With all the bad press Montreal has been receiving over the years as a poor baseball city, the perception that Canadians would rather watch checking Czechs than an expert Expo or a bashing Blue Jay has become a common one. ESPN reports that a new independent league, the Canadian Baseball League, is willing to put that assertion to the test. They are scheduled to begin play next May with eight teams across Canada, including one team in Montreal. The Royales-the name that the Montreal team will bear, a nod to Jackie Robinson's first team in white organized ball-may even play in Le Stade Olympique though the rental fees may be too high. But wouldn't it be the first time Canadians formed their own league. They have even had independent leagues in their past.
Canadian organized baseball dates back to 1864 when the Young Canadian club of Woodstock, Ontario, fell victim, 75-11, to the seminal Atlantics of Brooklyn, who were en route to a undefeated (20-0-1) season. That year the Atlantics tallied the best record in the National Association of Base Ball Players, baseball's first organization. Woodstock would not play another NABBP team until 1868 when they again were bested by the Atlantics, 30-17 (this year the Atlantics ended at 47-7, good for the second best record behind the 47-3 Athletic club of Philadelphia). The Young Canadians would never formally join the NABBP, but they would play five games in total over five years against the organization's teams, losing them all.
In 1869, the first Canadian team joined organized ball, the Maple Leaf club of Guelph, Ontario. Guelph proved to be something of a powerhouse, going 8-2 in its two years in the NABBP. The organization pulled apart in 1871 as the professional teams re-organization as the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players and the NABBP added the qualifier "Amateur" to its moniker before fading into oblivion. (By the way, here is a re-print of an 1868 Guelph-Woodstock game report).
The Guelph Maple Leafs later joined the "minor" league International Association when it was created in 1877. That season proved to be their last as they finished 4-12. The champion of the league was also Canadian-the 13-4 London Tecumsehs. The Tecumsehs lasted one more year, and then the league bereft of international teams reorganized as the one-year National Association. The London Tecumsehs were again a charter member of the International Association when it re-organized in 1888. London had professional baseball until 1941. Tecumsehs was the nickname of choice until the team renamed itself Indians in 1925. London also had an Eastern League team called the Tigers from 1989 to 1993.
The earliest Canadian league was the independent Ontario League in 1884, which became the Candiam League in 1885 and promptly folded. The first Canadian league in organized ball was formed in 1899. The six-team league featured clubs in London, Woodstock (via Stratford), Guelph, Hamilton, Chatham and St. Thomas. The last two teams folded on July 4 and the league continued as a four-team circuit. London won the title with a 62-28 record, 15 games ahead of second-place Hamilton. The league reformed as the International league in 1900 after adding U.S. teams in the Great Lakes area. Other Candian leagues fielded teams in 1905, 1911-1915, and 1936-1951 (the late great Class-C Canadian-American League).
Montreal itself has a proud baseball tradition, first fielding a team in 1890 in the old Eastern League (forebear of today's International League) after the Hamilton, Ontario, club folded and was shifted to the infant baseball town. Montreal played in the IL in 1890, 1897-1917, and 1928-1960. The Royals were the last minor-club to represent the city before the Expos were created in 1969.
Toronto's entry into organized ball pre-dates Montreal's. The first Toronto club was in the independent Ontario League in 1884. The team, the Canucks, shifted to the International League in 1886 and remained there until the league folded in 1890. A new Canucks club was organized as a charter member of the old Eastern League in 1895 and remained in that circuit (again today's International League) until 1967, eventually changing its name to the Maple Leafs. This was the last pro team in Toronto until the Blue Jays formed in 1977.
Well, there you have it. The next time you hear some sports radio host opining that Canadians just don't have the capacity to understand a sport that doesn't use a flat ball and a stick or that isn't played on a 110-yard field, just remember that you know better.