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 The History of Triple-A Baseball  


Triple-A Baseball is rooted in the history of North American sports. The classification's senior circuit, the International League, is the longest continuously running League in Minor League Baseball. The IL is also the second oldest League in professional sports - behind Major League Baseball's National League (which started in 1883, one year before the International). From its inception in 1903 until the end of the 1957 season, when the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants relocated (to Los Angeles and San Francisco), Pacific Coast League baseball was the highest level being played on the West Coast. With a history dating back 120 years, Triple-A Baseball has been in existence longer than the NFL, NBA, or NHL.



What is now known as the International League began in 1884 as the Eastern League with teams in Richmond, VA; Baltimore, MD; Wilmington, DE; Allentown, PA; Harrisburg, PA; Reading, PA; Newark, NJ; & Trenton, NJ. During that season (and for much of the late 19th century), teams folded during the year and others were brought aboard mid-campaign as the League searched for stability. The loop was first christened the International League in 1886, keeping the moniker for two seasons before being known by a parade of alternate names. The International title returned from 1912-1917 and was installed permanently in 1920. During the IL's early years, players signed by an International League team often spent several seasons with one club before being sold to a Major League team. What resulted was a succession of dynasties in the IL, as Jack Dunn's Baltimore Orioles (paced by eventual Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Grove) won seven pennants between 1919-25, the Rochester club took home four straight from 1928-31, and Newark captured 7 of 11 crowns between 1932-42. Eventually, the affiliate system was established and helped the IL remain stable throughout foreign wars and economic challenges in the U.S. and Canada. The League saw several cities (including Atlanta, Baltimore, Montreal, and Toronto) elevated to the Major Leagues but replaced them with other top markets. The League branched off of continental North America during a 6+ season run in Havana, Cuba (1954-60) and a brief stint in San Juan, Puerto Rico (1961). The IL had a solid eight-city League from 1964-1992, adding Charlotte and Ottawa in conjunction with the Major League's 1993 expansion and swelling to 14 members with the addition of Durham and the return of ex-IL members Buffalo, Indianapolis, and Louisville prior to the 1998 campaign. With established franchises, innovative ownership, and state-of-the-art ballparks, the International League remains one of Minor League Baseball's cornerstones today, as it has been for the past 125 years.

Timeline Award Winners Postseason Champions

The Pacific Coast League began in 1903 when the California League (which had been active since 1898) expanded north to Seattle and Portland, was renamed the PCL, and, a year later, joined the National Association. Early PCL seasons were marked by long schedules (sometimes with as many as 225 games) that stretched from March to December. Like most Minor Leagues in that era, the PCL's early decades were marked by instability and franchise movement. The League even suspended operations during 1918, due to concern over World War I, but returned in 1919 to boast an 8-team roster for the first time. During the 1920's and 1930's eventual Major League Hall-of-Famers Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and Tony Lazzeri played in the PCL, contributing to a high level of talent that prompted many to dub the circuit a "Third Major League." After World War II, the PCL again flourished through the late 1940's and early 1950's; a success that eventually led to the relocation of Major League teams to Los Angeles and San Francisco in 1958. While the westward relocation displaced four established clubs, the League moved forward into burgeoning cities such as Phoenix, AZ; Spokane, WA; and Salt Lake City, UT. The 1960's and '70's saw even more franchise movement, as Seattle and San Diego were granted Major League expansion clubs and a parade of other cities (stretching as far east as Indianapolis and Little Rock) filled the void. The League continued to have success in the late '80's and early '90's before Triple-A Expansion/Realignment added six clubs to the loop in 1998. Bolstered by sparkling new facilities in Albuquerque, Fresno, Memphis, Round Rock, and Sacramento, the PCL continues to set attendance records for Minor League Baseball.

Timeline Award Winners Postseason Champions

No discussion of Triple-A Baseball's history is complete without reference to the American Association. For many seasons during the 20th Century, the American Association served as a third Triple-A League, bringing quality baseball to cities throughout the Midwest. The Association, which had no ties to the Major League which operated under the same name from 1882-91, was founded in 1902 with Columbus, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Louisville, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, St. Paul and Toledo as members. Amazingly, these eight cities made up the circuit's membership for all but two of the next 50 years (Cleveland replaced Toledo during the 1914-15 campaigns). The AA faced many challenges during the 1950's, losing four charter members (Columbus, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Toledo) and even experimenting with a 10-team alignment in 1959. With attendance declining, the Association struggled through the 1960-62 seasons before NA President George Trautman (a former AA President) dissolved the League. The loop's stronger franchises were absorbed by the IL and PCL and the American Association was dormant for several years. Prior to the 1969 season, a movement began to resurrect the AA to coincide with Major League Baseball's expansion and the need for additional Triple-A teams. Burdened by extensive travel in the PCL, Indianapolis, Denver, Oklahoma City and Tulsa agreed to return to the AA and were joined by Omaha and Des Moines (playing as Iowa). Evansville and Wichita came aboard a season later, giving the AA a solid 8-team lineup. Franchise relocations brought Louisville to the AA in 1982 and Buffalo in 1985 and both teams would solidify the Association's ranks by each breaking the 1 million attendance mark during their tenure (Louisville in 1983; Buffalo six times between 1988-93). The League remained a key component of the Triple-A Baseball structure until July of 1997, when AA Directors voted to disband. League members transferred to either the IL or PCL.

Timeline Award Winners Postseason Champions