The Glory Days: How MLB’s First Expansion Unfolded
Major league baseball’s first modern-day expansion did not just happen overnight. It was not simply the result of a shrewd job of blackmailing by William Shea and renowned baseball man Branch Rickey; they did not hold Commissioner Ford Frick and 16 team owners hostage by threatening to start a new league.
The shadow of the prospective Continental League was not so ominous that major league officials threw up their hands and said, okay, let’s have four new teams. However, the threat of a new league certainly put baseball’s pedal to the expansion’s metal.
There had been talk of expansion for some time, especially after the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles and the Giants from New York City to San Francisco. The idea of placing an American League team on the West Coast was particularly appealing.
Frick knew Major League Baseball’s 16 owners could not resist growth forever, and the owners knew it, too. They were aware that there were millions of fans west of the Mississippi River that were dying to plop into seats at big league stadiums to absorb some of the American Pastime atmosphere in person.
The American League had an eye on Minneapolis-St. Paul for quite a while and came up with the idea of adding one new team in each league. Minneapolis would join the AL, with New York becoming the ninth National League franchise.
National League President Warren Giles at first opposed the idea of expansion, saying his league had no reason to consider it. But it was not long before he was telling the prospective third league to put up or shut up, and that if the former did not happen soon, the NL was ready to adopt two of the cities being eyed by Continental planners.
There is no doubt that expansion would have taken place eventually. Shea, who was designated as New York City’s recruiter of a National League team, had tried everything he could think of to get an NL franchise back in his city. Finally, the thinking was that if there was no major league in which New York could play, a new major league could be built for New York.
Shea and Rickey accelerated the expansion process by peddling the Continental League. They announced the organization of the third professional baseball league in 1960, with plans to put teams in eight cities. One of them would be New York, which had lost both the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants to the West Coast. Major league owners were not ready to add new teams, but they did not like the alternative of having eight new cities with which to share the wealth, rather than four.
And so it was that major league baseball changed forever on July 18, 1960. That is when the National League, at its meeting in Chicago, voted to expand from eight to 10 teams by 1962. At that meeting, Giles challenged the Continental League by saying if it was not prepared to operate in the near future, the National League was ready to expand.
All eight National League owners voted to do so. The Continental League, its progress stagnated by the problem of not being able to acquire players, disbanded on August 2. On August 30, the American League voted unanimously to expand from eight to 10 teams no later than 1962.
The American League then held closed-door meetings on October 10, 1960, to consider proposals from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Houston. The following day, New York and Houston petitioned the National League for franchises. On October 27, the American League awarded franchises to Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., replacing the old Senators, who were moving from the nation’s capital to Minneapolis (to be called the Twins).
The new Washington Senators’ owner was Bob Short. Calvin Griffith owned the Senators turned Twins. On December 6, the Los Angeles franchise, to be called the Angels, went to cowboy crooner and movie star Gene Autry.
The American League would begin play in the 1961 season with 10 teams. The National League would do the same the next year. Putting together two teams in such a short time was a rush job for the American League. The original plan was for the league’s expansion teams to begin play in 1962, along with the National League’s two new teams.
But part of a deal that allowed the Senators to move to Minnesota and become the Twins for the 1961 season provided that the expansion Senators begin the same year so Washington would not be without a major league team. Griffith Stadium continued to be the home of the Senators, just a different version.
The Angels had planned on sharing Dodger Stadium with their National League counterpart in 1961, but that ballpark was not ready. So the Angels played their first season in Wrigley Field, which had been used by the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League. The Wrigley Field in Los Angeles was a carbon copy (although smaller) of the Cubs’ Wrigley Field in Chicago.
Next: Expansion drafts held