A What If Scenario of Pro Ball in the Maritimes, Part 1

Today, something different, I will create a fantasy history of professional baseball in the Maritimes.  This is my first attempt at fiction on this blog and my first attempt at writing an alternative history for anything.  Enjoy!

The timeline will begin in 1946 as the Cape Breton Colliery League returns from a six-year absence caused by the Second World War.  Amazingly, the league was able to return all four existing teams that completed during the 1939 season (Glace Bay, New Waterford, Sydney and Sydney Mines).  The one difference was the Sydney Steel Citians changed their name to the Steelers.  The teams played a 56-game schedule, as they did prior to the outbreak of the war.  Since seven years had passed since the league last played, only a few locals who played in 1939 were playing during the 1946 CBCL season.  The 1947 season saw no changes to the league lineup.

Major changes occurred during the winter of 1947-48.  The semi-pro Halifax and District League wanted to “move up” into pro ball and the Colliery League was a ready-made league that the clubs could jump to, without starting a new league from scratch.  While the administrators of the Cape Breton League knew they had to expand in order to survive.  Cape Breton County had a population of 110,703 in the latest Census (1941), the league needed to expand to new markets in order to survive in the world of professional baseball.  It was the marriage made in heaven.  The new league would be known as the Nova Scotia League (NSL).  In addition to the four CBCL clubs, four teams from the H&D League would make up the NSL.  These four clubs were the Halifax Shipyards, Dartmouth Arrows, Kentville Wildcats (who were to join the H&D League as an expansion team) and the reactivated Truro Bearcats.  The league would operate as a single-division eight team league, mirroring the setup of both the National and American Leagues, but with an 84 game schedule.  The new Halifax area teams were excited to be making the jump from the semi-pros to professional Class C baseball.  The league would even play an All-Star Game matching the stars from the island teams against the mainland all-stars.  Another change in 1948 was the beginning of Major League affiliates.  Teams realized the future of minor league ball was developing talent for the bigs as it would cut down on expenses.  The chance to see future Major Leaguers gave fans another reason to come out to the local ballpark.  The first teams  to set up clubs were the Red Sox (Halifax), Braves (Dartmouth) and the Dodgers (New Waterford).

This setup lasted for two seasons.  In 1950, the Wildcats & Bearcats came to the realization that professional baseball was too big & expensive for small towns to compete in.  The Bearcats would fold their NSL team and the Wildcats would relocate across the border to Moncton.  Both towns would start clubs in the semi-pro H&D League.  Four teams in Cape Breton became just too much for the area to support and the Sydney Mines club bit the dust.  This left the league with six teams (Halifax, Dartmouth, Sydney, Glace Bay, New Waterford, and Moncton).  Despite having a team in New Brunswick, the NSL kept the Nova Scotia League name.  The 1950 season also marked the first time in history where all teams were affiliated with MLB teams.  Sydney hooked up with Pittsburgh and Glace Bay teamed up with the Giants the previous season.  After making the move from the Annapolis Valley, the newly christened Moncton Wildcats affiliated with Tigers.  The NSL retained it’s status as a “Class C” league in the world of minor league ball.

The Moncton Wildcats proved to be a success both on and off the field in 1950. The team lost a heartbreaking seven game series to Halifax in the finals, but lead the league in attendance.  This made the NSL commit to adding teams in both Fredericton and Saint John for the 1952 season, making the 1951 season the last to feature six teams and the last under the Nova Scotia League banner.  Starting exclusively in Cape Breton to one that had teams in the biggest markets across the Maritimes.  in 1952, the league would be known as the Maritime League.  In just five short years, the league went from playing The Fredericton Pets, named after the old New Brunswick-Maine League team, would affiliate with the Phillies and the Saint John Shamrocks would feature prospects from the Cubs.  The 1950s would be the league’s glory days as many future Major Leaguers would spend their summers in Maritime ballparks in what became North America’s premier “Class C” league.

By 1957, minor leagues across North America were in decline, as MLB games became available on television; more and more fans were staying at home watching the big leagues instead of going out to the local ballpark.  The Maritimes, being somewhat isolated from the rest of North America, suffered less of a decline than the rest.  There will still problems however, three teams became too much for Cape Breton and New Waterford would move to Charlottetown during the winter of 1956-57, bringing teams to all three Maritime provinces.  The new club would be known as the Charlottetown Islanders.  Also, in 1957 the now Milwaukee Braves dropped their Dartmouth club and the Yankees came in, setting up a Yankees-Red Sox rivalry in metro Halifax.  After the Dodgers move to LA for the 1958 season, the team’s Maritime League club would also switch from the Islanders to the Wildcats.  The Washington Senators would take their place on the island.

By 1960, the Maritime League was one of only four Class C leagues left in North America.  The league found itself at a crossroads, as attendance was starting to decline as it had in other leagues across the continent.  The league knew it had to think bold in order to survive in the world of minor league baseball in the 1960s.  It was decided that the league would take advantage of being the only all-Canadian league in affiliated baseball (the Western Canada League was No Classification and the Quebec Provincial League was independent).  The advantage was as a Canadian league, the teams were exempt from the U.S. State Department’s cap on visas granted to foreign (read: Latin American) ball players.  The league would become home to young Latin players on their way to the Majors.  Being close to the Northeastern teams this allowed management to keep a close eye on young talent and increased the number of Latinos in the Minor League system.  Of course, there were still plenty of American and Canadians that made up league rosters.  With a few locals sprinkled in as it helped draw crowds to the ballparks.

At the beginning of the 1960 Maritime League season approached the league looked like this: Halifax Shipyards (BOS), Dartmouth Arrows (NY), Sydney Steelers (PIT), Glace Bay Miners (CLE), Moncton Wildcats (DET), Fredericton Pets (PHI), Saint John Shamrocks (CHC) and Charlottetown Islanders (WSH).  All the Major League affiliates were located in the Northeast but many changes (such as affiliates, team names and locations) would occur over the next decade.  The league’s story during the 1960s will continue in part two of this alternative history of the Maritime League.

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