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Infographic of the Day

The Evolution Of Major League Baseball Was A Hot Mess

This infographic traces 100 teams through 140 years of professional baseball and the sport's evolution was anything but logical.

  • <p>This is the history of professional baseball.</p>
  • <p>It began with just six teams, but before long...</p>
  • <p>...baseball, across a few leagues, had over 50 teams. This would prove unsustainable. And the baseball market would crash.</p>
  • <p>Some of the old names are fantastic--like the Brooklyn Bridegrooms.</p>
  • <p>In 1969, baseball grew again or the first time in roughly 70 years.</p>
  • <p>The National League never wanted to let the American League join them, but strategically, to protect the future of baseball around the year 1900, they had to.</p>
  • <p>And thank goodness they did.</p>
  • <p>Because while it meant many markets had overlap...</p>
  • <p>...that overlap has driven some of the greatest fan rivalries in baseball. Go White Sox!</p>
  • 01 /09

    This is the history of professional baseball.

  • 02 /09

    It began with just six teams, but before long...

  • 03 /09

    ...baseball, across a few leagues, had over 50 teams. This would prove unsustainable. And the baseball market would crash.

  • 04 /09

    Some of the old names are fantastic--like the Brooklyn Bridegrooms.

  • 05 /09

    In 1969, baseball grew again or the first time in roughly 70 years.

  • 06 /09

    The National League never wanted to let the American League join them, but strategically, to protect the future of baseball around the year 1900, they had to.

  • 07 /09

    And thank goodness they did.

  • 08 /09

    Because while it meant many markets had overlap...

  • 09 /09

    ...that overlap has driven some of the greatest fan rivalries in baseball. Go White Sox!

Today, there are 30 teams in Major League Baseball. 15 belong to the American League, and 15 to the National League. With the exception of the designated hitter, baseball is a simple and tidy system. But that wasn’t always the case.

The Genealogy of Baseball Team Names—the latest print from the data viz historians at History Shots—tracks over 100 teams through 140 years of professional baseball tradition. And the over-extended, branching, and breaking timeline shows that the sport's evolution was anything but clean or logical.

"When we first started we had no idea of the level of complexity of this project, specifically the great number of name changes, location switches, ballpark evolutions, and league re-alignments," explains creator Larry Gormley. "We decided we needed to show this web of changes while still allowing the viewer to easily follow his or her team across time from either direction."

Reading from left to right, you watch as six teams create the National Association of Baseball. Things seem tranquil enough, but that quickly explodes to more than 50 teams, split across various leagues, schismed by profits and politics. The run lasted about 15 years, but over that time, attendance waned, some leagues bit it, and eventually baseball shrunk back from the over-expansion in 1900. Soon thereafter, the National Association teamed up with the American League to form the two-party scaffolding of the MLB as we know it today.

But as a baseball fan, I honestly just like reading all of the factoids squeezed into the timeline—like the franchise now known as the Atlanta Braves was purchased for just $75,000 in the early 20th century (even with inflation, that’s a mere $1.8 million!)—or that the same team used to be called the "Boston Beaneaters." (Can you imagine the drunken flatulence jokes that must have stemmed from those fans?)

The Genealogy of Baseball Team Names is available now, in a 42" x 20" print, for $29.

Get it here.

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