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Major League Baseball Teams: A Short History

Teri is a lifelong baseball fan who lives for Opening Day. Teri. Writes. Baseball.

The MLB logo.

The MLB logo.

About MLB History

Baseball is America’s favorite pastime. Whether or not you agree with that statement, the business that is Major League Baseball is definitely woven into America’s long and diverse historical tapestry. The teams of today’s Major Leagues have come a long way from those of yesteryear; some are original, but many are not. Baseball has changed over the years, but the sport continues to draw large crowds to the ballpark, season after season.

Logos for the National League (left) and the American League (right).

Logos for the National League (left) and the American League (right).

Then to Now

For recreational purposes, participants played various-ruled "baseball" games in earlier years. It was 1869 when the first professional team came together in Cincinnati; other teams would soon follow. In 1876, “organized baseball” created what was known then (and still now) as the National League (NL); the American League (AL) came into existence in 1901.

Beginning in 1903 and for many decades to follow, NL and AL teams played against each other in All-Star and postseason playoff games. The two leagues, however, were completely separate legal organizations until the year 2000, when they “officially” merged into a single entity. Today, there are 30 teams (29 in the United States; one in Canada) that play 162 games each season. The playoffs allow deserving teams to advance to the postseason for each league’s pennant (championship series) and then a shot at the World Series.

Expansion Teams

From 1903 to 1953, the National and American leagues each had eight teams (located in the Midwestern and Northeastern areas of the United States).

National League, 1962

In 1962, the National League consisted of:

  • Chicago Cubs
  • Cincinnati Reds
  • Houston Colt .45s
  • Los Angeles Dodgers
  • Milwaukee Braves
  • New York Mets
  • Philadelphia Phillies
  • Pittsburgh Pirates
  • San Francisco Giants
  • St. Louis Cardinals

The Houston team would be re-named the Astros in 1965.

American League, 1962

In 1962, the American League consisted of:

  • Baltimore Orioles
  • Boston Red Sox
  • Chicago White Sox
  • Cleveland Indians
  • Detroit Tigers
  • Kansas City Athletics
  • Los Angeles Angels
  • Minnesota Twins
  • New York Yankees
  • Washington Senators

The Los Angeles team would be called the California Angels in 1965.

Expansions by Year

In 1968, Major League Baseball held an expansion draft, adding these teams for the start of the 1969 season: Kansas City Royals, Montreal Expos, San Diego Padres and Seattle Pilots.

In 1977, the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays joined Major League Baseball.

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In 1993, two more teams became part of the National League; the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies.

In 1998, another two expansion teams came along; the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (now known as the Tampa Bay Rays) and the Arizona Diamondbacks).

Divisions and Splits

From 1969 to 1993, the National and American leagues each had two divisions: East and West. In 1994 they split into three-way (East, Central and West) divisions. Throughout the tenure of Major League Baseball and until the end of the 1996 season, National and American league teams only played each other during All-Star games and the World Series.

major-league-baseball-teams-a-short-history

Interleague Play

The experiment of seasonal Interleague play came about in 1997—the idea was to have an odd number of teams in each league (15 teams divided into three divisions). However, among the planning issues in general, there were uncertainties about whether the players’ union would approve changes in game scheduling. For the 1998 season, Major League Baseball decided to continue with an even number of teams in each league. One club (the Milwaukee Brewers) moved from the AL to the National League; allowing the NL to have 16 teams (and the America League to have 14 teams). It was in 2013 when the Houston Astros jumped from the NL to the American League’s Western Division—both leagues now have three divisions of five teams each. In the beginning, Interleague play was limited to a select number of weeks but now it is scheduled throughout the season.

The National League, Today and Yesterday

Of all the teams that are in Major League Baseball, only a few of these clubs actually started with their current franchise names. Teams are listed here in alphabetical order.

major-league-baseball-teams-a-short-history

Arizona Diamondbacks

(1998, Western Division)

This franchise was awarded in 1995 -- the Diamondbacks are the original team name. With retired numbers, players of note are pitcher Randy Johnson (51) and outfielder Louis Gonzalez (20).

major-league-baseball-teams-a-short-history

Atlanta Braves

(1871, Western Division)

Established in Boston, Massachusetts, the original team played in that city from 1871 through the 1952 season. In 1953, the Braves moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin -- playing baseball there until the end of the 1965 campaign. The Atlanta Braves took the field in 1966. Many historians consider the Braves franchise to be the oldest in organized baseball. (Although the Chicago Cubs began at the same time, that team lost a couple of seasons following 1871’s Great Chicago Fire). From its inception in 1871, the Braves (originally founded as the Boston Red Stockings) have had several name changes.

  • Boston Braves (1871-1875)
  • Boston Red Caps (1876-1882)
  • Boston Bean Eaters (1883-1906)
  • Boston Doves (1907-1910)
  • Boston Rustlers (1911)
  • Boston Braves (1912-1935)
  • Boston Bees (1936-1940)
  • Boston Braves (1941-1952)
  • Milwaukee Braves (1954-1965)
  • Atlanta Braves (1966 to present)

Famous Braves with retired numbers include slugger/outfielder Hank Aaron (44); infielders Eddie Matthews (41) and Chipper Jones (10); pitchers Phil Niekro (35), Greg Maddux (31), John Smoltz (29), Tom Glavine (47) and Warren Spahn (21); outfielder Dale Murphy (3) and manager Bobby Cox (6).

major-league-baseball-teams-a-short-history

Chicago Cubs

(1874, Central Division)

The original franchise began in Chicago as the Chicago White Stockings of the National Association; the team became part of the National League in 1876 and kept the name until 1889. From 1890 through 1897, the team was called the Chicago Colts. In 1898, the team transitioned into the Chicago Orphans but since 1903, the Chicago Cubs have been -- and still are -- a solid staple of the Windy City. Famous Chicago Cubs players (with retired numbers) include infielders Ernie Banks (14), Ryne Sandberg (23) and Ron Santo (10); pitcher Ferguson Jenkins (31) and outfielder Billy Williams (26).

major-league-baseball-teams-a-short-history

Cincinnati Reds

(1882, Central Division)

The team started out in the American Association (AA) as the Cincinnati Red Stockings from 1882 to 1889; joining the National League in 1890. The “Red Stockings” were known as the Reds from 1890 to 1953, and then, in 1954, the team’s name lengthened to the Redlegs (until the end of the 1959 season). The Queen City of Cincinnati once again called its baseball team the Reds, beginning in 1960.

There are more than several prominent Cincinnati Reds players (with retired numbers), including catcher Johnny Bench (5); infielders Joe Morgan (8), Tony Perez (24), Barry Larkin (11) and Dave Concepcion (13); managers Fred Hutchinson (1) and Sparky Anderson (10); outfielder Frank Robinson (20) and coach Ted Kluszewski (18). Infielder/outfielder manager Pete Rose, although still “officially” banned from baseball, was inducted to the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in June of 2016.

major-league-baseball-teams-a-short-history

Colorado Rockies

(1993, Western Division)

Founded in 1991, the expansion club Rockies began their Major League Baseball franchise in 1993. Although (as of this writing) no players have had numbers retired, the team won the National League pennant in 2007. Several Colorado Rockies have been honored by Major League Baseball for Most Valuable Player (MVP), National League Rookie of the Year, Silver Slugger and Golden Glove achievements.

Los Angeles Dodgers

(1884, Western Division)

The Dodgers began their long franchise history in Brooklyn, New York. The team actually came together in 1883 as the Brooklyn Grays of the minor leagues' Interstate Association of Professional Baseball Clubs. The Grays joined the American Association in 1884 under its new name -- the Brooklyn Atlantics -- which lasted only that first season. Over the next few years, the American Association team changed names twice: Brooklyn Grays (1885-1887) and Brooklyn Bridegrooms (1888-1890).

After joining Major League Baseball's National League in 1890, the team operated as the Brooklyn Grooms (1891-1895); Brooklyn Bridegrooms (1896-1898); Brooklyn Superbas (1899-1910); Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers (1911-1912); Brooklyn Superbas (1913) and Brooklyn Robins (1914-1931). In 1932 (until 1957), the Brooklyn Dodgers came to life. This team occupied four locations during their long franchise history in Brooklyn, New York: Washington Park I (1884-1990); Ridgewood Park (Sunday games only, 1886-1889); Eastern Park (1891-1897); Washington Park II (1898-1912); and Ebbets Field (1913-1957).

At the end of the 1957 season, majority team owner Walter O’Malley announced that the Brooklyn Dodgers would be moving west to Los Angeles in California. Originally, after O’Malley bought team shares from co-owners Branch Rickey and James L. Smith, the plan was to purchase land in Brooklyn to build a new stadium. The infrastructure at Ebbets Field was getting old and, despite the sentiment Dodgers fans held for that ballpark, attendance figures were low. When New York City officials would not agree to provide O’Malley the eminent domain authority needed to build a new stadium, the Dodgers’ majority owner decided to look at moving the team to California -- travel there would now be by airplanes (instead of trains). Los Angeles officials put the word out that they wanted to have a Major League Baseball team established in that city and so when O’Malley heard this, he told them he would consider moving the Dodgers to LA.

The city of Los Angeles then offered Brooklyn Dodgers majority owner Walter O’Malley a deal that the businessman felt he could not refuse: the ability to purchase as much land as necessary for building a stadium -- and actually owning that stadium outright (which allowed him to control all sources of revenue). New York officials countered with an offer to build a stadium in Queens that would be shared by both the Dodgers and the New York Giants -- O'Malley refused. (It wouldn’t be long after that when the New York Giants made their way to San Francisco, CA). The Brooklyn Dodgers played their final game on September 24, 1957 at Ebbets Field. They beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-0.

There were many famous Dodgers but the retired team numbers are for infielders Pee Wee Reese (1), Jim Gilliam (19) and Jackie Robinson (42); outfielder Duke Snider (4); pitchers Don Sutton (20), Sandy Koufax (32) and Don Drysdale (53); catcher Roy Campanella (39); managers Tommy Lasorda (2) and Walter Alston (24). Other notable members of the Dodgers’ organization include Leo Durocher, Burleigh Grimes, Rabbit Maranville, Willie Keeler, Dazzy Vance, Maury Wills and Juan Marichal.