Is Major League Baseball finally ready to expand to 32 teams? These are the fast-growing cities that seem ready for their call to greatness.
There is an interesting fact about Cardinals St. Louis of 1954 who has nothing to do with his game. Stan Musial’s Redbirds finished 72.72, a sixth of eight in the National League. (Yes, the Cubs finished seventh.) At the time, St. Louis was both the westernmost and southernmost city of the majors. The following year, Philadelphia Athletics headed west toward Kansas City. In 1958, New York lost its Dodgers and Giants to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively. In later years, the Milwaukee Braves camped out for Atlanta, the A continued west to Oakland, and a second iteration of the Washington Senators left DC, this time for the flourishing Dallas-Fort Worth expansion.
These football clubs have not gone out to get fresh air – they have followed the American population, which has shifted steadily south and west since the middle of the 20th century. The 21st century has seen continued growth in the Sun Belt, and that hasn’t escaped MLB’s watchful eye. Judging by the fastest growing metropolitan areas from 2010 to 2019, you can expect these boom cities to be potential expansion destinations for Major League Baseball – or landing points for existing teams.
Having grown by 29.8% in the 2010s, it’s hard not to imagine a new team in the state capital Lone Star, a baseball base. With a new MLS team taking the field in Austin, the University of Texas imminent, and the Astros and Rangers sharing the state, an Austin team would have tough competition. But with Austin’s growing population, vibrant urban neighborhoods, and inimitable “strange” culture would add a lot to the menu.
The Raleigh Grande grew by 23% in 2010 and shows no signs of stopping. After an abortive attempt to move the Gemini to Greensboro near the end of the 1990s, North Carolina is reaffirming itself as a potential destination. They don’t have to worry about the lack of baseball fans – locally, Cary has earned the snarky epitome of “Continental Zone for the Relocated Yankees”. Raleigh may need the approval of the Atlanta Braves, who have long claimed the entire Southeast as theirs.
The city surrounding the Magic Kingdom may not be an expansion destination for Major League Baseball at all, but perhaps a transfer option. With the Tampa Bay Rays a short drive down I-4, it’s hard to see the two markets coexisting. But the Rays have struggled with their situation in St. Petersburg since day one, and with Orlando’s 22.2% growth, they may be ready for the big ones at Tampa’s expense.
Experiencing a growth of 17.5% in the 2010s, Music City is the preeminent “it” city in the United States, attracting new entrants from all points. Justin Timberlake is exploring the expansion as we speak. Maybe Nashville and Austin could come together as No. 31 and 32. “Battle of the Cities of the Bachelorette Party”? Rivalry writes itself.