The cities housing Major League Baseball teams are well established, have been doing so for a long period of time, and will continue to do so for years into the future (with the possible exception of Tampa Bay). It is difficult to imagine professional franchises flying by the seat of their pants and changing what cities they call home from year to year. However, in the early days of pro baseball, that is exactly what happened. As a result, there are a number of former professional baseball cities that no longer have a team to host. Baseball Magazine has looked over all former baseball cities and determined which would be strong hosts to have a team again.
While there have been countless teams that have come and gone in professional baseball history, a majority of the cities that have had teams are the cities that continue to get teams. Therefore, the list of former baseball cities is actually relatively low. Expanding beyond MLB and including the short lived Federal League, The National Association of Base Ball Players, the even shorter lived Players’ National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs, and the Union Association, there are 23 former professional baseball cities, based on databaseball.com – almost all of which are in the northeast.
Many defunct baseball leagues used the same cities that we see today – New York, Boston, and Baltimore for example. Since those cities are obviously baseball viable, we will not mention those teams.
When thinking about the viability of a city to support a Major League Baseball team, we need to consider population, the discretionary income of that population, as well as the other professional and college teams in the city.
While not directly having a baseball team, the following cities need to be crossed off the list simply for close proximity to current baseball cities that could not support another team: Worcester, Massachusetts, Toledo, Ohio, Rockford, Illinois, Altoona, Pennsylvania, St. Paul, Minnesota, Newark and Elizabeth, New Jersey, and Wilmington, Delaware. While some of these cities could be great candidates independently, cutting an already existing fan base is something only the largest cities in the United States could handle.
The first city we should cover is one that has been in the news this past season for a possible return to baseball – Montreal. Without a team since 2004, Montreal seems to be gaining ground in the conversation for expansion or relocation. Montreal has a population of 1.7 million, and its metropolitan area has a population just shy of 4.0 million. Montreal’s metro area would be the 15th largest metro area if it was in the United States, obviously putting it in strong company compared to already current major league cities.
Looking at Montreal’s average income, there is no issue. The average family income is near $70,000 CAD. While variations in USD versus CAD can influence buying power, Montreal’s population can definitely support a baseball team financially.
As for other teams in the city, this is Canada. Of course Montreal has the Canadians, the Yankees of the NHL. An original six franchise, nothing will replace the love of the Canadians for fans. Other than the NHL, Montreal hosts a Canadian Football team, the Alouettes, and a Major League Soccer franchise, the Montreal Impact. Montreal is a city that loves its sports, but has room for more.
As previously mentioned, Montreal had the Expos until 2004. Baseball has tried and failed in the city, relatively recently. Most will say that ownership turmoil, no not just when Jeffery Loria took over, doomed the team, and this is mostly correct. By the end of the team’s existence, The Expos were not able to break the 1,000,000 mark from 1998-2002. In 2001, the Expos had just 642,743 fans attend games – a 7,935 per game average. The National League average in 2001 was 2,481,346, or 30,634 fans per night. It is no wonder why the team was bleeding capital and had to leave the city.
So with a history this negative, why try Montreal again? Eager Expos fans say the strike of 1994 ruined the team’s chances to turn its success around. Others will say a competent owner could easily win back fans lost. Major League Baseball probably sees the task of getting fans in Montreal to be much easier than placing a team in a city completely foreign to having a team. In my humble opinion, keep baseball out of Montreal. The Toronto Blue Jays are less than 350 miles from Montreal. While this may be a large distance in the United States, Eastern Canada should only have one baseball team for the foreseeable future. Dividing Canadian fans into two teams would only hurt the popularity of the Blue Jays, a team finally seeing success on and off the ball field. The Expos should remain defunct.
Let’s discuss a large cluster of former cities for a moment that are all in New York: Buffalo, Syracuse, Troy, Rochester, and Middletown. Aside from the Bronx, I have lived in Troy and Middletown. I know these areas well. These are not cities capable of hosing a Major League Baseball team. Troy is home to 50,000 residents, smaller than most stadium capacities. Including metropolitan Albany only gives a population of 1,170,483 – by far smaller than Milwaukee’s 1.6 million, the current owner of MLB’s smallest city population. Milwaukee is actually the only MLB city with fewer than 2 million in population. Looking at historicals, the Troy Trojans of 1882 set a Major League record that still stands today. Six fans showed up to a game in late September, the fewest in MLB history. Middletown and Syracuse metro areas have fewer than 700,000 people, giving zero chance for a team to exist in the area.
Rochester and Buffalo are 75 miles from each other and combine for a population over 2 million. There is not a lot of money in Buffalo, but the fans are very dedicated to their NFL Bills. The area also has the Buffalo Sabres that do very well in attendance despite not being a competitive team. While close to Toronto, being south of the border should be enough to grow a Buffalo fan base while keeping Toronto’s fans in Toronto. Buffalo is 200 miles from Cleveland. That distance and a state divide in between should also be enough for the Indians not to lose fans to an expansion team.
There are three additional cities on this list that are intriguing: Indianapolis, Louisville, and Richmond. Indianapolis had both the Blues and the Hoosiers in the late 1880s, Louisville had the Grays, the Eclipse, and the Colonels between 1876 and 1899, and Richmond had the Virginians in 1884. Looking at the population of each, metro Indianapolis has 1.8 million, Louisville has 1.27 million, and Richmond has 1.3 million. Based on population alone Indianapolis has the edge.
The Indianapolis Colts of the NFL have a very dedicated following. The Colts rank 20th in average team attendance, but rank 3rd in stadium capacity percentage filled behind only Dallas and Green Bay. Metro Indianapolis average income is right in line with the national average. Looking at other pro sports teams in the area, the NBA’s Pacers are 24th in attendance, 22nd if going by arena capacity percent filled.
Indianapolis happens to be surrounded by Chicago, Cincinnati, and St. Louis. While the other areas of Indianapolis make the city look inviting, it just cannot be done. The population is already saturated with baseball nearby in every direction.
Looking at all the former professional baseball cities, the most viable for a return are Montreal, Canada and Buffalo, New York. Buffalo has the population, the right surrounding areas, and nearly the right average income to support a team. Buffalo is one of a few cities in America that lives for its local teams and adding a team in western New York could succeed very well.
There are a number of other cities in North America that could sustain a major league team, but with a focus only on former pro baseball cities, Buffalo wins out hands down.