The View From Wisconsin

Just a random set of rants from a Sports Fan from Wisconsin.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Stealing Teams

An interesting point was brought up on Twitter recently among Predators fans wondering if the team should try to take advantage of the Titans' failings so far this NFL season. The discussion led to a reference of how Bud Adams dragged the team to Nashville from Houston, and how the Predators were the "true" home team in the city.

This led to discussions about whether or not it was "right" to support a team that had been, in essence, "stolen" from another city and their fanbase. This gave me some pause, because of the obvious situation with my beloved Brewers (fka the Seattle Pilots). I wondered to myself how many of the 122 current Major League teams could legitimately say they were beholden to no other city for their franchise - either from expansion or from the inauguration of the league in which they began play?

The good news is, about 60% of the teams in the four major leagues fit this bill. However, there are some names that are not on the list that would surprise you.

Here's the "All Original" list:
There are two teams that I was hesitant to include, because of the nature of their current existence: The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the San Jose Sharks. The Angels haven't left the Los Angeles metro area since joining the AL in 1961, but it's not like they represented the city of Los Angeles the whole time (despite what Arte Moreno may want us all to believe).

The Sharks are a completely different story, though: yes, they are an NHL expansion team, but for the longest time their initial owners (the Gunds) were part-owners of the Minnesota North Stars. The Gunds purchased the North Stars after their NHL club, the Cleveland Barons, had ceased operations in 1978, and in an agreement with the league they essentially merged operations of the two franchises. A decade later, the Gunds wanted to get out of Minnesota, and to do so the NHL did some wrangling to allow them to have the Sharks as an "expansion" franchise, while a group led by Howard Baldwin (who actually wanted a Bay-area franchise for the NHL) were given the North Stars - and both teams were subject to an expansion draft in 1991 (after, ironically, the Stars had made a run to the Stanley Cup finals against the Penguins).

Back to the list - there are a couple of very interesting omissions. The Chicago Cubs, for example. How could a team that had continued to play in the NL in the same city since 1876 be considered a "beholden" team? William Hulbert, the team's owner and founder of the National League, essentially raided the Boston Red Stockings of the National Association to build his White Stockings team. The real issue, of course, was that Hulbert was tired of the contract jumping of players from team to team, and wanted to have an organization of baseball clubs that respected their fellow members' contracts with players from year to year. Still, Al Spalding essentially brought with him to Chicago most of the roster of the National Association champion Boston Red Stockings when the NL started up in 1876.

The Red Stockings (who, of course, we now know as the Atlanta Braves) managed to recover from this to win eight pennants before the end of the century, but in a somewhat backwards way (as practically everything was back in these nascent days of professional sport in the US) the Cubs as a franchise were essentially beholden to the city of Boston and their baseball club.

I could give reasons for other teams' omission from this list (the Blackhawks, for example, are essentially the Portland Rosebuds of the WCHL, as are the Red Wings really the Victoria Cougars of the same league), but it's pretty transparent that most of the teams not on this list are obviously transients. Yes, that includes the Yankees, who were the Baltimore Orioles for a whole of two seasons in the AL before moving to Manhattan in 1903.

What's scary is considering the teams on this list that were true "founding members" of their sports leagues. There aren't many out there.