The Flight of Triple-A Ballclubs

On Monday, the Portland Beavers played their final game in the Rose City. The Triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres is being pushed out this winter by the arrival of a new Major League Soccer team. As Craig points out, a few kinks aside, “there has been a Pacific Coast League edition of the Portland Beavers since 1903.” It was truly a sad day for baseball fans in the Pacific Northwest.

These things may not be as uncommon as you think, though. In fact, the remarkable consistency of Portland as a triple-A city may be what’s really uncommon. With a few exceptions – Indianapolis, Syracuse, Oklahoma City, and a few others – the life of a triple-A city is uncertain. Some cities stay with a team for decades before being summarily kicked to the curb when their contract runs out, while others seem to go from year-to-year, in-and-out of service. It’s a wayward business, apparently.

In order to get a better idea of just how transient/permanent these relationships are, I decided to make a map of the MLB/AAA-relationships over the last fifty years or so. I actually had quite a bit of trouble in doing it (I really wanted to get a fancy little Flash map/timeline going, but it turns out my having never programmed in Flash before was a detriment – who knew?!), but I finally got something worth seeing. It’s not perfect – you can’t, for example, hover over the city to find out more details about it – but I think it gets the job done pretty well. I began the series with 1965 because that’s the year that the minor leagues seemed to stabilize; before then, many teams had more than one triple-A affiliate in a given year. (I used the Baseball Reference Minor League Affiliates tables for my data) Click the image below to be taken to the year-by-year slideshow.

The most interesting thing that I learned from doing this – besides learning just how much turnover there is on a year-to-year basis (it’s gotten better in recent years, but it’s still a lot more frequent than you realize) – is just how long-distance some of these relationships are. The Washington Senators used to partner with a team in Honolulu, for example, while the Marlins were affiliated with the city of Edmonton, Alberta, for a couple of years. Those are trips of many thousands of miles – imagine shuttling between those cities on a week where you’re called-up, sent down, and then called-up again. It’s not exactly the ideal situation.

Teams seemed to have learned that lesson. When you look at this year’s map, there are many, many more short lines on the map (Seattle-to-Tacoma, Atlanta-to-Gwinnett, Texas-to-Round Rock, etc), though it’s still not eradicated completely. The Blue Jays, for example, have their triple-A ballclub in Las Vegas this year. It’s definitely getting better, though.

I think there’s a lot more there. Go check out the maps and let me know what you notice. And, if you have any ideas for a better way to display the information, I’d be glad to hear that too.

Larry Granillo

About Larry Granillo

Larry Granillo has been writing Wezen Ball since 2008 and has dealt with such touchy topics as Charlie Brown's baseball stats and Ferris Bueller's day off. In 2010, he got the bright idea to time every home run trot in baseball; he has been missing ever since.