The Ten Worst Moves by a Sports Franchise
With the recent talk about the possibility of the Jacksonville Jaguars finding a home in Los Angeles, or the Phoenix Coyotes being allowed to move anywhere, it seems fitting to look at past moves, and how they affected the cities involved.
Most of the time when a sports franchise moves, it moves for the ultimate good of the club or the league. With no moves, we would still have the Fort Wayne Pistons or the Syracuse Nationals trying to survive as NBA franchises.
However, “ultimate good” doesn’t go along way in explaining things to a heartbroken fan who is left staring blankly at an empty stadium on the way home from work every day.
Of all of the moves in sports history, some have been more painful than others, and for a variety of reasons.
Some were ridiculously unfair to fans who had been supportive of the product. Some led to legal battles that set powerful precedents. Some owners seem to use the process only for their individual publicity and attention.
With all of these factors being considered, here is a look at the worst moves of North American sports franchises in the last century.
10. The Lakers depart the Land of Lakes
Long before the “Showtime” days, the Lakers spent 1946 to 1959 in Minnesota. In their 13 seasons in the snow, they won six conference titles and six championships (including NBL and BAA Titles).
Players like George Mikan, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, and Gail Goodrich, plus a developing rivalry with the Boston Celtics couldn’t generate enough interest to keep the team viable. In 1960 the Lakers moved to Los Angeles, and took the best NBA rivalry with them.
The NBA wouldn’t return to Minneapolis for 30 years, and the Lakers have captured 10 NBA championships since the move to the Pacific Coast.
Even with basketball back in the Twin Cities, Minnesotans have been spending many cold, snow-filled winters wondering what might have been.
9. The Nordiques Find the Rocky Mountain Way
The Quebec City market was probably too small to begin with, and the fact that the city was exclusively French-speaking made it difficult to expand.
Throw in the fact that there were too many Habs fans within the city, and it made for an unsustainable situation.
But what makes this heartbreaking, is that the team was starting to contend after trading the rights to Eric Lindros.
In 1994-95, the last year in Quebec, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Adam Foote, Owen Nolan, Wendel Clark, and Adam Deadmarsh all suited up for Quebec. This team won the Northeast Division, but bowed out early in the play-offs.
After moving to Colorado and being renamed the Avalanche, this team traded for legendary goaltender Patrick Roy.
The next June, the Stanley Cup appeared in a parade through the English-speaking streets of Denver. It should have been hosted by the hockey-crazed, French-speaking citizens of Quebec City.
8. Al Davis Raids the Cities of Oakland and Los Angeles
In 1980, Al Davis tried to move his Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles. To do so, he needed ¾ of league owners to approve. Unfortunately for Davis, he couldn’t find an owner to support him.
Davis tried the next best thing, he sued. After a mistrial and support from Los Angeles, the Oakland Raiders eventually became the Los Angeles Raiders for the 1982 season.
In 1995, Davis moved the club back to Oakland with more league and public support.
However, the legal entanglements regarding anti-trust and league by-laws continue to be a sticking point for each of the four major North American sports leagues today.
The face of this issue after 30 years is still Al Davis.
7. Changing Coasts: The Giants Head West to San Francisco
Despite the protests of Londoners, New York still calls itself the financial capital of the world. Throughout the 1940’s and 1950, New York was the undisputed capital of the baseball universe.
New York hosted a World Series game every October from 1949 to 1958, and was to the winner in each of those years except 1958. In 1949, 1951, 1952, 1953, and 1955, the Big Apple had all of the attention hosting Subway Series.
After the 1957 season, however, New York lost its prestige, as both the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants headed for the West Coast.
Though the Dodgers’ move is usually told as the heartbreaking story, fan of the Giants had every bit as much to complain about.
The New York Giants can claim 43 hall-of-famers, and had Willie Mays, manager Loe Durocher, Monte Irvin, Don Mueller, and knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm in uniform during the final seasons in the Polo Grounds.
At the time, perhaps only the Yankees could stake claim to a better baseball tradition.
But tradition and history often take an understandable backseat to dollars and cents.
The Polo Grounds was not in great shape after hosting football, baseball, and even boxing for decades. After a third-place finish in 1957, the fan base became a bit spoiled and attendance began to drop.
The Giants were interested in moving to Minneapolis, home of their top farm team at the time. However, as the Dodgers were also planning a move to California, it was believed that the support from Major League Baseball would not be there without a second team to make the move at the same time.
After same conversations between the Dodgers and Giants front offices, it was determined that the Giants would in fact move, and it would be to San Francisco instead of the Twin Cities.
Left behind, of course, were hundreds of thousands of New York Giants fans, left with the horrible option of either cheering for a team a continent away, or following the hated Yankees.
6. Voted Out: The Senators move to both Minnesota and Arlington
Only in Washington could a move occur where it is actually difficult to determine where a team went. It took two stages, but eventually baseball left the nation’s capital.
The original Washington Senators (also known as the Nationals in the very early years) were founded in 1901. After some success in the early part of the century, Washington soon found itself perennially in the second division of the American League, leading to the saying “Washington: First in War, First in Peace, Last in the American League.”
In the late 1950’s, it became very clear the Seantors were looking for a move after management sold the ballpark to the city of Washington, D.C., and started leasing its use.
The Senators considered moving to the West Coast along with the Dodgers and Giants, but being the only American League team on the Pacific Coast would not have resulted in a lot of support from the other owners.
In 1960, the club reached a deal to move the club to Minneapolis with support from St. Paul as well. However, the deal was still opposed by many powerful owners who opposed the move.
A compromise was reached whereby the Senators would move to Minneapolis, but the City of Washington would be awarded an expansion team in 1961.
It appeared that baseball would be preserved in the nation’s capital after all.
However, the “new Senators” didn’t have much a lot more success on the field or with front office stability. Ted Williams did a fantastic job with the talent he was given, but the club never had the talent to compete with the best of the American League.
In 1971, the Senators were again on the move, this time to the Dallas area.
Although both moves were probably inevitable, Washington makes the list for having lost a team twice in just over a decade.
5. The Well Runs Dry: Oilers move to Tennesee
Moving from the middle of rich football country, owner Bud Adams was in such a hurry to get out of Houston that he really didn’t know where he was headed when he left!
The Oilers were part of the original AFL, and appeared in the first three championships in league history. After losing some momentum immediately after the merger, the Oilers regained their stature in the late 70’s with the drafting of Earl Campbell, who was the face of the franchise for several years.
After another dry spell in the mid-1980’s, Warren Moon was signed and Houston fans were immediately treated to some of the best offenses the NFL had ever seen.
Adams would accept nothing less than a Super Bowl appearance, however, and the Moon-led Oilers always seemed to come up a bit short. After a 12-4 season in 1993 ended in the AFC playoffs, Adams traded away Moon and tried to rebuild the team.
The Houston faithful were obviously frustrated at the collapse of a perennial contender, and it was reflected with empty seats at the Astrodome.
In 1997, the Oilers moved to Tennessee to become the Tennessee Oilers. Adams intended to play home games in 1997 and 1998 in Memphis, although the franchise would be headquartered in Nashville. The Tennessee Oilers called the Liberty Bowl their home in 1997.
The crowds in Memphis were even smaller than the crowds in Houston, so the Oilers moved to Nashville a year early, and played at Vanderbilt Stadium in 1998. Finally, with the new stadium ready in Nashville for the 1999 season, the team was re-named the Titans and the move was complete.
Houston wouldn’t be without football for long, as the city was awarded the Houston Texans as an expansion team in 2002. However, in the football-crazy state of Texas, five years without the NFL can seem like an eternity.
4. North Star points South: The State of Hockey loses its team
This is the second loss for the Twin Cities in this list, but this one involved a lot more head scratching.
The Minnesota North Stars were founded in 1967 as part of the National Hockey League’s first expansion. The franchise was never a model for stability or success, but they did play in front of one of the most hockey-loving and knowledgeable fan bases in the United States.
In 1993, just two seasons removed from an amazing run to the Stanley Cup Finals, the North Stars moved to Dallas. After a name-shortening to the Stars, Dallas fans saw six division championships, two President’s Cups, two conference championships, and a Stanley Cup … within a decade of welcoming the franchise.
Not bad for a city that did support the club–even if they didn’t fully understand what was going on in front of them on the ice in the earliest years.
However, the success was a very bitter pill for the hockey rabid fans of the North Stars back in the Northern Midwest.
3. A Dawg Pound in the Baltimore Zoo, Modell Moves Browns
The Cleveland Browns, while perhaps more known for their heartbreaks, were a very well established franchise in a hotbed of football.
The Browns were champions of the AAFC (All-America Football Conference) four times in the 1940’s as a charter member of that league.
After moving to the NFL in 1950 along with the 49ers and Colts, they promptly were NFL champions four times in the 1950’s.
Through up and down years, the Browns had fantastic fan support from the city an their fans–most notably the “Dawg Pound” section in the bleachers of Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
Despite the fan support, the stadium was not the revenue generator that owner Art Modell wanted it to be. In 1995, there was to be a voter referendum on spending $175 million to upgrade the stadium per Modell’s wishes.
However, a day before the vote, Modell announced that the club was moving to Baltimore.
The always rowdy Dawg Pound reacted predictably, spending the last home game ripping up seats with wrenches and crowbars and tossing whatever came loose onto the field.
Even though the city kept the colors, traditions, records, and history, it was without professional football until 1999.
Had the NFL not put a team there as quickly, this might well have landed in the first spot on the list.
2. Hitler, Stalin, and O'Malley, a yet to be forgiven owner moves the Dodgers to LA
Baseball had been in Brooklyn practically as long as there has been baseball. Sometimes known as the Grays, Superbas, or Robins rather than the Dodgers, the franchise helped establish professional baseball.
By the 1950’s, the Dodgers, Giants, and Yankees firmly established New York as the capital of baseball. The Dodgers won the exciting World Series of 1955, and represented the National League again in 1956.
Brooklyn, always a baseball town, absolutely fell in love with the teams of the 1950’s. Their Ebbets Field home, however, was not keeping up with the fan support.
Owner Walter O’Malley knew he needed a new park, and wanted it to be in Brooklyn. However, the city was trying to push him to Flushing, and to what later became Shea Stadium grounds.
The Brooklyn fan base would have been upset with a move to another Borough. Brooklyn was forced to join the City of New York around the turn of the century – against the wishes of the majority of the population.
This consolidation resonated for decades, as Brooklyners didn’t want to consider themselves New Yorkers. The extension of this community pride was the Dodgers, and it fueled their rivalry with the cross-town Giants.
While Brooklyn would have been upset with a move elsewhere in the City, what happened next has not been forgiven in half a century.
Going into 1957, Los Angeles was looking for a team. They thought they could get the Seantors, or an expansion team a few years later.
As baseball wasn’t played at the Major League level anywhere west of St. Louis, it was believed that expansion would be the only way to get teams on the West Coast. That is of course, unless two teams could move at the same time.
Los Angles officials and O’Malley soon found each other, and O’Malley was probably initially just looking for leverage to be able to get a Brooklyn stadium.
Soon it became apparent that New York would not be able to match a deal from Los Angeles, as O’Malley would be able to buy cheap land and own his own stadium in California.
O’Malley still had a problem of finding another team to move with him to assure league approval. He didn’t have to look any further than across town, and the Giants and Dodgers both left for California to start the 1957 season.
They left behind an era, a rivalry, and a group of heartbroken fans. The rivalry soon re-developed with the Giants, but O’Malley is still a sensitive subject in New York’s largest borough.
1. Colts Break From the Stable Under Cover of Night
The story has been told and re-told, and even made into a recent movie.
While every city and team on this list felt disappointment, none of those situations still maintain the bitterness that the City of Baltimore feels toward the Indianapolis Colts.
The Colts were the pride of Baltimore, and had a rich history of teams and players. Raymond Berry, John Mackey, Johnny Unitas, and seven other Hall of Famers were faces of the Colts and the City of Baltimore. Like most of this list, however, the stadium didn’t match the fans’ love of the team.
Colts owner Robert Irsay had been in negotiations for stadium upgrades for the better part of a decade.
He had also talked to Memphis, Jacksonville, Phoenix, New York, and Los Angeles–and perhaps others that were not reported. Part of the problem was that any upgrades would also affect the Orioles, and it was difficult to find specific improvements that would help all parties involved.
Since it was widely reported that the Colts might move to Jacksonville or Phoenix, Marylanders were looking to take legal action to keep the Colts at home.
In March 1984, the state legislature began trying to allow Baltimore to essentially seize the team via imminent domain law. When it passed one branch, Irsay could not stay to see what developed.
Faced with the loss of his team, he made a quick deal and headed for Indianapolis. 15 Mayflower trucks were loaded just after midnight with the equipment and property of the team and headed for the Heartland. The trucks were a secret, and took different routes out of state in fear that they would be confiscated.
When Baltimore realized they were without a team and powerless, they asked the Colts to return the name, records, and colors to Baltimore in hopes that there would be an expansion team.
Baltimore should have been awarded a team long before 1996, but were denied time and time again. When they did get the team now know as the Ravens, the Colts denied use of any of the logos or history, arguing that after 12 years, they were now an established brand in Indianapolis.
The bitterness in Baltimore continues to the present day, and Baltimore Colts records still appear in both the Raven and Colt media guides. When the Colts play in their former home, the name “Colts” does not appear on any stadium scoreboard nor is it announced over the PA system.
Even though the City of Baltimore won another Super Bowl before the City of Indianapolis, it appears the memories of a snowy night in 1984 won’t fade anytime soon.