The following post is by Mike Buscher, head of the Reference Team in the Geography and Map Division.
This baseball postseason has been a particularly exciting time for baseball fans. The first five games of the 2017 World Series have truly been an “October Classic,” featuring two teams that have not appeared in a World Series in over a decade. There are twenty nine major league teams playing in U. S. cities coast to coast and one franchise in Canada. With attendance, viewership, and revenues way up the argument can be made once again that baseball is truly our “national pastime”
Looking back, organized baseball in America looked quite different just 70 years ago. There is a map I find fascinating in the collections of the Geography and Map Division that focuses on baseball in America in 1940. It was sent to the Library of Congress as a copyright deposit but was apparently never printed or distributed.
This 1940 blueprint map of the United States by Harlow D. Forker shows all the cities and towns with baseball teams, either major league or minor league, that were considered to be part of “organized” baseball. In 1940, there were sixteen major league teams in eleven cities. Chicago, Philadelphia and St. Louis each had a major league team in the American and National Leagues. New York had two National League teams and one American league team.
Compared to the 19 minor baseball leagues today, in 1940 there were 44 different minor leagues with a total of 304 teams! One hundred and twenty seven of these teams were farm clubs or had working agreements with a major league team while the rest were independent teams. North Carolina alone had thirty one minor league teams, the most of any state!
In 1940, most of the leagues and teams were located east of the Mississippi River. St. Louis had the only major team west of the river, and as the southernmost city, the St. Louis Cardinals (NL) games were broadcast on radio networks across the south. Below, you can see Sportsman’s Park where the Cardinals played in 1940 as it looks on a map from the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company from 1951.
The blueprint map identifies the location of each team, the name, the class level of the league, and the affiliation of teams with major league franchises. There are also circles showing airline distances from Chicago, the hometown of the mapmaker who used the city as a central point for the country. There is quite a lot of information packed into this one map!
I also noticed on the map that the two cities with teams in the 2017 World Series both had minor league teams in 1940. Los Angeles had a Pacific Coast League team called the Hollywood Stars, and Houston had a lower level team in the Texas League affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Originally intended to become a full color map, this blueprint map was never fully realized into a complete color edition. Seventy seven years after this map was created, baseball is being played around the globe. Rumors of the next round of expansion of the major leagues include the addition of franchises in cities outside of the U.S. Perhaps on the coming decades, the excitement of a long season may culminate in a true “World” Series.