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.