The Continental League: It could still happen

In 1959, a group led by Branch Rickey announced plans for a Continental League with teams in Atlanta, Buffalo, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York and Toronto. Different than former rival circuits such as the American Association, Players’ League or Federal League, Rickey and his associates envisioned a complementary league. However, they folded August 2, 1960 before playing a game after the big leagues announced plans to field teams in a few of the markets.

Since then, Major League Baseball has almost doubled to 30 teams, from 16, spreading west like the Continental League proposed. What’s interesting, though, is that amidst the glut of expansion, a new baseball league could still work. Many cities besides Buffalo could accommodate a team and hundreds of ex-big leaguers in their 20s and 30s currently populate the minor leagues, independent ball and the international circuits.

Baseball could theoretically have a league at least like the XFL in football for talent and general interest. With good financial backing, fan support and patience, it could become sustainable. Here’s an idea of how it might look:

The Classic Division:

1. Brooklyn

Population: 2,465,326 (2000 US Census)

Current baseball team: Brooklyn Cyclones (Mets, Short-Season A)

Notes: Why not bring big league baseball back to Brooklyn? New York supported three baseball teams for years, and this borough boasts over 2 million people, with no professional team as of this writing (just so long as the Nets remain in New Jersey.) As a bonus, a modernized replica of Ebbets Field could be built.

2. Buffalo

Population: 292,648 (2000 US Census)

Current baseball team: Buffalo Bisons (Mets, Triple-A)

Notes: This is the only Continental League city lacking major league baseball 50 years later, perhaps because Buffalo’s population has fallen more than 50% in this time. Still, the rate of decrease is no longer as rapid, and Buffalo has the largestĀ ballpark in the minors, Pilot Field, capable of enlarging to big league capacity.

3. Montreal

Population: 1,620,693 (2006 Canadian Census)

Current baseball team: None since 2004

Notes: I don’t think this was a bad baseball city. I just think the Expos sucked something fierce by the time they left for Washington D.C.

4. Louisville

Population: 256,231 (2000 US Census)

Current baseball team: Louisville Bats (Reds, Triple-A)

Notes: A June 2008 article from RBI Magazine says it best: birthplace of the Louisville Slugger for god sakes. Give them an MLB Team!

5. Memphis

Population: 650,100 (2000 US Census)

Current baseball team: Memphis Redbirds (Cardinals, Triple-A)

Notes: The 18th-largest city in the 2000 census, plus a geographical rival of Louisville. When the Vancouver Grizzlies moved to Memphis some years ago, they tried to rename themselves the Express, in honor of FedEx (headquartered there) but the NBA quashed it. In my league, there are no such restrictions.

6. Indianapolis

Population: 781,870 (2000 US Census)

Current baseball team: Indianapolis Indians (Pirates, Triple-A)

Notes: The third-largest city in the US without a professional baseball team, after San Jose and San Antonio, Indianapolis is a former Negro League town and between the Pacers and Colts has traditionally treated teams well.

The Territorial Division:

1. San Antonio

Population: 1,144,646 (2000 US Census)

Current baseball team: San Antonio Missions (Padres, Double-A)

Notes: This is the largest American city without a big league team. Kind of surprising it doesn’t even have a Triple-A club (or an NFL team for that matter.)

2. Sacramento

Population: 407,018 (2000 US Census)

Current baseball team: Sacramento River Cats (A’s, Triple-A)

Notes: Call me biased, since this is my hometown, but Sacramento is a great baseball city. The weather is sublime in the late spring and early fall, and the River Cats play in a jewel of a riverfront ballpark, Raley Field, which could be expanded from its current capacity of 14,000.

3. Las Vegas

Population: 478,434 (2000 US Census)

Current baseball team: Las Vegas 51s (Blue Jays, Triple-A)

Notes: This is again where my bias will show, as there’s been talk in recent years of my Sacramento Kings moving here, and I think putting a baseball team in Las Vegas could avert this. That being said, I think Sin City could well accommodate a ball club and that casinos would purchase many stadium luxury boxes for high rollers.

4. Honolulu

Population: 371,657 (2000 US Census)

Current baseball team: None since 1987

Notes: Honolulu has gorgeous weather and no professional teams currently, and modern technology eases travel there. This area is ripe for expansion and would make a perfect spot for All Star games.

5. Portland

Population: 529,121

Current baseball team: Portland Beavers (Padres, Triple-A)

Notes: Almost as large as its neighbor Seattle, Portland surprisingly only has one professional team, the Trail Blazers of the NBA.

6. Vancouver

Population: 578,041 (2006 Canadian Census)

Current baseball team: Vancouver Canadians (A’s, Short-Season A)

Notes: Vancouver is another beautiful city in the Pacific Northwest that could support a higher level of baseball than it does.

Part 2: The players