Thursday, January 21, 2010

American League History 101

There are currently fourteen teams in the American League. Nine of these clubs are still located in their birthplace. Of those nine, the Angels, Royals, Mariners, Blue Jays and Rays are expansion clubs. The remaining four teams that have thrived (or resisted relocation) are the Detroit Tigers (1901), Chicago White Sox (1902), Cleveland Indians (1901), and the Boston Red Sox (1901).

Only the Tigers have maintained their original team nickname.

The White Sox made a minor alteration from the name White Stockings.

Cleveland began as the Blues and soon switched to the Broncos. In honor of the great Napoleon Lajoie, the team decided to be called the Naps until their star player/manager left the team in 1915. In keeping with the honorarium theme, they reached back into history and reclaimed the pre-American League name Cleveland Indians, for a player named Louis Sockalexis, a Penobscot Indian. I wonder if the descendants of Mr. Sockalexis have box seats at Jacobs Field.

The name Pilgrims has been ascribed to the early Boston players, although a theory exists that this is myth. Most vintage articles just refer to the the team as the Boston Americans. The co-nickname Somersets has been cited during the first several years, as well. Charles Somers was the president of the league at the time. In any event, the name Red Sox was adopted in 1907 and has stuck for more than a century.

Now let's discuss the teams that have migrated to greener pastures. The New York Yankees were once the New York Highlanders, it's true. But they began as the Baltimore Orioles in 1901. In 1903, the franchise moved from Baltimore to New York.

The New York Orioles sounded a bit peculiar and would have raised the ire of John James Audobon, so the name Highlanders was chosen. The team played its games at an elevated spot in Upper Manhattan, and team president Joe Gordon fancied the lore of a famous British fighting unit called the Gordon Highlanders.

In 1913, the name was changed to the Yankees, an unofficial nickname being used by a newspaperman who was tired of fitting Highlanders into his headlines.

For many years, Baltimore had no major league team, except for a brief fling with the Baltimore Terrapins of the short-lived Federal League. Following the 1953 season, the St. Louis Browns could no longer survive in the shadow of the National League Cardinals. They relocated to Baltimore and usurped the Orioles name from the existing minor league organization. The newly born Orioles needed about a decade before becoming a force in the American League.

Actually, the Baltimore story did not begin in St. Louis. In 1901, after just one year in operation, the Milwaukee Brewers moved to St. Louis to become the Browns.

So, the Yankees were once the Orioles, and the Orioles had been briefly called the Brewers. Okay, what about the modern Brewers? The 1969 expansion Seattle Pilots in their first year could not build attendance to an acceptable level, could not get funding for the new domed stadium that was part of the franchise agreement, and could not stop the banks from calling in their loans. A group from Milwaukee led by Bud Selig put together a deal and the Brewers were born in 1970.

The Brewers moved from the American League to the National in 1998. The addition of one expansion team to each league (Diamondbacks and Devil Rays), created a scheduling nightmare for the fifteen teams in each league. The Brewers alleviated that problem by switching leagues
and returning both circuits to an even number of clubs.

The Athletics have always been the Athletics. They were the Athletics in Philadelphia from 1901-1954 before moving to Kansas City. The KC franchise was sold to Charley Finley who publicly proclaimed that he would not move the team out of Missouri. He proceeded to contact almost every city in the U.S. to make a deal before scoring a hit in Oakland in 1968. If the current ownership can survive in the Bay Area until 2022, they will eclipse the Connie Mack tenure in Philly.

The Minnesota Twins moved their franchise from Washington in 1960 after being the Washington Senators since 1901.

With the Senators gone to the Twin Cities, an expansion team assumed the mantle of the Washington Senators in 1961. Eleven years later, they followed the Twins' blueprint and bolted for Texas, becoming the Rangers in 1972.

Until one of our small-market teams is seduced into another city with a burgeoning economy and tax money to build a nice stadium, the Major Leagues should stand pat for the time being.

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