Canada`s Minor League Legacy
It is Canada Day and I usually do a update on the Golden League early each week but this week I want to comment on the state of Minor League ball in Canada.
Why have so many baseball teams in Canada folded in the last 20 years? Do Canadians not like baseball. There are currently only 2 teams in organised baseball in Canada, one the Toronto Blue Jays, the other being the short season A Class Vancouver Canadians. There is a rich heritage in Canada for baseball, coast to coast and there are many markets with thriving Independent League teams. So what happend.
For many Canadian cities it is a long, long drive to many markets. Teams such as the Edmonton Trappers of the PCL had to travel to distant New Orleans, Indianapolis, Memphis once the PCL and the AA merged. With rising fuel costs the teams had to fly to those locations, it is incredibly far. Even when Calgary and Vancouver were in the PCL these clubs are still 3hrs and 12hrs drive to the distance. Compared to IL teams there would be an entire divison in that radius from Edmonton to its second closest rival. Many lower level leagues would fit there entire league between the Edmonton-Calgary radius. When, in the 1970’s Quebec had a divison in the Eastern League they were still very distant to their opponents. As much as Canada and the USA have been peacefully and mutually existant for 140 years the infastructure, railways and roadways are very domestic and do not effeicently run north-south. The only really accessable region of Canada to major American opponents is those markets in Southern Ontario.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, boosted by the success of the Blue Jays and Expos the NY-Penn League (Formerly the PONY League – O for Ontario) expanded into southern Ontario again. Small centres had teams and had success to some degree. In the late 1990s the Canadian dollar took a nose dive and all of the lower minor league teams folded. Across Canada 2 of their NHL clubs an NBA team and eventually the Expos mostly due to teams income discrepancy. For example, the Winnipeg Jets would draw about the same in Pheonix and charge the same for a ticket but those tickets are worth 35% more. For the St. Catherines Stompers to move to Manchester, NH to make 35% more it makes good business sense. Three strong franchises in Toronto and the Montreal Canadiens were the only pro teams in Canada that were not devastated by this compartive discrepancy. With the recent rise in the Canadian dollar back to par or even stronger it may eventually tempt minor league teams north again. There is a definite history in this country for MiL ball.
Minor Leaguers are from all over the western hemisphere these days. Back in the old days only Americans and the odd Canadian, Mexican or Cuban (pre-1960) would find their way into the Minors. Now, Caribbean, Central American and South American’s fill out these ranks. As we all have seen, many Dominican’s especially have many questions regarding their age or even their identity. The more passports/visas/work permits and so on that are needed for their players may be deterrent to have players play for Canadian based teams or risk not being able to cross the border on a road trip, or even worse for the US based team, a player may not be able to cross back into the USA after going into Canada. The administrative and diplomatic burden of taking care of non-US born players may deter Canadian minor league teams.
The Jays and Expos both played in domes. Yes, in the Great White North it is cold, April weather can be tough. AAA teams in Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton were crippled by failing attendance, postponed games in April and early May. For teams that depend on ticket sales to make their money they lose money by having to rebook an April snow out for a July double header. Even if they did get the game it, the crowds would be sparse in 5c weather for a night game. Another thing during the spring months of April, May and even early June all of Canada’s four former AAA markets also were home to NHL teams. Attendance for a AAA during NHL playoffs at hockey games have always been poor and usually under 500 as a rule.
Yea, yea attendance wasn’t that great either. Ottawa drew more than 10,000 in its first 2 years in 1993 and 1994 and that was down to under 2000 10 years later. The Calgary Cannons never drew well and the Trappers and Canadian were never amongst the league leaders but were acceptable.
I don`t think we will ever see alot of organised ball return to Canada. I would think that Montreal may support an IL team but they would be plagued by the problems liste above. There is a base of success amongst several flourishing independent leagues. In Southern Ontatio the Intercounty League is semi-pro and has had success. Similar leagues can be found in Quebec, Alberta and in the Vancouver area. As for pro indepentdant leagues the Winnipeg Goldeneyes and Quebec City Capitals have been very successful. The Golden League, Northern League and Can-Am League are strong leagues and other indy leagues such as the Prarie League tried teams in several Saskatchewan markets as well as Brandon, Manitoba. The Golden League, based in Southern Califronia, is looking to expand throughout western Canada into some of the old Prairie League markets. Maybe indy leagues is what suits Canadians. The players are a little more stable in comparison to the lower minor leagues and the level of ball is not that bad.
Organised Baseball Teams in Canada
Toronto Maple Leafs 1896-1967
Winnipeg Whips 1970-71
Montreal Royals 1897-1917,1924-1961
Ottawa Giants 1951
Ottawa A’s 1952-1954
Ottawa Lynx 1993-2007
Hamilton Tigers 1918
Edmonton Trappers 1981-2004
Calgary Cannons 1985-2002
Vancouver Mounties 1956-1969
Vancouver Canadians 1978-1999
London Tigers 1989-1993
Quebec Carnivales 1971-1975
Quebec Metroes 1975-77
Trois-Riveries Aigles 1971-1977
Sherbrooke Pirates 1971-1972
Thetford Mines Pirates 1973
Thetford Mines Miners 1974
Victoria Mussles 1978-1980
Vancouver Canadians 2000-present
New Westminister Frasers 1974
Hamilton Redbirds 1988-1992
St.Catherines Blue Jays 1986-1994
St.Catherines Stompers 1995-1999
Welland Pirates 1989-1994
Calgary Cardinals 1977-1978
Calgary Expos 1979-1984
Medicine Hat A’s 1977
Medicine Hat Blue Jays 1978-2002
Lethbridge Expos 1975-1976
Lethbridge Doders 1977-1985
Lethbridge Mounties 1992-1995
Lethbridge Black Diamonds 1996-1998
There were many teams, mostly based in Southern Ontario and Quebec that played at various levels of organised baseball in the period immeidatley following World War 2.