The Continental League was a proposed 8-team baseball league which never got off the ground but still had significant impact on baseball. It is generally accepted that Major League Baseball's expansion in 1961-1962 was in direct response to pressure from the Continental League.
The Continental was not an "outlaw" league, like its contemporaries the American Football League and American Basketball League, or later leagues like the ABA, WHL, WFL, etc.. The Continental plan was always to join Organized Baseball, not fight it.
There were several forces driving baseball toward expansion:
- The population of the United States had grown tremendously since the Original 16 teams had been constituted at the turn of the century -- there were more potential fans and more potential players.
- The postwar US was affluent, with plenty of money to spend on leisure activities
- The successful move of the Braves to Milwaukee showed baseball owners that there was money to be made in new markets.
- The advent of air travel made it practical to have franchises in the West.
- Congress was pressuring Baseball to expand, threatening to take away the treasured antitrust exemption if something was not done.
The main problem turned out to be players. There were plenty of baseball players in the country, but they all belonged to somebody. There was no free agency as we know it -- baseball's Reserve Clause meant that a player's contract was automatically renewed every year, forever -- unless the club chose to release him from it. In March 1960, Rickey's attempt to form a working agreement with the Class D Western Carolina League was blocked by MLB. The only players available would be amateurs or players already rejected by the system. Expansion advocates sought to get a bill through Congress that would limit the number of players a team could control to 80 (some teams controlled 400). The bill got amended and revised, and in June 1960 it was sent back to committee, never to be seen again.
After failing to reach indemnity agreements with the minor leagues whose cities it would be invading, the Continental League officially folded at a meeting in Chicago on August 2, 1960.
1. "Continental League." The Continental League. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2014.
2. "Continental League." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 July 2014. Web. 14 Feb. 2014.