Baseball will always remain entrenched in American culture. Its roots in the United States can be tracked back to the 1700s, but the sport hasn’t gained as much global traction as others. With recent murmurings about Major League Baseball expanding to countries outside of the U.S. though, the game now has potential to engrain itself in sports cultures around the world.
Last year, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke with Associated Press Sports editors and expressed interest in the league expanding from 30 to 32 teams. Manfred mentioned that international expansion is a likely option as Montreal and Mexico City headline the list of cities to land one of the two new teams.
If the MLB adds teams outside of the league, baseball’s future will be brighter than ever before. With the sport spreading to other countries, it could better foster talent outside of the U.S. and generate more international interest. With the move’s many benefits, Manfred says that expansion is a necessary step the league will inevitably take.
“Baseball’s a growth sport, a growth business [and] sooner or later, growth businesses expand,” he said. “I do see expansion as a longer term proposition.”
In Montreal, the MLB already made an impact over 40-years ago. From 1969–2004, the Montreal Expos were the first MLB team located outside of the U.S. Playing in the National League East Division, the Expos often struggled to compete for postseason contention. 1981 was the only year the team won the division. As a result, it could never sustain fan interest, drawing only 642,748 fans to all of its games in 2001, one of the lowest season-attendance totals in MLB history.
Though the Expos generally weren’t a successful team in the NL East standings, if the MLB moves back to Montreal, baseball’s bond with Canadians will strengthen. Montreal’s team would join the other Canadian teams — the Toronto Blue Jays and the Vancouver Canadians, a Short Season A Affiliate of the Blue Jays. With 23 current players in the MLB hailing from Canada, adding another team could help create an additional bridge for Canadian players to make it to the majors.
Since the Expos’ departure, Montreal has been craving baseball. Former Expos outfielder Warren Cromartie created the Montreal Baseball Project in 2012 to help bring a team back to the city. With new ownership, a stronger Canadian dollar, which has been exchanged closer to the U.S. dollar in recent years, and an upgraded stadium, Montreal could build a successful franchise the second time around.
Manfred also mentioned Mexico City as a potential landing spot for a future expansion team, which would be groundbreaking for the MLB. Mexico City has hosted MLB exhibition games in the past for its Mexico City Series, which featured the Houston Astros and San Diego Padres. This city is also home to the Mexico City Red Devils, a Mexican Baseball League team. Given the prominent Hispanic culture within the MLB, fan interest would likely thrive.
“I think making a full-time commitment in Mexico would be very important. It would help us improve our relationship professionally,” Manfred said to ESPN baseball writer and analyst Jayson Stark.
Additional benefits of the MLB adding a team in Mexico City include opening a Mexican television market that would help strengthen the relationship between the U.S. and Mexican Leagues. With a better relationship between the two countries, there could be an improved flow of Mexican players into the majors. Thus, media relations between the countries would improve, as would broadcast coverage of games.
Manfred cited all of these factors as reasons to expand to Mexico.
“That would in turn help us improve the flow of Mexican players into Major League Baseball. The combination of those two factors, that is the media in Mexico and the flow of players, I believe would help us in the Hispanic market in the United States,” Manfred said.
There are currently 20 Mexican players in the MLB, and this number could increase with an MLB team locating to the country. Mexico’s proximity to the U.S. is also a plus, as teams located in states such as Texas, Arizona and California wouldn’t to travel far to get there.
With 63.7 percent of players in the MLB being white, the opportunity for baseball to be inclusive of more racial groups in the future is also bright. Since 1990, the percentage of Latinos in the MLB has skyrocketed from 14.8 percent to 27.4 percent. Should the MLB expand to Mexico City, this number will continue to rise. While the move may not occur in the near future, the numerous benefits are impossible to ignore.