Is Major League Baseball finally ready to expand to 32 teams? These are the fast-growing cities that seem to be ready for their call-up to the bigs.
There’s an interesting fact about the 1954 St. Louis Cardinals that has nothing to do with their play. Stan Musial’s Redbirds finished a woeful 72-82, sixth of eight in the National League. (Yes, the Cubs finished seventh.) At that time, St. Louis was both the westernmost and southernmost city in the majors. The next year, the Philadelphia Athletics headed west to Kansas City. In 1958, New York would lose its Dodgers and Giants to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively. In later years, the Milwaukee Braves decamped for Atlanta, the A’s would continue west to Oakland, and a second iteration of the Washington Senators abandoned D.C., this time for the burgeoning sprawl of Dallas-Fort Worth.
These ball clubs didn’t leave to get fresh air — they followed the American population, which has steadily shifted south and west since the middle of the 20th century. The 21st century has seen continued growth in the Sun Belt, and that hasn’t evaded MLB’s keen eye. Judging by the fastest-growing metropolitan areas from 2010 through 2019, you can expect these boomtowns to be potential expansion destinations for Major League Baseball — or landing spots for existing teams.
Having grown by 29.8% in the 2010s, it’s hard not to imagine a new team in the capital of the Lone Star State, a cradle for baseball. With a new MLS team taking the pitch in Austin, the University of Texas looming large, and the Astros and Rangers sharing the state, an Austin team would have tough competition. But with Austin’s growing population, vibrant urban neighborhoods, and inimitable “weird” culture, it would add a lot to the map.
Greater Raleigh grew by 23% in the 2010s and shows no signs of stopping. After an abortive attempt to move the Twins to nearby Greensboro in the late ’90s, North Carolina is reasserting itself as a potential destination. They won’t have to worry about a lack of baseball fans — locally, Cary has earned the snarky 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 encircling the Magic Kingdom may not be an expansion destination for Major League Baseball at all, but perhaps a relocation option. With the Tampa Bay Rays a short jaunt down I-4, it’s hard to see both markets coexisting. 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 bigs at Tampa’s expense.
Experiencing 17.5% growth in the 2010s, the Music City is the preeminent “it” city in the U.S., attracting newcomers from all points. Justin Timberlake is exploring expansion as we speak. Perhaps Nashville and Austin could enter together as Nos. 31 and 32. “Battle of the Bachelorette Party Towns”? The rivalry writes itself.