A What If Scenario of Pro Ball in the Maritimes, Part 2

The last post of this fictional series took us up until the 1960’s as the old Cape Breton Colliery League expanded across the Maritimes.  In review the league’s lineup for the 1960 Maritime League season was: 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).  First off, many changes occurred over the next decade.  The league was still classified as a “Class C” league by the National Association, which was the only such league in the Northeast (the others were the California League, Northern League & Pioneer League).

Following the 1960 season, it became evident that Cape Breton could not support two franchises and the Miners would relocate to Bangor, Maine; giving the league its first American franchise and the city’s first team since the Maroons of the 1913 New Brunswick-Maine League.  The team would name themselves in honor of them.  Similarly, the Islanders expanded their base from Charlottetown (1961 population of 18318) to the entire province (population of 104,629).  The team was christened as the P.E.I. Senators (after the major league affiliate, a first for the Maritime League).  Naming themselves after the entire province was seen as a marketing move to gain fans province-wide and was inspired at least in part by the expansion Minnesota Twins of the NFL.  It should be noted that the Senators themselves relocated to Minnesota for the 1961 American League season, while the expansion Senators picked up the P.E.I. farm club.

For the 1963 season, the Maritime League would be reclassified from Class C to Rookie, as the National Association reorganized themselves over the offseason.  The only other “Rookie” league in North America for the 1963 season was the Appalachian League.  The league would receive a major shakeup in time for the 1964 season.  The name was changed yet again to the North Atlantic League (was Cape Breton Colliery League, then Nova Scotia League, then the Maritime League.  This was done because the league gained another team in Maine (Portland) and the Arrows surrendered the Halifax market to their rivals across the harbor.  The Portland entry would be named the Portland Red Sox, after their Major League affiliate.  This meant the Halifax entry would be looking for a new MLB partner.  They would find that partner in the Minnesota Twins.  With Halifax-Dartmouth being known as the Twin Cities it only made sense that the team would be known was the Halifax Twins.  Also, the Yankees would affiliate with the Shamrocks, forcing the Cubs out of the North Atlantic League.

Canada’s centennial came in 1967, and it was another year of change for the North Atlantic League.  The Pets would change affiliation to the Baltimore Orioles.  In a marketing move, the Steelers went from being the Sydney Steelers and became the Cape Breton Steelers.  Then came 1969.  With four Major League expansion teams (Expos, Padres, Royals & Pilots) coming into existence, this had a major impact on the minor leagues, including the North Atlantic League.  First, the Expos, as Canada’s first MLB entry wanted to expose their brand across the country.  They wanted an affiliate in the league and all six Maritime teams clamoured for their partnership.  Moncton won the right to affiliate with the Expos.  The first order of business was to change to name from the Wildcats to the Expos.  The Expos were hit as they led the league in both home and road attendance as people in the Maritimes loved to have a connection to Canada’s new Major League team.  The Royals also affiliated with a NAL team, as the P.E.I. Senators became the P.E.I. Monarchs.  After the Pirates left Cape Breton, the Steelers changed their name to the Cape Breton Highlanders as they were now affiliated with Cincinnati.

The 196os lead to major change in the North Atlantic League.  Every franchise experienced change of some sort (affiliate, team name or city).  With both Glace Bay and Dartmouth relocating, the league also had no more two team markets.  The league itself even changed its name and expanded their scope into the United States.  The 1970s dawned with the coming of the 1970 season and that decade too would include lots of change.  For the 1970, the Monarchs announced that in an effort to expand their brand on P.E.I. they would play a handful of home games in Summerside.  Being based in the league’s smallest market the team needed a way to attract new fans or they were in danger of folding or relocating.  The experiment lasted for three seasons until the team itself relocated after the 1972 season.  The low attendance lead the owners to sell to Manchester, NH interests and the Monarchs relocated there for 1973.  The market was home to the Eastern League’s Manchester Yankees from 1969 to 1971 and wanted a team to fill the void.  The team would be known as the Manchester Blue Sox, after the New England League team of the 1920s.

By 1974, the league was gaining a reputation as being the premier rookie level league in the minors (ahead of the Gulf Coast, Pioneer and Appalachian Leagues) as the Maritimes and northern New England provided the highest attendances in at that level.  The league would expand for the first time in years by adding teams in Sherbrooke, PQ and Burlington, VT.  The franchises would be named Sherbrooke White Sox (after their affiliate) and Vermont Mountaineers (affiliated with the Houston Astros).  The league would split into East and West Divisions.  The East would compromise of the Maritime teams and the West compromised of the Quebec/US teams.

In 1977 the expansion Toronto Blue Jays employed the same philosophy as the 1969 Expos by placing a team in the league by affliliating with Halifax.  The team would change their name from the Twins to the Citadels, after the famous Halifax Citadel.  The following season, the Maroons would move to Quebec City, replacing the city’s Eastern League team the departed following the 1977 season.

At the end of the decade the West Division included Quebec, Sherbrooke, Portland, Manchester & Vermont.  Members of the East Division were Halifax, Moncton, Saint John, Cape Breton & Fredericton.  The league was still on solid financial ground despite the arrival of the American Hockey League in the region.  The 1980s and beyond is going to be covered in a future blog.

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