In 1961, the American League responded to threats of a third major league and expanded to ten teams. The AL admitted the Los Angeles Angels and the Washington Senators. The Angels were brought in to compete with the National League‘s Dodgers and Giants, the first clubs to play in California. The Senators were a new franchise with an old name. The original Senators wanted to move to Minnesota to take advantage of a new market, but the AL agreed to keep a team in the nation’s capital and thus created the expansion Senators. Therefore, Washington had a team in the Al uninterrupted from 1901-1971, but from 1961-1971, they were an expansion team, with no ties to the original Senators. The 1961 AL season was played with 10 teams.
In 1962, the National League followed suit and added two teams. The New York Mets and Houston Colt .45s were the first new teams to enter the NL since 1892. The Mets brought an NL team to the nation’s biggest market to compete with the Yankees. It was also an effort to appease ex-New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers fans who had lost their teams when they moved to sunny California. From 1962-1968, the Nl played a ten-team league, as did the AL.
In 1969, both the AL and NL added two teams. The AL brought in the Kansas City Royals (after promising that city a team when Charlie Finley moved his A’s in 1968), and the Seattle Pilots. The Pilots lasted but one season in the Northwest before transferring to Milwaukee. The NL expanded with the additions of the Montreal Expos, baseball’s first Canadian team, and the San Diego Padres, the third NL team in California. This expansion brought the first split of the leagues into divisions, each league playing with two six-team divisions. The post-season was expanded to include a league championship series, or “playoff” series as it was called then.
In 1977, the American League expanded for the third time, adding its own Canadian club – the Toronto Blue Jays. Also joining the league was the Seattle Mariners, the second team to make a go of it in that city in less than a decade. This created two seven-team divisions in the AL and brought the MLB total to 26 teams.
The imbalance of the leagues (14 teams in the Al, 12 in the NL) lasted for more than 15 years. In 1993 the National League expanded as part of a larger overall MLB plan to break the leagues into three divisions each. Added to the mix in 1993 were the Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins, baseball’s first team in the Sunshine State. In 1994 each of the two leagues was divided into “geographic” divisions – three each. This resulted in another level of post-season play – the division series. For the first time in MLB history a second place team could earn a post-season bid as a “wild card.” In 1997 the Marlins became the first wild card team to get to the World Series, winning the title in just their fifth season. In 2000 the Mets also advanced to the Series as a wild card, and in 2002 both World Series teams (the Angels and Giants), were wild-card entries.
In 1998, amid controversy, baseball expanded again. It was the second expansion in five years, bringing the MLB total to 30 teams. Because 30 teams could not be equally divided between two leagues without scheduling difficulties, baseball moved a team from the American to the National League. The Milwaukee Brewers switched leagues, once again joining the NL, where they had been in the 1950s and 1960s as the Braves.
The Arizona Diamondbacks (NL) and Tampa Bay Devil Rays (AL) were the expansion teams in 1998, bringing two un-tapped markets to baseball. By 2001 the D-Backs had won a World Series title and were a successful franchise financially as well. The Rays struggled, however, and in 2001 Commissioner Bud Selig hinted that for the first time in more than a century baseball may eliminate teams, or “contract” instead of expanding. The Twins and Expos were the clubs mentioned as possible sacrifices, but an uproar in Minnesota, and the team’s playoff spot in 2002, helped quiet those rumors. In 2002, MLB took over the operation of the Expos, marking the first time in more than 90 years that a team had been run by the league. The Expos remained a candidate for contraction, but without a second team to join them, the plan seemed stalled.