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Why Hasn't There Been A Good Alternative Baseball League to MLB?

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1 hour ago, pmoehrin said:

 There just hasn't been a league to challenge the MLB since Branch Rickey's Continental League in which was supposed to launch in the early-60's but never got off the ground.

 

 Even though it never got started, Rickey's gameplan made a ton of sense for the time because he recognized MLB's financial model wasn't just falling behind, it had slipped back.


I recently read a very good book on the Continental League called Bottom of the Ninth by Michael Shapiro.  It's an odd book, ostensibly about both Branch Rickey and Casey Stengel.  However, the two of them don't interact; the book looks separately at the formation of the Continental League and at the Yankees' 1960 season.  The author never even makes any coherent case for why Rickey and Stengel should be considered in parallel. This book is really like two books in one cover.

The half about the Continental League is far more interesting.  While Stengel is indeed a fascinating character, there has been plenty written about him.  Whereas, this chronicling of the attempt to launch the Continental League is the most detailed material I have ever seen on that topic.  The central character in that story, apart from Rickey, is Bill Shea.  And there are many scenes involving Yankee owner Del Webb, baseball Commissioner Ford Frick, A.L. President Joe Cronin, columnist Dan Daniel, and even some AFL owners, as the Continental League's Denver team was originally controlled by Broncos founder Bob Howsam.

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14 hours ago, Sykotyk said:

Thr fact no league showed up during the 50s and 60s with the mass migration, tells you there was no shot at a third major league. 

 

It wasn't for lack of trying, even if it never made it onto the field.

1 hour ago, pmoehrin said:

 

American League, Federal League, Negro Leagues, and the PCL have all featured Major League, sometimes even Hall of Fame level talent.

 

There just hasn't been a league to challenge the MLB since Branch Rickey's Continental League in which was supposed to launch in the early-60's but never got off the ground.

 

Even though it never got started, Rickey's gameplan made a ton of sense for the time because he recognized MLB's financial model wasn't just falling behind, it had slipped back.

 

One of the reasons I think baseball fell behind the NFL was because they were so stingy about expansion and exploring new markets. The league was still only operating in 10 cities as late as 1952. I can understand why it took so long to get out to places like San Francisco and Los Angeles. But the MLB could have expanded to Toronto, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Buffalo, and Baltimore as early as the 1920s.

 

The fact that no MLB team has gone under since 1901 is proof they could have expanded to more cities at any point, before the first '61 expansion.

 

The AFL/NFL either beat or tied MLB with bringing franchises to Buffalo, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, Oakland, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa Bay.

 

People frequently talk down about expansion, but it's the only way you can grow your league. If you don't take a city seriously when they are ready to be taken as a city capable of supporting a significant franchise, they will find another league that does. And you will be behind and trying to attract new fans, while the more established team has had potentially a 20+ year head start.

 

Today, the same dynamics don't exist anymore. To seriously compete with Major League Baseball you would need at least $8-10 billion to start with, and that's assuming we're only running a six-team league.


Looking at alternatives going family-friendly because you already have hundreds of Minor-League teams to serve that function. I don't think rules changes or a different presentation style alone would be enough to attract a younger audience that MLB isn't currently hitting. You could play playoff games earlier, but again I would look at them as ancillary issues and not something you can build a league around.

 

The only thing I think you could do with regards to creating an alternative to the MLB would be to start up a Women's league. The fact that nobody has attempted to do so since Phillip Wrigley is surprising to me. I know how many female writers I've run into who got into covering in large part because of A League of Their Own and have met more than one softball player who would prefer to be playing baseball. I saw the amount of buzz and interest generated by Mo'ne Davis. There was enough interest in the idea of a woman playing in the Majors to get a primetime network show green light.

 

I see a demand here for a product that nobody is providing. I see way more room for potential growth there than another football league, or a three on three basketball league.

 

I have seen the Continental League given a great deal of credit for MLB's decision to finally expand in the '60s.  Most of the expansion or relocation markets of the '60s were originally supposed to be part of the CL.  The Mets franchise was actually awarded to the New York CL ownership group (which effectively killed the CL).

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6 minutes ago, leopard88 said:

I have seen the Continental League given a great deal of credit for MLB's decision to finally expand in the '60s.  Most of the expansion or relocation markets of the '60s were originally supposed to be part of the CL.  The Mets franchise was actually awarded to the New York CL ownership group (which effectively killed the CL).

 

The Continental League is what put the gun to MLB's head to expand, but by the same token all four major sports leagues were going through expansions, so I don't know how much credit should go to the Continental League for getting the ball started on expansion.

 

There's no question the League led directly to the creation of the Astros and Mets. The rest is a bit murkier.

 

I mentioned Toronto earlier as being a market the MLB could have expanded to decades before they did. The Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League were playing in a 20,000+ seat stadium and outdrawing some Major League teams well into the 1960s.

 

It shouldn't have taken until the mid-'70s for someone to pipe up and say, hey maybe that city with the million-plus population base and a decades-long track record of supporting baseball should get a team.

 

Another market I didn't mention in my earlier post that MLB could have been first to but wasn't is Atlanta. When the Braves came into town, the team they displaced, the Atlanta Crackers had been in operation since 1892.

 

But the second the NFL announces the Falcons (franchise awarded specifically to block AFL expansion),  it's okay for an MLB team to go there.

 

What should tell you is up until about the 1950s, no matter how strong a minor league market was, it didn't matter. They weren't getting a team.

 

That's why when you study baseball history in the United States before the 1960s; you can't just focus on the MLB and ignore everything else. The sport was way bigger than MLB would let you believe because there were so many underserved markets, which is what gave rise to brainstorming tours, minor league dynasties and most importantly the Negro Leagues.

 

Its a completely different world today, but I still see baseball twiddling their thumbs when it comes to cities like Portland, Austin, and Montreal.

 

The built-in excuse now is we need all of our teams to be comfortable with their ballpark situations before looking into other markets. But name one year in the past 50 where this has been true across the league? You don't set unattainable goals if you're serious about doing something.

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21 minutes ago, pmoehrin said:

 

The Continental League is what put the gun to MLB's head to expand, but by the same token all four major sports leagues were going through expansions, so I don't know how much credit should go to the Continental League for getting the ball started on expansion.

 

There's no question the League led directly to the creation of the Astros and Mets. The rest is a bit murkier.

 

I’d put that down to people wanting a clean-cut narrative with little room for complicated factors.

 

21 minutes ago, pmoehrin said:

I mentioned Toronto earlier as being a market the MLB could have expanded to decades before they did. The Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League were playing in a 20,000+ seat stadium and outdrawing some Major League teams well into the 1960s.

 

It shouldn't have taken until the mid-'70s for someone to pipe up and say, hey maybe that city with the million-plus population base and a decades-long track record of supporting baseball should get a team.

 

It’s not like travel would even be a concern for Toronto. Said expansion should have happened far earlier than 1977. Heck, if MLB had to do it over, Toronto probably would have gotten a team before Montréal, if Montréal even got a team (pesky separatists and the fiasco known as Le Stade Olympique). 

 

21 minutes ago, pmoehrin said:

Another market I didn't mention in my earlier post that MLB could have been first to but wasn't is Atlanta. When the Braves came into town, the team they displaced, the Atlanta Crackers had been in operation since 1892.

 

But the second the NFL announces the Falcons (franchise awarded specifically to block AFL expansion),  it's okay for an MLB team to go there.

 

Yeah, expanding into Atlanta was feasible a lot earlier than the 1960s. I’m not sure how much would have changed from the market’s current situation.

 

21 minutes ago, pmoehrin said:

What should tell you is up until about the 1950s, no matter how strong a minor league market was, it didn't matter. They weren't getting a team.

 

While travel may have been a legitimate concern for teams on the Pacific Coast/Southwest, said excuse doesn’t hold up for the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast.

 

21 minutes ago, pmoehrin said:

That's why when you study baseball history in the United States before the 1960s; you can't just focus on the MLB and ignore everything else. The sport was way bigger than MLB would let you believe because there were so many underserved markets, which is what gave rise to brainstorming tours, minor league dynasties and most importantly the Negro Leagues.

 

This is why companies like Ebbets Field Flannels exist and promote this oft-neglected area of the sport’s history. It’s important to see how these markets developed their own baseball traditions.

 

21 minutes ago, pmoehrin said:

Its a completely different world today, but I still see baseball twiddling their thumbs when it comes to cities like Portland, Austin, and Montreal.

 

My counterargument is that expansion might not be the best idea now. Thirty teams is plenty.

 

We see people express their fear that MLS is over-expanding and causing a problem for many of their teams outside of the top-teir. 

 

21 minutes ago, pmoehrin said:

The built-in excuse now is we need all of our teams to be comfortable with their ballpark situations before looking into other markets. But name one year in the past 50 where this has been true across the league? You don't set unattainable goals if you're serious about doing something.

 

While that’s definitely true, look at Inter Miami CF and the mess that it’s become since it’s announcement. MLB, the NBA, and the NFL are smart to avoid situations like these. 

 

Inter Miami CF is a beautiful cautionary tale against being “loose” with expansion groups.

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17 hours ago, Dolphins Dynasty said:

 

It's funny how the National league might possibly just adopt something (DH) from a formerly-known "alternative league".

Like the NBA taking the 3-point shot from the ABA?

Or the NFL taking the 2-point conversion and names on the backs of jersey from the AFL?

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30 minutes ago, pmoehrin said:

There's no question the [Continental] League led directly to the creation of the Astros and Mets. The rest is a bit murkier.

 

According to the book I mentioned above, the move of the American League to Minnesota is pretty directly related to the Continental League's plan to put a team there. The A.L. would have placed an expansion team in Minnesota if Calvin Griffith had not agreed to move the Washington Senators there; instead, that expansion team went to Washington.

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7 minutes ago, Sec19Row53 said:

Like the NBA taking the 3-point shot from the ABA?

Or the NFL taking the 2-point conversion and names on the backs of jersey from the AFL?

 

I wasn't knowledgeable of those, but okay... I guess it's not funny.

 

🤷‍♂️

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12 minutes ago, Dolphins Dynasty said:

 

I wasn't knowledgeable of those, but okay... I guess it's not funny.

 

🤷‍♂️

Sorry, I wasn't trying to burst your bubble. I think it shows part of what it takes to succeed - you have to dare to be a little different. The AL was long established when it went to the DH. But still, it was willing to try different. 

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7 minutes ago, Ferdinand Cesarano said:

According to the book I mentioned above, the move of the American League to Minnesota is pretty directly related to the Continental League's plan to put a team there. The A.L. would have placed an expansion team in Minnesota if Calvin Griffith had not agreed to move the Washington Senators there; instead, that expansion team went to Washington.

 

Minnesota had been talking to Major League officials throughout the '50s. Its a market that had not one, but two successful minor league teams (the Minneapolis Millers and the St. Paul Saints) that drew right up until the day the Twins came to town.

Did the Twins come about simply because the Continental League offered them a team? Or where the wheels already in motion for a team to come to Minnesota, and the Continental League's potential creation just sped the process up?

 

I'm very cautious about giving credit to a league that did nothing beyond having talks and signing some papers that never came to fruition.

 

I much rather give credit to the people and players who spent decades laying down the groundwork for establishing fanbases that could match any existing MLB team in terms of passion and size from the day these cities got MLB teams.

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27 minutes ago, SFGiants58 said:

While that’s definitely true, look at Inter Miami CF and the mess that it’s become since it’s announcement. MLB, the NBA, and the NFL are smart to avoid situations like these. 

 

Inter Miami CF is a beautiful cautionary tale against being “loose” with expansion groups.

 

Again I would point to the fact that no team has gone belly up in MLB as evidence that they weren't aggressive enough.

 

You look at the early parts of the NFL, NBA, and NHL histories and you see teams failing all the time. They got over it.

 

At a certain point, you need to know what doesn't work in order to know what does.

 

Now the amount of paperwork and legwork required to bring an expansion team in is ten-fold what it was 50 years ago, But even so, I look at a place like Austin and I notice Round Rock has been killing it attendance wise for the better part of 20 years now. There are no other pro teams in the market. The city is approaching 1 million in population. The metro area is over 2. Plenty of disposable income in the area.

 

Other than the lack of a ballpark, will someone please tell me what the problem is here? If there isn't any, then the problem lies with the league, not the city.

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10 minutes ago, pmoehrin said:

Minnesota had been talking to Major League officials throughout the '50s. Its a market that had not one, but two successful minor league teams (the Minneapolis Millers and the St. Paul Saints) that drew right up until the day the Twins came to town.

 

It's true that Minneapolis would have gotten a Major League team in 1958 if the Giants' owner Horace Stoneham had not been persuaded by the Dodgers' owner Walter O'Malley to abandon his plan to move there (where the Giants' top farm club, the Millers, were playing) and to join the Dodgers on the West Coast by moving to San Francisco instead.

 

15 minutes ago, pmoehrin said:

I'm very cautious about giving credit to a league that did nothing beyond having talks and signing some papers that never came to fruition.

 

That drastically understates the state of the Continental League, which almost certainly would have taken the field in 1961 if not for the response of the Major Leagues to move the A.L. expansion one year earlier than had originally been intended. The Continental League teams had minor leaguers signed; one of the minor-league players in the organisation of the Denver team, Russell Buhite, wrote a book about his experiences.  An interview with him can be heard on this episode of the podcast Good Seats Still Available.

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3 hours ago, pmoehrin said:

 

The only thing I think you could do with regards to creating an alternative to the MLB would be to start up a Women's league. The fact that nobody has attempted to do so since Phillip Wrigley is surprising to me. I know how many female writers I've run into who got into covering in large part because of A League of Their Own and have met more than one softball player who would prefer to be playing baseball. I saw the amount of buzz and interest generated by Mo'ne Davis. There was enough interest in the idea of a woman playing in the Majors to get a primetime network show green light.

 

I see a demand here for a product that nobody is providing. I see way more room for potential growth there than another football league, or a three on three basketball league.

 

I would watch the heck out of a women's baseball league so long as they didn't make the nicknames and logos some arbitrarily feminine name. Just make them baseball teams, but with women playing.

 

So don't call them the Chicks, Lassies, or Belles. Rockford (or Chicago) Peaches might be okay just because they were the winningest team and could have a little bit more of a pop culture appeal just because of the movie. But I'd just hope they would have real baseball team names and branding.

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2 minutes ago, Maroon said:
3 hours ago, pmoehrin said:

The only thing I think you could do with regards to creating an alternative to the MLB would be to start up a Women's league. The fact that nobody has attempted to do so since Phillip Wrigley is surprising to me. I know how many female writers I've run into who got into covering in large part because of A League of Their Own and have met more than one softball player who would prefer to be playing baseball. I saw the amount of buzz and interest generated by Mo'ne Davis. There was enough interest in the idea of a woman playing in the Majors to get a primetime network show green light.

 

I see a demand here for a product that nobody is providing. I see way more room for potential growth there than another football league, or a three on three basketball league.

 

I would watch the heck out of a women's baseball league so long as they didn't make the nicknames and logos some arbitrarily feminine name. Just make them baseball teams, but with women playing.

 

So don't call them the Chicks, Lassies, or Belles. Rockford (or Chicago) Peaches might be okay just because they were the winningest team and could have a little bit more of a pop culture appeal just because of the movie. But I'd just hope they would have real baseball team names and branding.

 

 

I, too, would love to see a women's baseball league.  Women's baseball holds a world championship every two years. Here is the bronze-medal game between the U.S. and Canada from the latest edition in 2018.

 

 



But I must also mention that I really enjoy women's softball, and that I consider it to be one of the best spectator sports in the world, especially when the remarkable Monica Abbott is on the mound, as she is here for the NPF's Chicago Bandits in a game from a few years ago.


 



There are plenty of college programmes for softball, and so there are certainly more girls and women who are dedicating their efforts to softball than to baseball.  So I think that an "angel" investor who wanted to back a women's league might be better off propping up the ailing NPF.

Still, there's every reason to think, if given the backing and the chance, the mass of women baseball players would eventually produce players who could play in the Majors, perhaps a pitcher with outstanding movement on her pitches, a slick-fielding middle infielder, or a speedy outfielder.

So I am really torn; and I hate to think of women's baseball and women's softball as being inimical to one another. In a perfect world we'd have high-level pro leagues in both of these sports.

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5 hours ago, Ferdinand Cesarano said:

That drastically understates the state of the Continental League, which almost certainly would have taken the field in 1961 if not for the response of the Major Leagues to move the A.L. expansion one year earlier than had originally been intended. The Continental League teams had minor leaguers signed; one of the minor-league players in the organisation of the Denver team, Russell Buhite, wrote a book about his experiences.  An interview with him can be heard on this episode of the podcast Good Seats Still Available.

 

Seconded.

 

William Shea and Joan Payson's experience with the Continental League seems to be almost a "dark mirror" version of Lamar Hunt's with the AFL.

 

After failing to get an NFL team for Dallas (he tried to purchase the Cardinals and move them there), Lamar Hunt put together the AFL mainly to have a pro football franchise there.  He gathered all the AFL potential owners, put the thing together, then the NFL came calling with the offer to put an expansion franchise in Dallas, and offered it to him.  By then, he was in it pretty deep and had seven other guys counting on him, so he told the NFL "no" and stuck with it, despite the fact that the NFL placed an expansion franchise in his hometown.  In the long run they ALL came out better; all the AFL owners eventually had their teams in the NFL, as did Lamar Hunt.

 

William Shea and Joan Payson were the opposite; he put together the Continental League, got all the owners together,  and she was to own the NY Continental League franchise.  But as soon as MLB came along with an offer for a new MLB franchise in New York (to be owned by Joan Payson), she dropped out of the Continental League and Shea dropped his leadership of the Continental League, like a couple of hot potatoes.  It died soon afterwards.  This action left most 'Continental League' cities without an MLB team for either several years (Atlanta, Dallas) or many years (Toronto, Denver) or in Buffalo's case, forever, and also left most other owners in the lurch. 

 

But Shea had the Mets stadium named for him. 

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I just got the go-ahead from my editor to write an article on the topic of the lack of MLB expansion prior to the early ’60s, so stayed tuned to the Hardball Times in the coming weeks.

 

There are answers to the questions of why the MLB didn’t expand, but also how forced it really was when it came about.

 

Gene Audrey purchased the Angels on December 6th, 1960. The team had its expansion draft on December 14th.

 

Eight days to prepare to sign Major League players and you don’t even have tickets to sell. You can imagine how the American League owners were chomping at the bit for expansion to come about if that’s the amount of preparation that went into getting the team ready.

 

For lack of better phrasing, these were some stubborn old bastards who weren’t changing the way they did business for anyone or anything.

 

The process of expansion was kickstarted and sustained by lawyers. You had to all but sue to get a Major League team. Kansas City was about to before they got the Royals.

 

These owners killed the potential development of the league for decades to come. People talk about 30 teams being enough. There was enough talent and interest to justify an English Premier League type system in the mid-’50s. That’s how much these owners held back.

 

It’s been mentioned about how the owners were going to vote to allow the Browns to move to Los Angeles in 1941 but was canceled because of Pearl Harbor.

 

That could explain why Los Angels didn’t get a team until 1945, but it doesn’t account for 1946-1957, and we’re talking about a city with around 2 million people.

 

Only when faced with the prospect of dealing with a competitive league did the MLB decide to get serious about expansion and westward movement. Even then they went kicking and screaming afraid of any alternations or additions being made to their exclusive 16-member club.

 

I won’t get into much if any of that because it take a lot more than the 2,000 or so words I have to cover all of it. But it speaks a lot to the mentality of why baseball fell behind in the ’60s, while every other league was pushing the pedal to the metal when it came to expanding.

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I've always believed that the NL would've found it's way back to New York (Mets) no matter what. Continental League or not. 

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6 hours ago, Wings said:

I've always believed that the NL would've found it's way back to New York (Mets) no matter what. Continental League or not. 

 

Most likely, but it would have taken longer if not for the Continental League.

 

How much longer is tough to say, but my guess is a another team would have likely tried to move to NYC first before an expansion team would come about. You won’t read any articles about the Yankees pleading for a return of NL baseball to the city.

 

The Pirates or Reds could very well have bolted or at least tried to. The Braves could have made a move to come back East. Even the Phillies could have found a way to position themselves into contention.

 

You already had a bunch of teams in both leagues change cities before the Continental League came about.

 

The issue was getting MLB to crack that 16-team threshold. That took some forcing.

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11 hours ago, pmoehrin said:

 

Most likely, but it would have taken longer if not for the Continental League.

 

How much longer is tough to say, but my guess is a another team would have likely tried to move to NYC first before an expansion team would come about. You won’t read any articles about the Yankees pleading for a return of NL baseball to the city.

 

The Pirates or Reds could very well have bolted or at least tried to. The Braves could have made a move to come back East. Even the Phillies could have found a way to position themselves into contention.

 

You already had a bunch of teams in both leagues change cities before the Continental League came about.

 

The issue was getting MLB to crack that 16-team threshold. That took some forcing.

I think you are under estimating the competitiveness between the NL and AL that they wouldn’t allow the AL to have a complete control of the NY market.

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On 4/26/2019 at 10:45 AM, dont care said:

I think you are under estimating the competitiveness between the NL and AL that they wouldn’t allow the AL to have a complete control of the NY market.

 

The National League let the American League have control of the city for four years.

 

There was no plan to return to New York City put up by the National League until the Continental League sprung about. The City of New York did more to bring in a team than the owners did.

 

The National League probably wouldn't let New York go for long. Between the Reds, Pirates, Phillies, and Braves one of them would have made an attempt to move to NYC. But I don't think the owners left to their own devices were going to add another team just so they could say they had a team in NYC. Realistically it may have taken until 1970 for National League baseball to return to New York if not longer.

 

Obviously, it would be healthy for the league to have a team in NYC. But here's the caveat you're missing. The owners didn't care about that stuff. Most if not all were simply concerned with running their own business. Most would and did look at an expansion team as a threat to what they were doing. Not an asset for the league as a whole.

 

The only reason the Angles came into existence was that the American League didn't want to lose D.C. but needed a 10th team to balance out the schedule, on top wanting to match the National League's already announced expansion.

 

Both the Senators (now Rangers) and Angels were announced after New York and Houston, even though they started play a year earlier.

 

There wasn't even a bidding process. The American League just announced Los Angeles was getting a team and that was that. The process of expanding to the West Coast was started and finalized by the American League within a matter of weeks.

 

The only time these owners got off their asses and did something with regards to adding teams was when someone else decided to do something about it first.

 

The fact that the American League was able to bring the Senators and Angels into the fold so quickly is proof Major League Baseball could have expanded whenever they felt like it and just choose not to.

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