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    The Continental League: An Alternate MLB History

    The Continental League: An Alternate MLB History
    By Drew Pelto, AKA *censored*

    Sixty years ago, New York had only one baseball team for the first time since 1883: it was the Yankees and only the Yankees. The Dodgers and Giants had left for the West Coast following the 1957 season, and suddenly New York, the country’s largest city and premier media market was left with only one team. Sure, it was the league’s premier team, but there still was a void felt in the city outside of the Bronx.

    Mayor Robert Wagner put a committee together in an attempt to move a National League team over to New York: overtures made to the Reds, Phillies, and Pirates clearly failed, and the league showed no interest in expanding past its eight teams.

    Enter New York City attorney William Shea, leader of the committee. Shea wasn’t known as being some great legal mind who would find a loophole in a law or argue a case incredibly well, but he was trusted by many people as a man who could formulate and enact a plan very quickly and quietly. After overtures to existing franchises and a push for expansion both failed, it was time for the nuclear option: Shea was going to challenge Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption, and push to build his own major league. He even employed one of baseball’s most innovative minds, Branch Rickey, as the new League’s president; appearing on CBS’ What’s My Line in 1959, Rickey called the upcoming Continental League “as inevitable as tomorrow morning.” They already had ownership groups ready in eight cities, and proclaimed that they would be ready to play by April 18, 1961.

    To make a long story short, the National League rethought their position, offered teams to New York and Houston, while the American League countered with Minneapolis and Los Angeles, and with three of its eight cities now having teams, “tomorrow morning” suddenly was no more. Shea dropped his idea and by the middle of 1960 the Continental League had completely disbanded.

    Major League Baseball never faced a real rival league’s challenge in the way that the NFL did from the AFL, the NBA from the ABA, or the NHL from the WHA.

    But what if they had? And what if the leagues had held their ground... and lost the case? Let’s re-imagine...

    * * * * *

    1958 marked the first filings by Shea against Major League Baseball, its individual American and National Leagues, and each member club in an effort to challenge their antitrust exemption. The defendants, believing precedent to be on their side, hold their ground and fight the challenge.

    The Continental League presses on, announcing they will place teams in New York, Houston, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Denver, Dallas, Buffalo, and Toronto. Suddenly the largest market in the United States has a second team, as does Canada’s largest market, plus six other growing cities looking for their first big league club in any sport.

    Meanwhile, a growing number of players issue a challenge of their own, playing the 1960 season without a contract in an effort to invoke the reserve clause. While they were under contract for 1959, a team may reserve them for 1960. But if they have no 1960 contract, nothing can be used to make them stay on that team for 1961, thus essentially rendering them free agents at the same time that the new Continental League was to begin play. With so many new markets, higher pay became a distinct possibility. Rickey, not wanting to potentially raid and ruin the farm systems he is credited with creating, did not allow CL teams to sign minor league players from MLB clubs unless they were at least 25 years old, had played less than 150 games at the MLB level (or 50 as a pitcher), and had spent the entire 1960 season in the minors. These players were entered into a draft conducted in December of 1960.

    Several released veteran players moved to the new league as well, including Don Newcombe, Larry Doby, Enos Slaughter, Mickey Vernon, Mike Garcia, Andy Pafko, Gus Zernial, Chico Carrasquel, Stan Lopata, Jim Baxes, Carl Furillo, Del Rice, Bobby Thomson, Ray Boone, Mickey McDermott, and Roy Smalley. Mexican slugger Hector Espino considered offers, as did Ted Williams, but both refused the CL’s overtures.

    The CL played its first two seasons outside the auspices of Major League Baseball as the battle continued over its claims of legitimacy. The teams spent Spring Training in Texas as the CL landscape looked like this…

    Atlanta Eagles Ponce De Leon Park (6,800) Galveston, TX
    Buffalo Bisons War Memorial Stadium (46,000) Austin, TX
    Denver Bears Bears Stadium (34,000) Laredo, TX
    Houston Colts Colt Stadium (33,000+1M mosquitos) Waco, TX
    Minnesota Twins Metropolitan Stadium (30,000) Beaumont, TX
    New York Metropolitans Polo Grounds (55,000) Corpus Christi, TX
    Texas Rangers LaGrave Field (13,000) Tyler, TX
    Toronto Huskies Exhibition Stadium (30,000) San Antonio, TX

    Atlanta and Texas both promised to have 30,000+ seat stadiums ready by 1963 or face immediate relocation. True to their word, the construction of Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium and Arlington’s Turnpike Stadium got hurried along and both were ready in time for Opening Day of 1963 (NOTE: The current lengthy construction of the I-30 to TX-360 interchange just a mile up the road from Turnpike Stadium makes me think this would be unlikely, but let’s just go with it).

    Soon after, New York completed brand new Shea Stadium and the Colts moved into the new Harris County Domed Stadium. In an effort to prevent teams from excessively chasing money in bigger media markets, the CL instituted broadcast revenue sharing from all of its club’s TV and radio deals. That way New York wouldn’t have as much of a monetary advantage over somewhere like Denver, and no one had a reason to go running for Los Angeles.

    The three-league MLB footprint of the early 1960s

    In 1962, the Shea case was decided: Congress would revoke the antitrust exemption if the Continental League was not permitted to enter as a full major league. Reluctantly, MLB accepts the decision in an effort to avoid further legal entanglements. The CL’s final major-but-not-Major season will be played in 1963, and they will be permitted entry into World Series play in 1964. The 1964 World Series is played as a round-robin, neutral site format with each league champion facing each other twice and the top two teams meeting for a three-game championship series. The American and National Leagues dominated until the miracle of the 1969 New York Metropolitans who took out the Baltimore Orioles and-- spoiler alert-- the Seattle Braves.

    With players challenging the reserve clause to move to the CL, the clause was largely ignored from that point onward and the Free Agency era was born. The new Amateur Draft begins in 1965 consisting of teams from all three leagues. The All-Star Game becomes an All-Star Series: AL vs. CL in late May, CL vs. NL in mid June, and AL vs. NL in early July.

    This was leaving the National League sweating. With the AL’s Yankees and the CL’s Metropolitans, they suddenly were left as the only Major League not in New York. Sure, they had the West Coast all to themselves, but for how long? Acting quickly, the disaffected Milwaukee Braves assist in controlling the Pacific, as they announce a move to Seattle for the 1966 season. The 1964 announcement gives the city two years to upgrade Sicks’ Stadium, and if that fails, they set up a deal with San Diego as a fallback plan.

    The Continental League, strong but still struggling to compete with the well-established AL and NL, announce in 1966 a new innovation: the Designated Hitter, a player to bat in the spot of the pitcher. They also announce an intent to expand out to become the first ten-team league by 1970, hinting at a westward push to compete with the NL further.

    In 1967 it was no secret that Charlie Finley wanted to get the A’s out of Kansas City. Rumors were constantly bandied about-- many true-- that he had contacted Los Angeles without luck, had attempted to get into the CL’s Dallas market early on, and had agreements in place to move to Louisville and Oakland-- both of which were voted down by the rest of the AL. Likewise, Milwaukee was still up in arms over the loss of the Braves. Led by local car dealer Allan Huber Selig, a group of Milwaukee investors purchase…

    The Chicago White Sox. The Southsiders had been stuck in the doldrums of losing season after losing season, and could never stand up to the Cubs in terms of popularity. It stung for the AL to lose out on the Chicago market, but the Milwaukee fans were at least supportive.

    Suddenly, Finley had it made: he could live in his adopted hometown of Chicago AND keep his team close by AND get out of Kansas City. Barely five minutes after the ink dried on Selig’s signature, Finley was on the phone, ready to move the A’s to Chicago. The AL, not wanting to miss out on the Chicago market, bought into the idea-- perhaps a new team could energize a moribund fan base as well. The Milwaukee White Sox and the Chicago Athletics were all set to open the 1968 season in their new homes.

    With a new market open for its hinted-at expansion, the Continental League began stabbing westward with an announcement that the first of its new teams for 1970 will be the Kansas City Royals. They also added a second Canadian team on the Pacific Coast as the Vancouver Grizzlies could take advantage of a strengthening Canadian dollar, and provide a direct marketing rival to the NL’s Seattle Braves just across the border.

    Not wanting to be left behind in the 100th season of professional baseball, the National League announces an expansion of their own into the second ten-team league and the second to enter Canada-- the San Diego Padres and Montreal Expos are announced as their own entrants into new markets in 1971-- thus gaining a stronger hold on the West Coast, exploring a burgeoning Canadian market, and keeping a coastal balance.

    Throughout this time, the American League had largely limited itself to the Great Lakes and East Coast. It was time to turn their attention toward a largely-unexplored South. Beginning play in the 1972 season, the Miami Marlins and Delta Blues (playing out of New Orleans) would put Major League baseball at 30 teams-- nearly doubling it from its original 16-team AL/NL setup. Each league split into two five-team divisions. The All-Star Series returned to a single All-Star Game, with East vs. West and a year later, the American League also adopted the CL’s Designated Hitter concept, while the NL remained the sole league making pitchers bat.

    As an aside, each Expansion Draft was conducted only within its individual league. However, pre-deadline trading was now opened across all three leagues instead of only to a brief window each offseason.

    In 1973, the American League became the final league to gain a West Coast foothold, as the Washington Senators packed up and moved to become a second Bay Area team, the Oakland Mariners. Meanwhile, the Delta experiment was disastrous: Tad Gormley Stadium was old and constructed more for long field games like football, track and field, and soccer. The weather in New Orleans didn’t help things either as rain delays were common and games that did get played were often unbearably humid. The Blues packed up and moved to Anaheim to become the Angels and the 1970s MLB landscape looked like this…

    East: Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, Miami Marlins, New York Yankees
    West: Chicago Athletics, Detroit Tigers, Anaheim Angels, Milwaukee White Sox, Oakland Mariners

    East: Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Montreal Expos, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates
    West: Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Braves, St. Louis Cardinals

    East: Atlanta Eagles, Buffalo Bisons, Minnesota Twins, New York Metropolitans, Toronto Huskies
    West: Denver Bears, Houston Colts, Kansas City Royals, Texas Rangers, Vancouver Grizzlies

    By 1980 though, there were problems. The Canadian dollar was coming off a strong decade-- great news for the teams in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal, but economic issues in 1970s America were coming to a head. With divisions being spread across two, sometimes even three time zones, combined with a decade filled with energy crises, something had to be done to make travel more affordable. Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, the Pirates were growing rapidly dissatisfied with their lease on Three Rivers Stadium.

    With New Orleans having a new dome that wanted a second tenant, the Pirates became the first National League team to move southward and the oldest team to leave a long-tenured home. The New Orleans Pirates joined the Saints and gave the city a second sport after the Jazz’s exodus two years prior. Somewhere, fans of the 1899 Louisville Colonels were laughing.
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    To reduce travel costs with the country mired in a year-and-a-half long recession, MLB floated the idea of interleague play in 1982, instituting it in 1983. This reduced as much of a need for cross-country travel, allowing for more Philadelphia-to-New York type trips instead of lengthy trips to Seattle multiple times a season.

    Meanwhile, the honeymoon of the strong Canadian dollar was over. As the currency fell in the 1980s and with a geographic rival south of the border being in a better financial situation, the Vancouver Grizzlies brought baseball back to Washington, DC in 1985. The Beltway Rivermen were born, playing in the CL East, while the Minnesota Twins went to the West.

    Weather problems allowed a few other cities to get a brief taste of Major League Baseball as well. Damage from Hurricane Andrew forced the Miami Marlins to play the end of their 1992 season in the Suncoast Dome in Tampa, drawing surprisingly well. Eventually in 2005, the New Orleans Pirates finished their season in San Antonio’s Alamodome following damage from Hurricane Katrina.

    The lengthy 1994-95 labor dispute caused MLB to worry about more future rival leagues popping up if they lost more time in the future due to unrest. Several cities explored possibilities of creating a league if MLB remained on strike following the 1994 World Series cancellation. Seeing that interest, MLB announced further expansion, and a fourth league. The International League would split off in 1997 while adding in two more expansion teams. This created a 32-team league with four sub-leagues containing two divisions. With Pittsburgh pining for a replacement for the Pirates and Tampa’s strong showing as the Marlins’ temporary home, the Pittsburgh Pythons and Tampa Rays were introduced. The Rays went to the National League, the Pythons to the International League, and the Major Leagues were realigned for the first time.

    The former AAA International League adopted the American Association name, and these two leagues plus the Pacific Coast League realign their teams. In the interest of balance, the IL does not use the designated hitter. The Expansion Draft now takes place across all four leagues. The World Series is now between the four league champions: Each Division winner plays a best-of-five series, followed by a best-of-seven 1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3 format based on regular season records of the LCS winners, and finally a best-of-seven series of those winners. The All-Star Extravaganza is now a series of three-inning games over two days (Tuesday AL vs. CL, IL vs. NL, CL vs. IL; Wednesday AL vs. NL, AL vs. IL, CL vs. NL). The new realignment of 1997 leaves MLB looking like this…

    A fourth league appears!

    With baseball growing internationally, an exploratory committee is formed in 1999 to look into possibly forming or aiding already-existing developmental leagues in Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, and Oceania, as well as a MLB-sanctioned worldwide tournament due to questions over its feasibility as an Olympic sport. In 2002, the CL gets the first group of expansion, bringing in the Arizona Diamondbacks and Charlotte’s Carolina Infantry.

    The final non-expansion movement came in 2004. With the Montreal Expos being in an ownership crisis causing interest to wane locally, the team becomes the first to enter the Caribbean, moving to become the Senadores de San Juan, playing at Hiram Bithorn Stadium. In 2017 due to damage from Hurricane Maria, the Senadores finished the season in Oklahoma City’s Bricktown Ballpark.

    In 2007, San Antonio’s support of the 2005 Pirates paid off as they were granted an expansion team in the AL, the Caballeros. The AL East added the Kentucky Colonels. Following the success of the 2006 World Baseball Classic, Major League Baseball creates developmental leagues centered primarily in Brazil, Russia, Italy, the Netherlands, South Africa, the Philippines, Israel, Spain, Australia, and the Dominican Republic, and develops working agreements with professional leagues in Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Mexico.

    Five years later, the NL brought in the Memphis Pharaohs and the Las Vegas Aces. With a rebounding Canadian dollar, the International League continued living up to its namesake: in 2017, baseball returned to two cities north of the border as the Vancouver Mounties and Montreal Owls debuted.

    40 teams in four leagues; imagine what impact this would have had on the other sports...

    And so here we are: Opening Day 2018, 60 years after the initial announcement of the Continental League. As I’m sure you well know, ESPN and ESPN2 will each carry a quadruple-header of games today, headlined by the 2017 World Series Champion Houston Colts hosting the Oakland Mariners. Over on The Ocho, Los Senadores de San Juan play their first home game since Hurricane Maria, hosting the Memphis Phar--

    * * * * *

    Oh, right. Back to reality. Play ball!

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR: You may say Drew Pelto is a dreamer; however, he is the only one. He wants to find a way to simulate this whole thing but hasn’t found a suitable program to do so. He lives just across the freeway from the former location of the aforementioned Turnpike Stadium with his wife and two cats, but is a gigantic Cleveland Indians fan. He’ll see you this summer at the National.

  2. #2

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    What a great read thank you for this
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  3. #3
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    Thanks, glad you liked it!

    I also realized I forgot to put this in as a comment, a full breakdown of the minor league affiliates and leagues...

    East: Boston Red Sox; New York Yankees; Baltimore Orioles; Cleveland Indians; Detroit Tigers
    West: Chicago Athletics; Anaheim Angels; San Antonio Caballeros; Kentucky Colonels; Oakland Mariners

    East: Cincinnati Reds; New Orleans Pirates; Philadelphia Phillies; Tampa Rays; Memphis Pharaohs
    West: San Francisco Giants; Los Angeles Dodgers; Seattle Braves; San Diego Padres; Las Vegas Aces

    East: Toronto Huskies; Buffalo Bisons; Atlanta Eagles; Beltway Rivermen; Carolina Infantry
    West: Denver Bears; Texas Rangers; Houston Colts; Kansas City Royals; Arizona Diamondbacks

    East: Miami Marlins; San Juan Senadores; New York Metropolitans; Pittsburgh Pythons; Montreal Owls
    West: Chicago Cubs; Milwaukee White Sox; St. Louis Cardinals; Minnesota Twins; Vancouver Mounties

    Northeast: Pawtucket Red Sox (BOS); Rochester Red Wings (BUF); Hartford Yard Goats (NYM); Ottawa Capitals (TOR); Quebec City Citadelles (MTL); Syracuse Chiefs (BEL)
    Midwest: Columbus Clippers (PIT); Indianapolis Indians (CLE); Toledo Mud Hens (DET); Iowa Cubs (CHC); Lehigh Valley IronPigs (PHI); WB-Scranton RailRiders (NYY)

    North: Calgary Cannons (VAN); Tacoma Rainiers (SEA); Portland Beavers (OAK); Colorado Springs Sky Sox (DEN); Salt Lake City Bees (ANA); Sacramento Saints (LAD); Fresno Grizzlies (SFG); Reno Aces (LVA)
    South: Albuquerque Isotopes (ARZ); Tucson Saguaros (SDP); Oklahoma City 89ers (TEX); Omaha Storm Chasers (KCR); Round Rock Express (HOU); El Paso Chihuahuas (SAT)

    East: Durham Bulls (CIN); Norfolk Tides (BAL); Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (MIA); Tennessee Smokies (STL); Nashville Sounds (MEM); Gwinnett Stripers (ATL); Chattanooga Lookouts (MIN); Jackson Generals (KEN)
    West: Biloxi Shuckers (MIL); Mississippi Marauders (NOP); Mobile Battalion (CAR); Huntsville Galaxy (SJS); Birmingham Barons (CHA); Montgomery Biscuits (TAM);

    North: Binghamton Rumble Ponies (BUF); New Hampshire Fisher Cats (CIN); Portland Sea Dogs (BOS); Reading Fightin’ Phils (PHI); Trenton Thunder (NYY)
    South: Bowie Bay Sox (BAL); Harrisburg Bears (DEN); Richmond Flying Squirrels (SFG); Akron RubberDucks (CLE); Altoona Curve (PIT)

    South: Corpus Christi Hooks (HOU); Frisco Roughriders (TEX); Midland Rockhounds (SDP); Amarillo Armadillos (ANA); Fort Worth Cats (SAT)
    North: Arkansas Travelers (ARZ); NW Arkansas Naturals (KCR); Springfield Cardinals (STL); Tulsa Drillers (LAD); Wichita Wingnuts (LVA)

    North: Frederick Keys (MEM); Potomac Presidents (BEL); Salem Rays (TAM); Wilmington Blue Rocks (MIA); Lynchburg Hillcats (SJS)
    South: Myrtle Beach Pelicans (CHC); Fayetteville Woodpeckers (NOP); Carolina Mudcats (MIL); Kinston Wood Ducks (ATL); Winston-Salem Dash (CHA)

    West: Edmonton Prospects (VAN); Winnipeg Goldeyes (MIN); Saskatoon Falcons (OAK); Victoria HarbourCats (SEA)
    East: Hamilton Tigers (DET); Kitchener Panthers (TOR); London Majors (KEN); Oshawa Destroyers (CAR); Halifax Havoc (NYM); Trois Rivieres Aigles (MTL)

    North: Pensacola Blue Wahoos (CIN); Tallahassee Titans (SJS); Daytona Tortugas (BOS); Florida Fire Frogs (ATL); Clearwater Threshers (PHI); Tampa Tarpons (NYY); Dunedin Dawgs (TOR)
    South: Jupiter Hammerheads (MIA); Palm Beach Cardinals (STL); Port St. Lucie Mets (NYM); Port Charlotte Stone Crabs (TAM); Ft. Myers Miracle (MIN); Bradenton Marauders (NOP); Lakeland Flying Tigers (DET)

    North: Modesto Nuts (SEA); San Jose Giants (SFG); Stockton Ports (OAK); Visalia Rawhide (ARZ); Ventura County Gulls (HOU); Bakersfield Blaze (LVA); High Desert Mavericks (TEX)
    South: Oceanside Sailors (KCR); Lake Elsinore Storm (SDP); Riverside Pilots (VAN); Lancaster JetHawks (DEN); Inland Empire 66ers (ANA); Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (LAD); Long Beach SunDogs (SAT)

    East:Erie Sea Wolves (MTL); Lake County Captains (CLE); Dayton Dragons (BAL); Ft. Wayne Infantry (CAR); South Bend Cubs (CHC); Bowling Green Hot Rods (KEN)
    West: Beloit Snappers (MEM); Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (MIL); Great Lakes Loons (BEL); Lansing Lugnuts (BUF); West Michigan Whitecaps (PIT); Kane County Cougars (CHA)

    Central: Peoria Chiefs (STL); Burlington Bees (ANA); Cedar Rapids Kernels (KEN); Clinton LumberKings (SEA); Quad Cities River Bandits (HOU); Joliet Jammers (CHC)
    Plains: Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks (LAD); Sioux Falls Canaries (LVA); Sioux City Explorers (MIL); Lincoln Saltdogs (SAT); Kansas City T-Bones (VAN); St. Paul Saints (SJS)

    North: Delmarva Shorebirds (BAL); Hagerstown Suns (BEL); Lexington Legends (KCR); Greensboro Grasshoppers (MIA); Lakewood Blueclaws (BUF); West Virginia Power (PIT); Asheville Tourists (CAR)
    South: Rome Eagles (ATL); Augusta Greenjackets (SFG); Charleston Riverdogs (MIN); Columbia Fireflies (NOP); Greenville Drive (BOS); Hickory Crawdads (TEX); Kannapolis Intimidators (CHA)

    North: Connecticut Tigers (DET); Lowell Spinners (TOR); Vermont Lake Monsters (MTL); Tri-City ValleyCats (CIN); Hudson Valley Renegades (TAM); Auburn Doubledays (OAK); Batavia Muckdogs (SDP)
    South: Mahoning Valley Scrappers (CLE); State College Spikes (ARZ); West Virginia Black Bears (DEN); Williamsport Crosscutters (PHI); Aberdeen Ironbirds (BAL); Staten Island Yankees (NYY); Brooklyn Cyclones (NYM)

    South: Lancaster Barnstormers (MEM); York Revolution (CAR); Southern Maryland Blueclaws (BUF); High Point Hawks (BEL); Somerset Patriots (KEN)
    North: Long Island Ducks (MTL); Newark Bears (CHA); New Britain Bees (BOS); New Jersey Jackals (PHI); Sussex County Miners (PIT)

    West: Everett AquaSox (SEA); Eugene Emeralds (CHC); Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (VAN); Yakima Bears (OAK)
    East: Spokane Indians (CLE); Tri-City Dust Devils (SDP); Boise Hawks (LVA); Grand Junction Rockies (DEN)
    Mountain: Billings Mustangs (ANA); Helena Brewers (MIL); Missoula Osprey (ARZ); Cheyenne Raptors (LAD)

    East: Bluefield Huskies (TOR); Burlington Royals (KCR); Danville Eagles (ATL); Princeton Tigers (DET); Pulaski Yankees (NYY)
    West: Bristol Pharaohs (MEM); Elizabethton Twins (MIN); Greeneville Reds (CIN); Johnson City Cardinals (STL); Kingsport Mets (NYM)

    Texas: Cleburne Railroaders (SAT); Grand Prairie Air Hogs (TEX); Sugar Land Skeeters (HOU); Laredo Lemurs (NOP)
    Puerto Rico: Mayaguez Indios (SJS); Carolina Gigantes (SFG); Ponce Leones (TAM); Caguas Criollos (MIA)

    Last edited by *censored*; 06-05-2018 at 01:39 PM.

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