17 March 2014

The History of MLB Visualized

If there is one thing that baseball does better than any other sport, it's history. Professional baseball predates The Football League (1888) in England, the NHL (1917), and the NFL (1920). Beyond professional leagues, the origins of baseball extend back through Alexander Cartwright's publication of the first official baseball rules in 1845 and into colonial times for traditional folk games using a stick, a ball, and running.

For professional leagues, the National League dates to 1876 and the American League to 1901. While other leagues came and went in the early years of professional baseball, including the National Association (1871 - 1875), the American Association (1882 - 1891), the Union Association (1884), the Players League (1890) , and the Federal League (1914 - 1915), only the National League and the American League have endured into the 21st century. The American Association, perhaps, came the closest to succeeding, even playing 7 early versions of the World Series against National League champions. Despite this, 4 franchises jumped to the NL, indicating potential issues with level of play and league organization. 4 more franchises joined the NL from the AA after it folded in 1892. In just 10 seasons, the AA hosted 25 franchises, indicating tremendous instability (even when compared to 19th century NL instability). Four AA franchises survive today: the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cincinnati Reds, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the St. Louis Cardinals. Only the Chicao Cubs and Atlanta Braves franchises date to the original 1876 founding of the National League.

While much of baseball history is rightfully devoted to the players and on-the-field achievements, the odyssey of franchises has been a major influence on the course of the game. Over more than a century of professional baseball, the American League and National League have seen contraction, relocation, and expansion. Fifty franchises have played for at least one season in either league. More than a hundred fields, parks, and stadiums have been called home by professional baseball teams from the AL and NL.

The following data visualization shows the history of franchises, stadiums, and cities throughout MLB history. Click through for an interactive version. Mousing over nodes and links will provide a pop-up with extra information including the progression of team nicknames and the years in which a franchise played in a specific stadium.


Some interesting facts:
  • 10 franchises have relocated from east to west, 5 franchises have relocated from west to east, 10 franchises have relocated from north to south, and 5 franchises have relocated from south to north. This reflects the heavily northeastern and upper-midwestern focus of early baseball.
  • 4 of the 8 original AL franchises have not relocated since 1901 while 1 of the 8 original NL franchises has not relocated, folded, or been expelled since 1876 (5 of 8 since 1901).
  • The early years of the National League, from 1876 - 1899 were rather chaotic, with 20 franchises folding, being expelled, or being merged into remaining franchises. Many of the cities that hosted these franchises would eventually catch on as major league cities, but Worcester, Louisville, Troy, Buffalo, Syracuse, Providence, Hartford, and Louisville would not regain major league status, although many now host minor league teams.


All logos are the property of MLB and their respective teams. They are used here for identification purposes only.

All franchises and stadiums in grey are defunct. All defunct franchises were members of the National League prior to 1900. The American League has never contracted. The American Association is not included in this visualization, due to the issues outlined above.

Franchises are listed according to their most recent name. Certain combinations of cities and team names have been used multiple times by difference franchises. For example, no less than four different franchises have used the Washington Senators name (one of which was alternately know as the Washington Statesmen and is listed under that moniker).

The visualization is based on Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG). Use CTRL and either + or - on your keyboard or the scroll wheel on your mouse to zoom in or out.

Mouse-over nodes (hover) to pull up info relating the franchise, stadium, city, or related links. Note that values are in seasons, not years. Therefore, a stadium such as Sportsman's Park, which hosted Major League Baseball during 68 years could host 102 home seasons combined for multiple franchises.

The visualization is created using a JavaScript library, called Data Driven Documents (D3), developed by Mike Bostock.

Teams cannot be displayed in alphabetical order or by division, due to the complexity of links resulting from relocations and the working of the algorithm used to place nodes on the visualization. The horizontal layout shows the order in which the franchise played in stadiums, but does not represent a timeline to scale. Most recent homes are to the left and oldest are to the right.

Please email any questions or comments (especially on inaccuracies or errors in the visualization) to lokitez {at} gmail {dot} com or leave a comment.

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