Is Major League Baseball finally ready to expand to 32 teams? These are the fast-growing cities that seem ready for their call to the greats.
There is an interesting fact about the 1954 St. Louis Cardinals that has nothing to do with their game. Stan Musial’s Redbirds finished a dismal 72-82, sixth of eight in the National League. (Yes, the Cubs finished seventh.) At the time, St. Louis was the westernmost and southernmost city in the Major Leagues. The following year, the 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 left for Atlanta, the Athletics would continue west to Oakland, and a second iteration of the Washington Senators left DC, this time for the growing expansion of Dallas-Fort Worth.
These baseball clubs didn’t come out for fresh air, they followed the American population, which has been steadily moving south and west since the mid-20th century. The 21st century has seen continued growth in the Sun Belt, and that has not escaped the good eye of the MLB. Judging by the fastest-growing metropolitan areas from 2010 to 2019, you can expect these booming cities to be potential expansion destinations for Major League Baseball, or landing spots for existing teams.
Having grown 29.8% in the 2010s, it’s hard not to imagine a new team in the capital of the Lone Star State, the birthplace of baseball. With a new MLS team taking to the field in Austin, the University of Texas lurking, and the Astros and Rangers sharing the state, an Austin team would have some tough competition. But with Austin’s growing population, vibrant urban neighborhoods, and an inimitable “strange” culture, would add a lot to the map.
Raleigh-Durham-Cary, North Carolina
Greater Raleigh grew 23% in the 2010s and shows no signs of stopping. After a failed attempt to relocate the Twins to nearby Greensboro in the late 1990s, North Carolina is asserting itself as a potential destination. They won’t have to worry about the lack of baseball fans; locally, Cary has earned the sarcastic epithet of “Containment Area for Relocated Yankees.” Raleigh may need the approval of the Atlanta Braves, who have long claimed the entire Southeast as their own.
The city surrounding the Magic Kingdom may not be a major league expansion destination, but perhaps a relocation option. With the Tampa Bay Rays just a short walk down I-4, it’s hard to see both markets coexist. But the Rays have struggled with their St. Petersburg location from day one, and with Orlando’s 22.2% growth, they may be ready for the big boys at Tampa’s expense.
With growth of 17.5% in the 2010s, Music City is the preeminent “it” city in the US, attracting newcomers from all walks of life. Justin Timberlake is exploring expansion as we speak. Maybe Nashville and Austin could come in together as Nos. 31 and 32. “Bachelorette Party Village Battle”? The rivalry writes itself.