With baseball attendance at an all-time high and the country totally not in any sort of economic recession, it's time to consider the third expansion of Major League Baseball in the past sixteen years. Yes, I realize that Bud Selig and his cronies were considering contracting the Twins and the Expos just six years ago, but that was a power play for public funds towards building new stadiums. Baseball teams were making money in 2002 and they're making a whole lot more now. So let's ride the wave of good fortune and add two more baseball clubs to the American League, bringing the number of teams in both leagues to an even 16.
Now that we've all decided that yes, it is indeed time to add two teams, we must figure out where they are to go. In the spirit of a May 2007 Baseball Prospectus column by Nate Silver that suggested relocation possibilities for the Florida Marlins (subscription req'd), let's do a countdown of the Top Ten Best Possible Expansion Cities for Baseball:
10. Las Vegas - Not enough year-round residents to support a team, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a better destination for the jetsetting Red Sox Nation to visit for a road trip.
9. Buffalo - Was considered during the National League expansion back in 1993 but has since lost a good deal of its population. Also, winter lasts until July and starts in September.
8. Oklahoma City - Is deemed large enough to have a pro basketball team, but it may be too soon (and too dry) to support a baseball team. Also, the Rangers fanbase would flee and Tom Hicks won't be able to afford to overpay crappy pitchers.
7. San Antonio - Mark Twain once said that there were just four truly unique cities in the United States, while the rest were not much different from one another. His four were Boston, San Francisco, New Orleans, and San Antonio. He was also a filthy liar who couldn't even sign his real name to his own work, so who would trust him to start a baseball team?
6. San Juan - It's well-enough populated with more people than the city of St. Louis, but they're twice as poor. Also, they couldn't even keep their own league together.
5. Columbus - Ohio needs another baseball team like I need a hole in my head. Anyone who isn't already an Indians fan or a Reds fan probably has much more interesting things going on in their lives than dealing with a third mediocre franchise.
4. Montreal - Don't blame the good people of Montreal for losing the Expos, blame owner Claude Brochu, and later Jeffrey Loria for doing everything in their power to drive away fans. Given the right situation (and a new stadium), a Montreal franchise could once again draw 2+ million fans (and bring back Youppi!)
3. New Jersey - There are almost 20,000,000 people living in the New York metropolitan area. That's more than Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Denver, Baltimore, Tampa and San Diego combined. Remember, New York once supported three baseball teams, and that was way back when people were shorter and lived near the water.
So here are the two cities that should get expansion franchises, along with a possible nickname:
2. Portland - The Portland Willamettes would not have a huge fanbase to work with, but they've actually got a stadium plan in the works and less rain than you think. They'd be a nice fit in the American League West.
1. Charlotte - I totally stole my #1 from Mr. Silver. I can't say this any better than he did:"There is, to my mind, exactly one place that would clearly be viable for the 31st major league franchise, and that place is Charlotte, North Carolina. The South as a whole is underrepresented in the major leagues, which is what enables the Braves to control such a substantial TV audience. Charlotte is no metropolis, but it is conveniently located at the center of several mid-size markets, including the Winston-Salem/Greensboro/Raleigh-Durham corridor along I-40, and Columbia, South Carolina."
As long as the Charlotte team didn't combine the words "River" or "Mud" with either "Dog" or "Cat" as a mascot, I'll let them have a baseball team. Perhaps they should use the North Carolina state mammal as a mascot; the Charlotte Grey Squirrels would be a welcome addition to the American League East. After all, the Yankees and Red Sox need a new powderpuff team to beat up on now that the Rays have become competitive.
What cities did I miss? What would some possible mascot ideas be for the places I mentioned?