Going South; Professional Baseball's Contraction in Canada

Article excerpt

Historically, Canada is second only to the United States as a baseball nation. The League Alliance, recognized by many as the first minor league, had the Tecumseh club of London, Ontario, as a charter member in 1877. The Ontario and Canadian Leagues appeared in the mid-188os, and before the turn of the twentieth century, baseball franchises existed as far west as British Columbia. (1) Later franchises, like the Montreal Royals and Toronto Maple Leafs, loom large in any account of minor-league history; the Royals, of course, were the AAA team with which Jackie Robinson played prior to his elevation to the major-league Dodgers. Finally, Canada remains the only nation other than the U.S. to host MLB teams.

Despite all this history and cultural resonance, the professional baseball situation in Canada at present is, to put it kindly, rather bleak. Only two Organized Baseball (OB) teams called Canada home in the 2009 season: the Toronto Blue Jays (MLB) and the Vancouver Canadians (short-season Northwest League). Four more professional teams (in Calgary, Edmonton, Quebec City, and Winnipeg) can be added if independent leagues are counted (see table 1).

Table 1. Canadian pro baseball teams as of 2009

     Team                                        Year began

                                  MLB
Toronto Blue Jays                                  1977
                             A (Short-Season)
Vancouver Canadians                                2000
                               Independents
Winnipeg Gold Eyes                                 1994
Quebec Capitales (Capitals)                        1999
Calgary Vipers                                     2005
Edmonton Cracker Cats                              2005

The situation was much different as recently as the early 1990s. Canada then had two MLB teams (Montreal Expos, Toronto Blue Jays), four AAA (Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Vancouver), one AA (London), and five short-season or rookie teams (Hamilton, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, St. Catharines, Welland) in OB (see table 2). In addition, independent baseball thrived in several other centers. Today, the decline in professional baseball's Canadian footprint is manifest; the independent Can-Am Association has only one Canada-based team (Quebec City) out of eight franchises, while teams in Calgary and Edmonton shifted for the 2008 season from the well-established Northern League (leaving only the highly successful Winnipeg Goldeyes) to the upstart Golden League.

TABLE 2. Canada's pro baseball exodus since 1990

Team                       Life-span          Relocated as

                           MLB
Montreal Expos             1969-2004          Washington
                                              Nationals
                           AAA
Ottawa Lynx                1993-2007          Lehigh Valley
                                              IronPigs
Edmonton Trappers          1981-2004          Round Rock
                                              Express
Calgary Cannons            1985-2002          Albuquerque
                                              Isotopes
Vancouver Canadians        1978-1999          Sacramento
                                              RiverCats
                           AA
London Tigers              1989-1993          Trenton
                                              Thunder
                           A (SHORT-SEASON)
St. Catherines' Stompers   1986-1999          Queens Kings
Welland Pirates            1989-1994          Erie Sea
                                              Wolves
Hamilton Redbirds          1988-1992          Glens Falls
                                              Redbirds
                           ROOKIE
Medicine Hat Blue Jays     1978-2002          Helena
                                              Brewers
Lethbridge Black Diamonds  1992-1998          Missoula
                                              Osprey

Our paper explores some possible reasons for the decline of professional baseball in Canada. …

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