Fall Together, Spring Apart – Baseball ProspectusBaseball Prospectus

Fall Together, Spring Apart – Baseball ProspectusBaseball Prospectus

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Image credit: © Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

When I began this series in November, I noted right away that the teams of the NL and AL Centrals are increasingly in the habit of going home early each autumn. No team from either division has gotten as far as the League Championship Series in the first two years of the expanded, 12-team playoff format, and no team other than the winner of each division has even earned a Wild Card berth. While they’re all passing the fall the same way, though, each spring, these two divisions split up, kicking off their seasons 2,000 miles apart.

The Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues feel almost primordial, and in some form, the Grapefruit League does go all the way back to before World War I. The first shared destination for spring training where MLB teams played practice and exhibition games, though, was Hot Springs, Ark., where the earliest versions of the Cubs, Reds, Tigers, Guardians, Pirates, Cardinals, Red Sox, and Dodgers played for stretches in the late 1800s and the first decade and a half of the 1900s. Perhaps it’s not a true coincidence that six of those eight teams are now in the Centrals—or that Hot Springs didn’t last, whereas Florida and Arizona have.

Over the last decade and change, we’ve seen an almost unprecedented stability prevail in terms of where teams play their spring ball. Before then, though, moves were frequent, and not just from one coastal Florida hamlet to another, or from one position on the ring of Phoenix suburbs to the next. The Cactus League began, in some part, when Bill Veeck decided not to patronize the racist Florida town where his Cleveland club trained until 1947. He moved West, where the Tigers and Yankees had previously made half-hearted attempts to set up shop, and convinced the Giants to come with him. Over the next few decades, as expansion brought full-fledged MLB teams to the West Coast, the desert was slowly populated, but Florida held onto a huge majority of the action.

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