Going South; Professional Baseball's Contraction in Canada
Bellamy, Robert, Whitson, David, Nine
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. …