1968: Expansion of Major League Baseball

Culture | July 13, 2021

National League President Harry C. Pulliam and the 8 NL teams (1907). (wikimedia)

America’s original pastime, baseball, dates way back to 1846. As with America, over 150 years the game has changed and gone through many different “eras.” From the days of “Whites only” to the “Dead Ball Era” then the “Live Ball Era” before the “Expansion Era” and the much-discussed “Steroid Era.” Each stretch of time represents various changes within the sport and attempts at keeping the game relatively the same over several centuries. Many of these eras also mirrored the zeitgeist of society.

For example, the “Integration Era” obviously followed the fraught integration of America, as Black players and other minorities took their rightful place alongside whites. The “Expansion Era” on the other hand, follows greedy owners fleeing for more lucrative cities and baseball the sport’s attempt to keep relative balance.

American League President Ban Johnson and the 8 AL teams (1907). (wikimedia)

The Beginning

Baseball started with the National League in 1876. Through 1901 baseball teams joined and exited the National League like parents signing their kids up for karate classes. Between 1876 and 1891 an astounding 27 different franchises participated in “Major League Baseball.” However, only eight ever played at one time.

Since baseball then functioned as the be-all and end-all of sports entertainment at that time, the “American Association” began in 1881 to vie with the National League. To compete they instituted a few differences to set themselves apart. The American league played on Sundays, sold beer at the park, and also charged 25 cents rather than 50.

The story of relocation and expansion runs throughout the history of baseball. (fangraphs)

The Dust Settles

Around the turn of the 20th-century, players and teams moved like musical chairs. One group of players even attempted to create the “Players League” that only survived for a single season. The “American Association” remained the weaker league as players were poached. To further deflate the competition, the National League expanded and spelled the demise of the American Association. Nevertheless, eight of the stronger AA teams jumped to the NL, creating the 12 team National League.

When the 12 team league continued to sputter, the NL cut 4 teams, which opened the door for Bancroft Johnson and his “American League.” The original American League consisted of the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Americans, Chicago White Stockings, Cleveland Blues, Detroit Tigers, Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Athletics, and Washington Senators. After repeated attempts to sink the AL, the NL finally said, screw it, if you can’t kill ‘em, join ‘em. In 1903, the two leagues joined forces and created the groundwork for the Major League Baseball we know today.

Selig fought tooth and nail to bring baseball back to Milwaukee. (JSonline)

Precedent Setting

In the ’50s two iconic teams, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants began looking for better accommodations than their dilapidated stadiums. As the airline industry took off, New York City officials tried to get a piece of the action, resulting in both the Dodgers and Giants moving west.

Naturally, New York State Attorney William Shea was peeved over losing two teams to California. In response, he attempted to create his own league with former player Rick Branch as President. In order to preserve their monopoly, Major League Baseball decided to expand, allowing teams from Shea’s never-got-off-the-ground league. This gave Shea his wish of a second team in the Big Apple.

Who is to say how baseball will look in 10 years? (royalreview)

America Grows, Baseball Grows

After a flurry of expansion and movement in the early ‘60s, baseball settled down, for a hot second… After future Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig lost his successful Milwaukee Braves to Atlanta, he began plotting a means to return professional baseball to his hometown. He finagled the White Sox into playing exhibition games in Milwaukee, which drew large crowds. However, he was unable to persuade MLB to give him a team.

Ultimately, through some shrewd maneuvering, he was able to purchase the Seattle Pilots and move them to Milwaukee. Although, it took a few court proceedings as Seattle attempted to hold on to their franchise. At one point one of the team’s moving trucks was forced to stop in Provo, Utah, and wait to hear what city they were headed for. Every time a city lost their team, they cried out for an expansion team, which was what ended up happening.

Baseball’s expansion ultimately followed America’s expansion and the greed for more. Every time baseball expands, the existing owners split a huge expansion fee. Even now there is talk of yet more expansion. However, baseball no longer reigns as America’s number one sport. So, it will be interesting to see how baseball grows or doesn’t in accordance with America and its popularity.

Tags: American League | Major League Baseball | National League

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Kellar Ellsworth


Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!