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History of MLB Expansion and Franchise Moves

Updated on September 20, 2016
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Brian writes about baseball history. He is a lifelong baseball fan and has been rooting for the New York Mets since their 1962 debut.

The National League Before 1900

The National League was formed in 1876 with 8 teams, including franchises in Boston (now the Atlanta Braves) and Chicago that are still part of the league today. For the next quarter of a century, the configuration of the league changed almost annually as new teams were added and others dropped out. A total of 27 different franchises participated in the league from 1876 through 1891, although there were never more than 8 teams in the league in any one year.

In 1892, the National League expanded to 12 teams with the addition of 4 teams from the American Association, which had disbanded after 10 years. The NL had already picked up 2 AA franchises in Brooklyn and Cincinnati for the 1890 season, to go along with the original Boston and Chicago franchises and existing teams in Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. In 1892, the AA franchises in Baltimore, Louisville, St. Louis, and Washington joined the National League. This 12-team configuration remained stable from 1892 through the 1899 season.

National League President Harry C. Pulliam surrounded by portraits of the 8 NL teams (1907)
National League President Harry C. Pulliam surrounded by portraits of the 8 NL teams (1907) | Source

The 8-Team National League 1900-1961

In 1900, the National League contracted again, back to 8 teams. The roster included the two original NL teams in Boston and Chicago, along with 6 teams that had their beginnings in the American Association: Brooklyn, Cincinnati, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis. These 8 "classic" franchises comprised the National League for more than 60 years. All 8 franchises are still in the league, with 5 of the 8 in their original locations.

The Braves Move to Milwaukee — 1953

The first franchise relocation in the modern National League occurred in 1953, when the Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee. Despite being one of the oldest continually operating franchises in baseball, and despite winning the NL pennant in 1948 behind the pitching of Warren Spahn, the Braves (who had also been known at various times throughout their history as the Red Stockings, the Beaneaters, the Doves, the Rustlers, and the Bees), had become second-class citizens in Boston, where the American League’s Red Sox were far more popular. After moving to Milwaukee, the Braves set a National League attendance record of 1.8 million fans in 1953.

The Dodgers and Giants Go West — 1958

The Brooklyn Dodgers first took the field as the Brooklyn Atlantics in the American Association in 1884. Known by numerous other nicknames (including the Grays, Bridegrooms, Grooms, Superbas, and Robins — often simultaneously and interchangeably) for the first 50 years of their history, the Dodgers had a rabid fan base in Brooklyn. They became the first integrated team in Major League Baseball when they brought African-American player Jackie Robinson to the team in 1947. With Robinson and several other African-American players, the Dodgers had great success for the next 10 years. They won 6 pennants and beat the New York Yankees in the 1955 World Series for their first championship.

However, the Dodgers’ stadium, Ebbets Field, was old and in disrepair. Dodgers’ owner Walter O’Malley wanted to build a new stadium in Brooklyn, but he was rebuffed by city planners and politicians. Lured by a lucrative stadium offer in Los Angeles, O’Malley made the unpopular decision to move the Dodgers to the West Coast. He convinced Horace Stoneham, owner of the rival New York Giants, who were also in need of a new stadium, to move west too. The Dodgers moved to Los Angeles and the Giants to San Francisco for the 1958 season.

American League President Ban Johnson surrounded by portraits of the 8 AL teams (1907)
American League President Ban Johnson surrounded by portraits of the 8 AL teams (1907) | Source

The 8-Team American League 1901-1960

The American League began play in 1901 as the “Junior Circuit” to the established National League. Like the older league, the AL was comprised of 8 teams: Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Washington. It remained an 8-team league for 60 years, and the original franchises are all in the league today, although 4 of them are no longer in their original cities.

The American League franchise moves are a little more confusing than those of the National League: No National League teams moved until team nicknames were well established, and with the exception of the most recent move in 2005, teams kept their names when they moved. By contrast, several of the American League franchise shifts involved complete name changes and the assumption of names previously used by other franchises.

The Milwaukee and Baltimore Franchises Move Early

The Milwaukee Brewers played only one season in Milwaukee before departing for St. Louis in 1902, where they played as the Browns for 52 years before moving to Baltimore in 1954 to become the Orioles.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Orioles franchise that was a charter member of the American League moved to New York in 1903. In New York, the team was known as the Highlanders until 1913, when it dropped that name in favor of the New York Yankees.

St. Louis and Philadelphia Lose Their AL Teams in the 50s

With some additional nickname changes, the 8 American League teams remained in place from 1903 until the Browns’ move to Baltimore in 1954. Another change came in the following year, when the Philadelphia Athletics moved to Kansas City.

Despite usually mediocre on-field results, the St. Louis Browns were for 20 years considerably more popular than the National League’s Cardinals, with whom they shared their stadium, Sportsman’s Park. In 1926, however, the Cardinals beat the Yankees in the World Series, and the St. Louis fans embraced the Cardinals at the expense of the Browns. The Browns regained some popularity in the early 1950s under their new owner, the showman Bill Veeck, but when the Cardinals were sold to brewing giant Anheuser-Busch, Veeck sold the Browns to a group that moved them to Baltimore. They began a new life as the Baltimore Orioles in the 1954 season.

The Athletics were managed by the legendary Connie Mack for the first 50 years of their existence and reached the World Series 8 times through 1931. But by the 1950s, the team had posted consistently poor results for 2 decades, and the owners decided to move west to Kansas City for the 1955 season.

The Modern Major Leagues Before Expansion

National League
American League
Boston / Milwaukee (1953)
Baltimore / New York (1903)
Brooklyn / Los Angeles (1958)
Boston
Chicago
Chicago
Cincinnati
Cleveland
New York / San Francisco (1958)
Detroit
Philadelphia
Milwaukee / St. Louis (1902) / Baltimore (1954)
Pittsburgh
Philadelphia / Kansas City (1955)
St. Louis
Washington

American League Expansion to 10 Teams - 1961

In 1960, the American League voted to expand to 10 teams. Prompted by the success of the Dodgers’ and Giants’ moves to the West Coast, the American League added a new franchise, the Angels, in Los Angeles. The league also awarded a franchise to Minneapolis-St. Paul, but Calvin Griffith, the owner of the Washington Senators, asked for and received approval to move the Senators there instead, giving the new expansion slot to Washington.

As a result, the 1961 American League season included 3 new teams: the expansion Los Angeles Angels, the expansion Washington Senators, and the newly renamed Minnesota Twins, formerly the old Senators.

The Angels went through several name changes related to the location of their new stadium in nearby Anaheim, which opened in 1966. In 1965 the Angels changed their name to the California Angels; in 1997 they became the Anaheim Angels; and in 2005 they adopted their current name, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

The Athletics Move West Again

California gained its fourth major league team in 1968, when the Kansas City Athletics completed their westward migration, which had started in Philadelphia, by moving to Oakland.

President John F. Kennedy throws out the first ball at the 1962 All-Star Game in Washington, D.C. -- the first All-Star game after MLB's expansion
President John F. Kennedy throws out the first ball at the 1962 All-Star Game in Washington, D.C. -- the first All-Star game after MLB's expansion | Source

National League Expansion to 10 Teams - 1962

Not to be outdone, and facing the potential threat of a third league with a team in New York to replace the Giants and Dodgers, the National League added 2 expansion clubs for the 1962 season.

The New York Mets were formed with the specific intent of drawing fans of the National League’s former New York teams. Their team colors were Dodger blue and Giants orange. In the expansion draft, the Mets selected a number of players with ties to the old teams, especially the Dodgers. See The New York Mets' First Season: 1962's Lovable Losers.

The other team added by the National League was the Houston Colt .45s, opening the Texas market to major league baseball for the first time. In 1965 the Colt .45s were renamed as the Houston Astros, when they moved into the Astrodome, the first domed sports stadium in the world.

The Braves Move to Atlanta

1966 brought another franchise shift as the Braves left Milwaukee after 13 seasons in the Midwest. The Braves relocated to Atlanta, becoming the first Major League team in the Southeast.

MLB Expansion to 24 Teams and the Beginning of Divisional Play - 1969

By the late 1960s, Major League Baseball was ready to expand again. In 1967, both leagues voted to add 2 more teams, for a total of 12 teams in each league. The expansion timetable was hurried by the Athletics’ move to Oakland. Instead of beginning play in 1971 as planned, the new teams took the field in 1969.

The American League replaced the Athletics with the expansion Kansas City Royals and added a new team, the Pilots, in Seattle. Unfortunately, the Pilots were unsuccessful on the field and in financial trouble from the start. Major League Baseball approved a sale of the team and a move to Milwaukee for the 1970 season, where the team was renamed as the Brewers. So, four years after the Braves had left, baseball was back in Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, the National League expanded into two new markets for the 1969 season, adding the San Diego Padres as its third California team and the Montreal Expos as the first major league team in Canada.

Washington’s Loss is Texas’ Gain

Soon after this round of expansion, the American League approved one more relocation: In 1972, the Washington Senators (the 1961 expansion version) moved to Dallas-Ft. Worth, giving both leagues a presence in the Lone Star State. The team was renamed as the Texas Rangers.

Divisional play begins

In connection with the 1969 expansion, the leagues created divisions for the first time, resulting in a new round of playoffs to decide the pennant winners. Each league was divided into East and West Divisions, as shown in the table below. The American League made additional changes within a few years, but the National League alignments remained the same for 24 years, through the 1992 season.

AL East Division
AL West Division
NL East Division
NL West Division
Baltimore Orioles
California Angels
Chicago Cubs
Atlanta Braves
Boston Red Sox
Chicago White Sox
Montreal Expos
Cincinnati Reds
Cleveland Indians
Kansas City Royals
New York Mets
Houston Astros
Detroit Tigers
Minnesota Twins
Philadelphia Phillies
Los Angeles Dodgers
New York Yankees
Oakland Athletics
Pittsburgh Pirates
San Diego Padres
Washington Senators *
Seattle Pilots *
St. Louis Cardinals
San Francisco Giants
MLB Divisional Alignment as of 1969. * Milwaukee replaced Seattle in 1970. After Washington relocated to Texas in 1972, the Brewers switched to the AL East and the Rangers joined the AL West.

American League Expansion to 14 Teams - 1977

In 1977, the American League expanded again, going from 12 teams to 14 teams. The league added its first franchise in Canada, the Toronto Blue Jays, to compete with the Montreal Expos of the NL. A new franchise, named the Mariners, was also awarded to Seattle to replace the ill-fated Pilots.

With the 1977 expansion, the existing East and West divisional structure was maintained. Each division was increased from 6 to 7 teams: Toronto was added to the East Division, while Seattle joined the West Division. This alignment was maintained for 17 years, through the 1993 season.

National League Expansion to 14 Teams - 1993

Despite the AL expansion in 1977, the National League remained at 12 teams until 1993, when it added 2 new franchises, the Colorado Rockies and the Florida Marlins. Both of these teams represented forays into new, formerly untapped markets: The Rockies, based in Denver, were marketed to the vast Mountain States area between Kansas City and California. The Marlins, located in Miami, were the first Major League team in Florida.

For the 1993 season, the league retained its existing divisional structure, adding Florida to the East Division and Colorado to the West.

Divisional Realignment and the Wild Card - 1994

With 14 teams in each league, both leagues switched to a three-division format in 1994, adding a Central Division in each league and realigning the East and West Divisions. In each league, the East and Central Divisions had 5 teams, while the West Division had 4 teams.

MLB also created a new playoff structure, adding a wild-card playoff berth for the non-divisional winner with the best overall record, and a new playoff round, the Division Series, to determine the two teams that would advance to play for the league pennant.

Due to a players’ strike in 1994, this new playoff structure was not actually implemented until 1995.

President George W. Bush prepares to throw out the first pitch at the Opening Day game of the Washington Nationals' 2005 inaugural season
President George W. Bush prepares to throw out the first pitch at the Opening Day game of the Washington Nationals' 2005 inaugural season | Source

MLB Expansion to 30 Teams - 1998

The final round of expansion to date occurred in 1998, when each league added one new team. The American League moved into Florida with the addition of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (known since 2008 as the Rays). The National League moved into the Arizona desert with the addition of the Phoenix-based Arizona Diamondbacks. The D-backs had early success, winning the World Series in 2001, just their fourth year. The Rays were less successful initially, but they did win the AL pennant in 2008 and were back in the playoffs in 2010 and 2011.

The expansion to 30 teams, with an odd number of teams (15) in each league, created potential scheduling problems. To avoid this, MLB decided to move one team from the American League to the National League, giving the NL 16 teams and the AL 14. The Milwaukee Brewers agreed to transfer. So Milwaukee, the former home of the Braves for 13 years, once again became a National League city, with the Brewers in the NL Central Division.

The Arizona Diamondbacks were added to the NL West Division, giving the National League 5 teams in the East Division, 6 teams in the Central, and 5 in the West. Meanwhile, since Tampa Bay was added to the AL East, the Detroit Tigers agreed to move from the AL East to the AL Central Division. The result of the moves was 5 teams in the AL East, 5 teams in the AL Central, and 4 teams in the AL West Division.

In 2005 there was a move within the National League East: the Montreal Expos franchise relocated to Washington, D.C., where the team was renamed the Washington Nationals. But the unbalanced league alignment was maintained through the 2012 season.

Balanced Alignment Returns as the Houston Astros Move to the AL West - 2013

Effective with the 2013 season, the Houston Astros moved from the NL Central Division to the American League West Division. The move resulted in balanced divisions for the first time since 1998, with 5 teams in each division. Since each league now has 15 teams, the new alignment requires additional interleague play.

MLB also added a second wild card team in each league in 2012, with a single "play-in" game between the two wild cards to determine which team will advance to the Division Series. The new format creates an additional incentive for teams to win their division.

MLB After Realignment to 3 Divisions - 1998 to present

AL East Division
AL Central Division
AL West Division
Baltimore Orioles
Chicago White Sox
California Angels
Boston Red Sox
Cleveland Indians
Houston Astros (2013)
Detroit Tigers (through 1997)
Detroit Tigers (1998)
Oakland Athletics
New York Yankees
Kansas City Royals
Seattle Mariners
Tampa Bay Devil Rays (Rays) (1998)
Milwaukee Brewers (through 1997)
Texas Rangers
Toronto Blue Jays
Minnesota Twins
 
NL East Division
NL Central Division
NL West Division
Atlanta Braves
Chicago Cubs
Arizona Diamondbacks (1998)
Florida Marlins
Cincinnati Reds
Colorado Rockies
Montreal Expos / Washington Nationals (2005)
Houston Astros (through 2012)
Los Angeles Dodgers
New York Mets
Milwaukee Brewers (1998)
San Diego Padres
Philadelphia Phillies
Pittsburgh Pirates
San Francisco Giants
 
St. Louis Cardinals
 

Future Expansion or Franchise Relocation?

Speculation arises periodically about whether Major League Baseball will expand again, or whether smaller market teams will relocate. Expanding from the current 30 teams to 32 or more would bring baseball to additional markets. On the other hand, opponents of further expansion argue that Major League talent is already diluted.

Which cities or metropolitan areas would be likely candidates for expansion? Considerations generally include population, income, media penetration, and baseball tradition. Currently, 25 of the 30 teams are located in 21 of the 22 most populous U.S. metropolitan areas, and the Toronto metro area population would place it in the top 10. Five other U.S. metropolitan areas have larger populations than Cincinnati, Cleveland, or Kansas City: Riverside, California; Portland, Oregon; Sacramento, California, San Antonio, Texas; and Orlando, Florida. Another 9 areas, including Las Vegas, Nevada, and Nashville, Tennessee, are more populous than the Milwaukee area, which is currently the smallest market in Major League Baseball.

Would any of these areas be strong candidates for a new MLB franchise? Or should the MLB consider additional international expansion, maybe to Mexico City, San Juan, or even Havana? With 7 billion people now on the planet, potential new fans are being born every minute.

© 2011 Brian Lokker

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    • JasonCulley profile image

      JasonCulley 5 years ago from Cheyenne, WY

      Great article Brian. I love the history of all sports, especially baseball and football.

    • brianlokker profile image
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      Brian Lokker 5 years ago from Washington DC metro area

      Thanks for reading, Jason. I'd like to learn more about football history too.

    • JasonCulley profile image

      JasonCulley 5 years ago from Cheyenne, WY

      I am working on some articles about football history but it is more centered around one team, the Oakland Raiders.

    • catfish33 profile image

      Jeffrey Yelton 5 years ago from Maryland

      Very nice. I maintain that MLB should expand to 32 teams, and have 8 4-team divisions. I would put a new team in the Carolinas for one, and Vancouver for another.

    • brianlokker profile image
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      Brian Lokker 5 years ago from Washington DC metro area

      Jason, I'm a NY Giants fan but I'll be interested in reading your Raiders hubs too. Catfish33, I would favor the symmetry of a 32-team league. I think there's enough talent to go around. Maybe the Carolinas and Las Vegas?

    • TeriSilver profile image

      Teri Silver 5 years ago from The Buckeye State

      Interesting and well-written. I love baseball and its history (I wrote an article on old stadiums, published on Suite101). Thumbs up!

    • brianlokker profile image
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      Brian Lokker 5 years ago from Washington DC metro area

      Thanks, Teri. I will look for your stadiums article on Suite 101. Best, Brian

    • ugagirl66 profile image

      Gina 5 years ago from South Carolina

      Sharing this with my husband. Great hub!

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      Brian Lokker 5 years ago from Washington DC metro area

      Thanks for reading and sharing, ugagirl66. Hope your husband enjoys it. Best, Brian

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      gay redcay 5 years ago

      Very enlightening!

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      Brian Lokker 5 years ago from Washington DC metro area

      Thanks, Gay. I appreciate your visit.

    • Cogerson profile image

      Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

      First of all....great to see you back on hub pages. Secondly I loved reading your well researched hub on basball relocations. It is good to see the Seattle Pilots getting some attention...they had only one season...but that season lives on in the pages of Ball Four by Jim Bouton. Speaking of another franchise that is no longer there....I used to watch the Expos when they played at Jarry Park Stadium....I remember good old Barry Foote hitting a homerun that beat the Cardinals back in 1975(he only hit 57 in his whole career)....I have never been able to forget those homeruns.

      Anyway enough of my baseball memories.....great hub that you have written ...that I found extremely fun to read...voted up and very awesome.

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      Brian Lokker 5 years ago from Washington DC metro area

      Thanks, Cogerson. I've been lurking for a while but haven't had time to write anything new. I guess the Seattle Pilots and the first incarnation of the Milwaukee Brewers share the distinction of being the franchises with the shortest tenure in one location, with one season each. I never saw the Expos in Montreal, but I did see them a couple of times when they played the Mets in New York. I did see a Blue Jays game in Toronto, but that's my only experience with baseball in Canada.

    • brianlokker profile image
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      Brian Lokker 5 years ago from Washington DC metro area

      This hub has been updated to reflect the announced move of the Houston Astros to the AL West Division in 2013 and the addition of a second wild card team in each league.

      Do you think more interleague play -- the result of the Astros' move -- will be a good thing?

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      mlbkranks 4 years ago

      i hate 2 see the astros move 2 the a.l. ive always pulled 4 them 2 be in the world series vs texas. not only will that not take place but it will make it tough 2 want 2 attend their games being in the same division with texas and the closest n.l. team 2 dallas becomes...st.louis...600 miles away! i HATE interleague games and the wild card!! they take away from the world series, divisional races (as 2 win the division) and unbalanced schedules.

    • brianlokker profile image
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      Brian Lokker 4 years ago from Washington DC metro area

      mlbkranks - Thank you for reading and commenting. I understand your frustration about the Houston move. I'm sure I'd feel the same way if my favorite team (the Mets) changed leagues. The move does leave a geographical void, as you've pointed out. I think the new setup with two wild cards might prove interesting, though, since the one-grame playoff will provide more incentive for a team to win its division rather than settling for the wild card.

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