Aging Franchises

November 2, 2012

As part of a response to my October 24th Hey Bill bit—the one about the age of the Tigers and Giants franchises being the oldest to be playing in a World Series against each other for the first time—Bill James guessed that the average age of all the franchises is now the highest ever. As usual, he was right.

Before the 1961 expansion, the average age of a major league franchise was 72.9 seasons. That figure includes the seasons in which the current Braves and Cubs franchises were in the very first official professional league – the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (NAPBBP).

In fact, the Cubs go back a year earlier to the first baseball league ever—the National Association of Base Ball Players—in its final year 1870 when the league allowed professional players for the first time. Perhaps it’s not appropriate to mark the Cubs’ beginning back quite so far. After all, they didn’t play in 1872 or 1873 due to the devastation from the famous Chicago fire. Their three All-Star players and manager played for other NAPBBP teams until the franchise returned in 1874.

The Chicago owner remained William Hulbert – one of the most important figures in baseball history. Starting Chicago’s clock in 1874 yields an average franchise age in 1960 of 72.6. If you want to exclude the NAPBB years as well as the years that most of the founding American League teams played in the "minor" Western League, then you get a pre-expansion (before 1961) average age of exactly 70.

The Tigers are the only one team to reamin in the same city from the Western League’s start in 1894 through becoming a major league as the American League in 1901: Detroit – and they were known as the Tigers from the beginning. Only the Pirates and Phillies have maintained the same nicknames longer. The Phillies name beats out the Pirates by one year: 1890 to 1891. However, Pittsburgh was spelled without the "h" until 1912.

The Cincinnati Reds were called the Reds in 1890 – and the Red Stockings before then – which is close. They blew their streak in the 1950s when the team didn’t want their name conjuring thoughts of Communists. They were called the Redlegs from 1954 through 1959. If being close counts, though, they win.

On another side note, you might be surprised that neither New York nor Philadelphia is the site of the oldest team.  After all, these were the places where the earliest baseball games are believed to have played. In its inaugural year of 1857, the NABBP included only New York-area teams. Philadelphia also had competitive base ball clubs that were finally included in the NABBP in 1861.

There continued to be a bias against awarding teams outside of New York the official championship until the final season of the NABBP, when the Chicago team (today’s Cubs) joined the NABBP and won the championship. New York and Philadelphia were a part of the NABBP’s fully professional replacement league – the NAPBBP—but were kicked out of that league’s replacement league – the National League—after its first year (1876). The teams didn’t bother to finish their schedule after they fell out of the running and Chicago’s powerful William Hulbert did not seem eager to have the country’s two largest cities back in the league. It wasn’t until 1883, a year after Hulbert’s death, that New York and Philadelphia were granted back teams in the National League.  No doubt that was compelled by formidable competition from the newly created American Association, which included a team in Philadelphia in its first year 1882, then added New York in 1883.

There are 88 franchises no longer in operation that have been officially recognized as major league. However, none have folded since 1915. No American League or National League franchise has been dropped since the A.L. became a major league in 1901.

After four teams were added to the majors in the early 1960s, four more in the late ‘60s, and then two more in the ‘70s, we had a 16-year break from expansion through 1992. At that point the average age of each franchise reached a record 74.3. Using the stingier beginning dates of each franchise, the average age was 72.5 – besting the pre-expansion high by two and a half years.

As of now – the end of the 2012 season – the average franchise age is between 78.6 and 80.7, depending on whether you count Western League origins, etc. Either way, Bill James is right. Despite the expansion of teams just 15 years ago, the average age of all franchises is at its highest point ever.

Let’s be honest, though. It is mainly because major league baseball officials say that team records stay with the franchise—even if it moves to a new metropolitan market—that we pay more attention to "franchise records" than"team records". If we look at how long baseball teams have been playing in their current city, then the official oldest continuously playing major league team (Atlanta) isn’t even older than average.

Going by how long teams have played in the same market, you have to go back to 1953 as the base point rather than 1960. Five teams moved to different cities in the mid ‘50s. At that point the average team was 64 and a half years old. After the dust settled and the cobwebs grew following the expansions and team shifts of the ‘60s and ‘70s—just before the expansion of the ‘90s—the average age of each urban area’s team was 54.7. Now, with no team movement since baseball returned to Washington, D.C. in 2005, we have just passed the old mark of 64.50 and are at 64.53 average number of years each team has played continuously in the same market area.

I think Bill addressed the relevance of this information beautifully in his October 24, 2012 Hey Bill reply to my comment when he related it to his local park. This essay confirms his guess that teams are now on the average older than they ever have been – no matter how you look at it. Other than that, I just think it is fun to look the history of teams. The World Series gets us thinking about team history more than any other time of year.

Below are my starting dates of the 30 major league survivors with their current home and the year they started there in bold.

1870 NABBP Chicago White Stockings - ’71, ‘74 NAPBBP  – 1876 N.L.  – various names - 1903 Cubs

1882 American Association Pittsburg Alleghenys – 1887 N.L. – 1891 Pirates – 1912 Pittsburgh

1882 A.A. Cincinnati Red Stockings – 1890 N.L. Reds – 1954 Redlegs – ’59 Reds

1882 A.A. St. Louis Brown Stockings – 1883 Browns – 1892 N.L. – 1899 Perfectos - 1900 Cardinals

1883 National League Philadelphia Quakers – 1890 Phillies

1894 Western League Detroit Tigers1900 American League – 1901 A.L. considered a Major League

1894 W.L. Sioux City Cornhuskers – 1895 St. Paul Saints – 1900 Chicago White Stockings – ’03 White Sox

1894 W.L. Grand Rapids Rustlers – 1900 Cleveland Blues, then various names – 1915 Indians

1901 American League Boston Americans – 1908 Red Sox

1901 A.L. Baltimore Orioles – 1903 New York Highlanders – 1913 Yankees

1894 Western League Milwaukee Brewers – 1902 St. Louis Browns – 1954 Baltimore Orioles

1884 American Assoc. Brooklyn Atlantics – various names – 1890 N.L. – ’32 Dodgers – ’58 Los Angeles

1883 National League New York Gothams – 1885 Giants – 1958 San Francisco

1894 Western League Kansas City Blues – 1900 Washington Senators – 1961 Minnesota Twins

1961 A.L. Los Angeles Angels – 1965 California – 1997 Anaheim – 2005 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

1962 National League New York Metropolitan Baseball Club (Mets)

1962 N.L. Houston Colt 45s – 1965 Astros

1871 NAPBBP Boston Red Stockings – ‘76 N.L. – ‘83 various – 1912 Braves – ‘53 Milwaukee – ‘66 Atlanta

1901 American League Philadelphia Athletics – 1955 Kansas City – 1968 Oakland

1969 National League San Diego Padres

1969 American League Kansas City Royals

1969 A.L. Seattle Pilots – 1970 Milwaukee Brewers – 1998 N.L.

1961 A.L. Washington Senators – 1972 Texas Rangers

1977 A.L. Seattle Mariners

1977 A.L. Toronto Blue Jays

1993 National League Colorado Rockies

1993 N.L. (South) Florida Marlins – 2012 Miami

1998 N.L. Arizona Diamondbacks

1998 A.L. Tampa Bay Devil Rays – 2008 Rays

1969 National League Montreal Expos (Les Expos de Montréal) – 2005 Washington Nationals


COMMENTS (8 Comments, most recent shown first)

Upon further research, the second longest lasting franchise from the same city area started out across the river from Pittsburgh in Allegheny City. They were known as the "Alleghenys". They became the Pittsburgh Alleghenys when they moved to the National League in 1887. The city officially lost their "h" in 1890, so it makes sense that the team was renamed the "Pittsburg Pirates" in 1891. The "h" was officially restored in time for the 1912 season.
11:43 AM Feb 11th
There was a betting scandal in the 1940s, which brought the Phillies a new ownership and an unofficial adoption of the "Bluejays" moniker. However, it never took hold. "Philadelphia Phillies" remained officially the longest surviving baseball team name.

Thanks for the comments. I made sure Gene Woodling and Gil Hodges hadn't played for the New York Metropolitans of 1887. . .
9:17 PM Nov 5th
Weren't the Phillies known as the Blue Jays at some time during the 40's?
4:50 PM Nov 5th
John - thanks for these articles on the early days of baseball. Thanks especially for actually talking about the fact that the American League, though not acknowledged as a major league in 1901, did not spring, fully-formed onto the field of play in 1901 but rather had several teams that stretch back into the Western League years.
9:04 PM Nov 3rd
All the sources I came across, Brock, have the St. Louis Browns moving to the N.L. in 1892, then changing their name and arriving as the Cardinals by 1900. In 1899, Baseball-Reference has them called the "Perfectos". The Union League was a one year entity in 1884. The American Association Browns had their most famous characters Bob Caruthers, Arlie Latham, and future owner Charles Comiskey in '84 and '85. However, the team did have a complete overhaul when they joined the National League in 1892. Perhaps, that is a different team, although, they had no players in common with the '84 Union League Maroons either. Interestingly, they reacquired Caruthers, whom they had sold to Brooklyn after losing to the National League's Detroit Wolverines in the 15 game World Series (5-10) of 1887. In 1899, the now National League St. Louis had another complete overhaul when they became the Perfectos. So, this does merit further investigation, thanks.
8:08 PM Nov 3rd
Brock Hanke
I remember reading somewhere, years ago, that the Cardinals don't derive from the Browns of the American Association, but from the St. Louis team in the Union Association travesty of 1884. The current Cardinal ownership seems to believe this, based on things like occasionally denying any connection to Tip O'Neill or Bob Caruthers. I tried to pin down the St. Louis franchises in the 1880s by tracking who played for which team when, but they proved to be an amazingly slippery lot.
8:48 AM Nov 3rd
I meant "1962" of course!
4:57 PM Nov 2nd
Very inaccurate, since you ignore the fact that my Mets were playing in New York from 1880 to 1887, with a brief 75-year hiatus before the franchise was revived. And when they reappeared in 1862 they were almost as good as when they shut down (44-89 in 1887, a mere fifty games out of first)!
4:56 PM Nov 2nd
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