pitch, Carnegie walked through the outfield gate to a standing ovation and later in the game, hit a walk-off home run to win it. This was only a brick in the wall of Ollie Carnegie’s achievements over his career.

Carnegie was touted by Buffalo news outlets as the best potential Bisons player ever during his first full season with the team, 1932. Bisons manager, Ray Schalk, was in contact with his former team, the Chicago White Sox, about signing Carnegie, but they were eventually turned-off by his age. Many later speculated that if Carnegie had started playing professionally earlier, he would have been one of the best hitters in Major League Baseball history. But Carnegie seemed content with his humble life in his home town. Working the steel mills and railways seemed to add to Carnegie’s fame in Pittsburgh, as many fans could relate to the Steel Town Bambino.