Multi-level movers

This page is dedicated to keeping tabs on minor league team identities, both past and present, that were moved from one affiliation level to another. Many times in the history of the minors, team identities will go dormant in one league and then later be resuscitated in another league years later. This is not a record of that phenomenon, but rather when there is identity continuity from one season to the next, but at a different affiliation level. Essentially, this is when teams are either promoted or demoted, and there are a few reasons that this has happened in the modern era. One big one is MLB expansion, which can lead to minor league expansion and identities being promoted. Another is “double relocation,” wherein a team is moved, but then another team at another level is moved into the vacated location.

Standard live-page caveats apply: these teams played in the post-1962 modern era and this is not yet a comprehensive list of these teams.

Upward Movers

Team identities that moved from a lower level of the minors to a higher level in the minors. 

Buffalo Bisons (Double-A to Triple-A) The Bisons identity was a mainstay of the International League from 1912-1970. After a near decade-long hiatus, the identity re-emerged in the Double-A Eastern League in ’79. In 1985, they moved back up to the Triple-A level with the American Association. After the AA disbanded in ’97, they became part of the International League once again.

Charlotte Knights (Double-A to Triple-A) The first version of the Charlotte Knights began when the Charlotte O’s and their Baltimore namesake broke affiliation after the 1988 season. Charlotte linked up with the Cubs and opted to ride the wave of unique minor league identities that was swelling at the time. The new Knights were boosted from Double-A to Triple-A after the 1992 season, in anticipation of MLB expansion with the Rockies and Marlins. On paper, this was Triple-A expansion, with Charlotte and the Ottawa Lynx added to the International League, but it was effectively an identity promotion. The Knights play in the IL to this day.

Durham Bulls (Class A-Advanced to Triple-A) There were teams called the Durham Bulls that slugged it out in the lower minors in the first half of the twentieth century, but we’re talking about the modern era Bulls that have been in continuous existence since 1980. Durham competed in the Carolina League from ’80 up through the time of their national exposure in the film Bull Durham; which incidentally, was released around the time that the Carolina League was specialized as Class A-Advanced rather than merely Single-A. Miles Wolff and the Bulls rode the success of the film all the way to the top. They successfully pushed for a new Triple-A caliber ballpark, and when MLB expanded with Arizona and Tampa Bay in the late nineties, the Bulls’ identity was promoted two levels. Durham has been Tampa’s Triple-A affiliate for over twenty years now.

Erie SeaWolves (Class A-Short Season to Double-A) The SeaWolves began when the New York Penn League’s Welland Pirates were moved across the border from Ontario to another city on Lake Erie–this one in Pennsylvania. Erie took on a DimDer identity of their parent club in Pittsburgh, and toiled as a short-season team for four seasons. In 1998, even though the Diamondbacks and Devil Rays were actively playing in the majors, neither had a Double-A affiliate. This was rectified the following season when the Eastern League expanded by two with the Altoona Curve and Erie SeaWolves. One downside of the identity promotion is that the local team, the Pirates, chose the Curve as their affiliate rather than Erie. This didn’t deter the SeaWolves, though, and they have continued swashbuckling as a Vesigial DimDer–first with the Angels and then, since 2001, with their current Detroit Tigers.

Memphis Blues (Double-A to Triple-A)  In the late sixties, the Texas League had a 5-state footprint, stretching just across the Mississippi River at its easternmost. In some ways, the Memphis Blues are the perfect representative team of the 1971 Texas League/Southern League merger, playing in the Central Division–sandwiched somewhere between Albuquerque and Jacksonville. But that’s a story for another day. After the 1973 season, the Blues went from being the Double-A affiliate of the Mets to being the Triple-A club for the Expos. After three years in the International League, the franchise “forfeited” back to the league, being contracted in favor of expansion to Charleston, West Virginia.

Nashville Sounds (Double-A to Triple-A) The first Sounds were a Southern League expansion team in 1978, and toiled on the Double-A circuit through 1984.  After that season, the Sounds’ owner bought the (Triple-A) American Association’s Evansville Triplets and moved them to Nashville–also moving his Double-A franchise to Huntsville, Alabama. Since then, Nashville has been a Triple-A baseball city, shifting to the Pacific Coast League after the American Association’s dissolution in 1997.

Pawtucket Red Sox (Double-A to Triple-A) The first team called the Pawtucket Red Sox began when the Eastern League’s Pittsfield Red Sox were moved to Rhode Island after the 1969 season. After three years at the Double-A level, the PawSox were promoted when the most recent version of the Louisville Colonels franchise was moved to Pawtucket. To make room, the EL franchise was moved to Connecticut–first Bristol, then New Britain, and now Hartford, where the Yard Goats play to this day.

Round Rock Express (Double-A to Triple-A) Hall-of-Famer Nolan Ryan’s family bought the Texas League’s old Jackson (MS) Generals franchise in the late nineties, and in 2000, they moved them to Round Rock, Texas–about equidistant from two of Ryan’s old teams: the Rangers and Astros. The Express were Houston’s Double-A affiliate for five seasons, but in 2005, the Pacific Coast League’s Edmonton Trappers were smuggled over the border and placed in Round Rock, where they became the Astros’ new Triple-A affliliate. They switched parent clubs to the Rangers in 2011, and then flipped back to the ‘Stros after the 2018 season.

San Antonio Missions (Double-A to Triple-A) San Antonio fielded a team in the Texas League going back to the 19th century, and on-and-off since the thirties, that team was called the Missions. Following the 2018 season, the team was moved to Amarillo, and in a concurrent move, the Pacific Coast League’s Colorado Springs Sky Sox moved to San Antonio. The new Triple-A team carried on the old Texas League identity.

Salt Lake City Bees (Rookie to Triple-A) Teams in Salt Lake City called the Bees buzzed around between various leagues prior to the modern era, but this example of a multi-level mover happened at the close of the sixties, when Neil Armstrong’s footprints on the moon were still fresh. In 1969, the San Diego Padres were something of a multi-level mover, being “promoted” from the Pacific Coast League to the National League. The new MLB expansion team needed some minor league affiliates, and one of their first was the Salt Lake City Bees of the Pioneer League. The next season, the Bees flew up from the bottom to the top–landing in the Pacific Coast League themselves.

Tidewater Tides (Single-A to Triple-A) This one is a little complicated. A new team was founded in the South Atlantic League in 1961 called the Portsmouth-Norfolk Tides, and this was when the Sally League was what we now call the Southern League. After the post-1962 upheaval, the team was set to fold, but instead became an expansion team in the Class A Carolina League and called themselves the Tidewater Tides. It’s a little murky to say that this was a multi-level mover, because level designators in the pre-modern era don’t always align with the modern era. Sure, the old Sally League became the Double-A Southern League, but the Tides changed with the rising tide of the minors as a whole. Instead, let’s talk about what happened in 1969. The original version of the Jacksonville Suns, who played in the International League, moved up the coast and settled in a new ballpark in Norfolk, Virginia. They took on the Tidewater Tides identity, and eventually changed their name to the current Norfolk Tides. I’m not entirely sure what happened to the Double-A Tides, but they were likely one of two teams contracted from the Carolina League after the 1968 season.

Downward Movers

Team identities that moved from a higher level of the minors to a lower level in the minors. 

Asheville Tourists (Double-A to Single-A) The first Tourist teams began play in 1915 and bounced around several leagues–maintaining the same identity through 1975. In the modern era, they switched from Double-A to Single-A in 1976. A fun fact about the Tourists is that they were a part of the Double-A version of the South Atlantic League before and as became the Southern League, and they were a member of the Western Carolinas League when it became the Single-A version of the South Atlantic League, where they play today.

Arkansas Travelers (Triple-A to Double-A) When the International League expanded in 1963, one of the new teams at the Triple-A level was called the Arkansas Travelers. Travel must have been difficult, so in ’64, they transferred to the Pacific Coast League. In 1966, it seems that they switched places with the Tulsa Oilers, moving down to the Double-A Texas League, where they play today.

Carolina Mudcats (Double-A to Class A-Advanced) The Carolina Mudcats were a Southern League identity from 1991-2011, when they were moved to Pensacola, Florida. In a seamless transition, the High-A Carolina League’s Kinston Indians were moved to North Carolina, where they took on the precise identity of the old Southern League team.

Syracuse Chiefs (“Triple-A” to Single-A to Triple-A) The first team called the Syracuse Chiefs played in the International League from 1934 to 1955. In the early years, the IL was considered a Double-A league, but it was also the highest classification of the minors and on the same level with the Pacific Coast League and American Association. For the ’56 season, the IL franchise moved and an Eastern League (then Single-A) franchise occupied MacArthur Stadium for two seasons, calling themselves the Syracuse Chiefs.  After that team moved away, Syracuse was without affiliated ball until 1961, when a different International League franchise moved to town. The Chiefs were close to being a yo-yo team (see below) but the continuity gap excludes them from that phenomenon. The new Triple-A team retook the old Chiefs moniker and used it up through 2018, minus ten seasons as the SkyChiefs. This franchise plays in the IL as the Syracuse Mets today.

Vancouver Canadians (Triple-A to Class A-Short Season) In 1978, the Pacific Coast League expanded by two, providing enough Triple-A teams to accommodate all 26 MLB teams after the American League’s addition of the Blue Jays and Mariners. One of the expansion teams was a team that played in Vancouver, British Columbia, and called itself the Canadians. This team played in the PCL right up until after the 1999 season, when they moved to Sacramento and became the River Cats. Vancouver started fresh in the new millennium when the Northwest League’s Southern Oregon Timberjacks moved north of the border and took on the old PCL identity. It’s a precipitous drop from the top of the affiliation ladder to the bottom rungs, but the Vancouver Canadians continue to this day.

Yo-yo identities

Team identities that moved from one level of the minors to another, only to bounce back in the direction they came from. 

Elmira Pioneers (Single-A to Double-A to Single-A) The city of Elmira, New York has had a handful of teams called the Pioneers over the years, but were focusing on the teams of the latter half of the 20th century. After the Eastern League’s Pioneers took a one-year hiatus in 1956, the identity re-emerged in the New York-Penn League. They spun back up to the Eastern League in ’62 and stayed there for about a decade in the post-upheaval era as a Double-A team.  They took a one-year COTOB break in ’71 as the Elmira Royals before returning to the Pioneers identity the next year. The next year after that, in 1973, the identity was shuffled back down to, you guessed it, the New York Penn-League. If you play with your yo-yo too much, eventually the string breaks. The Pioneers were bounced from affiliated ball after the 1995 season, but they did re-emerge as a Vampire Identity in the summer collegiate leagues.

Eugene Emeralds (Class A-Short Season to Triple-A to Class A-Short Season) The Eugene Emeralds were founded in 1955 as a member of the Northwest League. For much of the sixties, they were an affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate in those days was the Pacific Coast League’s San Diego Padres. After the 1968 season, the Padres were essentially promoted from the PCL to the majors, leaving Philly without a Triple-A team. The PCL Padres franchise was moved to Eugene for the 1969 season, and affiliated with the Phillies, who had been familiar with the Oregon city from their affiliation in the Northwest League. But what comes up must come down. After five seasons at the Triple-A level, the franchise was moved to Sacramento, where they became the final incarnation of the Solons. The Emeralds identity, however, didn’t miss a beat. They returned to the Northwest League, where they play to this day.

Hagerstown Suns (Single-A to Double-A to Single-A) Hagerstown, Maryland, is in one of the few regions in the US that could lead to a team identity existing in three separate leagues, and they made good on that potential. The dawn of the Suns came in 1981, when the Rocky Mount Pines of the Carolina League moved to Maryland and became a Single-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. After the 1988 season, the Carolina League franchise moved to nearby Frederick, and the Suns identity continued in the Double-A Eastern League. I’m not 100% sure, but I think that either the Pittsfield Cubs franchise moved to Hagerstown or there was some sort of contraction/expansion scenario. Either way, the Eastern League Suns were the Orioles’ Double-A affiliate up through the 1992 season, when they moved down the road yet again to Bowie, Maryland, becoming the BaySox. Immediately, the Single-A South Atlantic League’s Myrtle Beach Hurricanes franchise relocated Hagerstown and took on the Suns identity. By that time, though, the distinction between “high-A” and “low-A” was more defined, and so Hagerstown dropped two rungs on the affiliation ladder. The Suns shine in the Sally League to this day.

Spokane Indians (Triple-A to Single-A to Triple-A to Single-A) Minor league baseball teams in Spokane, Washington, have been called the Indians for most of their years, dating back over 100 years and with continuous use since 1940. In the forties and fifties, they toiled in the Northwest League and its precursor, the Western International (or “Willy”) League. The team blinked out of existence in 1957, but reappeared at a much higher level the following season. The glory days of the Pacific Coast League, when it was essentially a third major league, were broken by the relocation of the Dodgers and Giants to the largest west coast markets. One of the displaced teams, the Los Angeles Angels, moved to Spokane and assumed the Indians identity. That continued until 1971, when the team was moved to Albuquerque, becoming the Dukes. In ’72, the Indians moved back to the Northwest League, displacing the Medford Dodgers, but that arrangement only lasted for that season. In 1973, the second version of the Portland Beavers moved to Spokane and the Indians were once again at the Triple-A level. But wait, there’s more! In 1982, the PCL franchise moved to Las Vegas and became the Stars, and the Spokane Indians reappeared in, you guess it, the Northwest League. Now that is a lot of yo-yo action! A handful of today’s minor league teams (El Paso Chihuahuas, Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, Las Vegas Aviators, possibly more) can trace their franchise lineage to teams that were called the Spokane Indians. The team eventually found stability in the Northwest League, where they have played since 1983.

Honorable mention

It was only a one-year gap!

The Jacksonville Suns identity very nearly made the seamless transition from the Triple-A International League to the Double-A Southern League, but there was a one-year….uh…seam in 1969, when the city of Jacksonville just took a break from minor league baseball. The old Triple-A franchise is now the Norfolk Tides and the Double-A franchise is now called the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.

It was only a two-decade gap…and in a neighboring city!

The Seattle Rainiers were a staple of the Pacific Coast League, including during the six seasons when the PCL was effectively a third major league. The Rainiers went dormant after the Mariners came to town, but erupted again about twenty years later when the PCL’s Tacoma Tigers changed their name to the Tacoma Rainiers in 1995. Tacoma is only a stone’s throw from Seattle proper, and they adopted the old identity in tribute to the former PCL franchise–even using a similarly-styled R on caps. To tie it together even more, the Rainiers have been the Triple-A affiliate of the Mariners since they took on the old Seattle moniker.

Minors and majors

In MLB’s expansion bonanza of the mid-20th century, there were a few instances of minor league identities essentially being “promoted” to the majors, not unlike how a prospect moves up to the big leagues. Some of these identities, such as the Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Angels, and Dallas/Texas Rangers were resurrected after a time gap, while two teams jumped right up seamlessly.

The Baltimore Orioles went from playing the ’53 season in the International League to playing the ’54 season in the American League after the St. Louis Browns moved east. That IL franchise spent some time as the Richmond Virginians before becoming the current iteration of the Toledo Mud Hens.

The San Diego Padres played the 1968 season in the Pacific Coast League before the identity was transferred to one of the National League expansion teams in 1969. The old PCL franchise bounced from Eugene to Sacramento to San Jose to Ogden to Edmonton to Round Rock, Texas, where they play today as the Express.

It also bears mentioning that two American League identities were essentially “demoted” from the majors to the minors, though it was so early on in the formation of the AL that it is a muted effect. After the 1901 season, the Milwaukee Brewers identity went down the American Association. Likewise, the Baltimore Orioles flew on down to the Eastern League (precursor to the International League) in 1902. Obviously, both of these identities yo-yo’d back up to the majors eventually.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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