League Structure: Open Baseball League

League Structure: Open Baseball League


This page was last updated on 3/24/2022, when only the page header graphic was added.

Here at RetroPlay.net, there is only one baseball league, the Open Baseball League (OBL). It’s a virtual, retro-active fantasy league, of course, since nobody has the power to actually rewrite history or transport humans — whether alive or dead — throughout its span, and that’s never been my intent at any point during this decades-long project process. Personally speaking, when I see thinly-disguised attempts at wrestling chunks of history in a direction that would turn the truth on its head, my blood pressure spikes; can’t put up with that, even for a minute. So let’s just reiterate some of the main themes and central concepts here, and then we can let the philosophy/politics/whatever rest. Keep in mind: this is all about “mental fun”; we’re not out to prove anything here, it’s just about combining interests and imagining the possibilities, and really, for most people, that’s what fun is, isn’t it? I like baseball history, baseball stats, reading about the game’s personalities, and “What-do-you-suppose-might-happen-if…?” scenarios that bring several of my interests together under one roof, and into one over-arching discussion. It’s fun on the playing field of the mind, and it’s always a great day to play this kind of baseball.

We are now at the culmination of a decades-long dream project, a labor of love, and (I guess I’ll just go ahead and admit it) what someone outside of my own skin might characterize as a relentless quest to satisfy(?) curiosity — through mere, flimsy, statistically-based speculation — about rather trivial questions. Questions like,

  • “What if Major League Baseball franchises had been — right from the start, and right up to the present day — limited to filling rosters with only those born in the same area (city/state/region or nation)?” [Where those born in the same state are — almost without exception — teammates for life]
  • “What if there were no trades or free agency allowed, but everyone born in any place had a team to back (for life) and even be a part of, providing they had the skills to “make the team” and represent the “locals” well?” [Corollary: Wouldn’t generations of locals supporting locals foster loyalty and cohesion? Especially if teams could not just pick up stakes for greener pastures and abandon fans?]
  • Implied by the above: “What if skin color or “foreigner” status had never been a barrier to joining the ranks of the very best ballplayers on the planet?” [Remember, geography is the driving factor here, not “race,” and players can come from any people group there is and be born anywhere God chooses; think about it, no human being has been able to pick the place of their own birth.]
  • “What if we had some statistical measures (metrics) that could be relied upon to predict with reasonable accuracy how a player — or a (new, unprecedented) combination of players — would perform in varying, hypothetical scenarios? Or, what kind of numbers could we expect to see from a “star” of the 1950’s if he — and his fellow “locals” — were to be electronically dropped into the MLB scene of the 1890’s, or 2010, or in any year between 1871 and 2020? Could we use a metrics tool like WAR to project results that would be plausible enough so that we could live with ’em?” [I’d like to point out here that baseball fans and historians have been doing this kind of thing since abacuses went electric through super-computer simulations, personal computer simulations, stat-based table-top games, Rotisserie/Fantasy Leagues, etc.  The RetroPlay system uses WAR because it’s used in my usual baseball hang-outs on the web, I can wrap my head around it and trust it as an apparently fair, single-number indicator of relative performance, and it was the natural successor to the Batting and Pitching Wins system (Thorn and Palmer) with which I started, way back when. Maybe next time around, the Win Shares system of Bill James could be used as the horse to ride; if nothing else, it would be interesting to see if we land on the same players and approach the same collective results.]
  • “What if we went season-by-season — in correct chronological order, from 1871 through 2020 — and used the actual, historical WAR values (calculated after the fact, of course, but applied retroactively) to determine the teams with the highest total WAR in any given year and declare them as the (most likely) champions?” [That’s the whole idea, to get to the “on-paper” virtual champs; just like real life and real baseball history, I suspect we’ll see both dynasties and droughts; regional peaks and valleys as populations shift and the game itself expands from east to west nationally; and as we’ve seen in recent decades, growing dominance coming from “extra-nationals” (the global game of the 21st Century). The opinion here is that team WAR totals based entirely on the historical (actual) MLB (and NLB) records will equip us to make at least educated guesses as to who (which birthplace-based team) would have won the title in each of those replayed/simulated years.]

Well, the tab is titled, “League Structure: Open Baseball League,” so we’d better get to the gist of this. Here are the main things to keep in mind with regard to team-formation;

  • Each birthplace-based team — in order to field a team at all — must gather enough historical “MLB” players (born in that area, whether its territory be narrow or broad in geographical scope) to cover a whole season’s worth of scheduled league games, and cover all 9 field positions in each game. OBL roster sizes follow the historical trends, so that in the beginning years, when MLB teams could get by with less than 15 players (as few as “the nine” plus a floating sub or two) — because a single pitcher usually pitched every inning of every game (remember, they tossed pitches underhand in those days) and only a few dozen games made up a standard “full season” — relatively few players were needed per team. In later years, as rule changes (e.g., pitchers actually throwing and wearing out, and injuries increasing with a faster, more-dangerous game) and greatly-expanded season schedules necessitated increases in roster sizes, increase they did (likewise, then, in the OBL). So, in every era, OBL roster sizes are dictated by actual, historical trends and the unique circumstances of particular years (smaller schedules, war-years, strike years, etc.), but the idea is consistent: gotta cover all the positions, gotta cover all the games. The rosters always have to be set up to do those two things.
  • Goal #1 when drawing (birthplace-based) territorial districts: get the maximum number of historic MLB players onto teams as close to their birthplaces as possible; the more truly local the better, but enlarge the territorial reach as needed to field an adequately-sized team.
  • Goal #2 in defining “player-claim” territory: cast the net wide enough so that every qualifying player has a team to play for (or at least “try out” for). This is one reason the league is designated as “Open” (no matter where you were born, there’s always a team to which you can go to market your skills; no player is born outside the boundaries of the OBL).
  • Since many American states, even at this late date, and for all those 150 years in total, could not field a team’s worth of native-born MLB sons by themselves — and we want to include players born everywhere — the regional approach presents itself as an obvious solution: combine states until a team can be assembled from the combined native sons of the group of states. The only real rule limiting the number of states that can form a regional team is that each member of the group must share a border with one of the other states (contiguous states, though Alaska and Hawaii and island territories/nations are all given a pass on that!). In this way, less-populous states can form teams by merging with others that are similarly-situated. Examples: the 6 states of the New England region; the Deep South states of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana (and Florida, until it could stand alone); and in the clearest example, the lightly-populated Western U.S. states need two or more regional homes. The goals under this heading: combine as few as are needed to fill the rosters and try to do it in a way that makes geographical sense (try to consider natural and historical groupings and NO gerrymandering!).
  • In sum, the goals are first, to give 100% of RetroPlay qualified players a team they can potentially play for, and second, field as many teams possible in any given replayed/simulated season, without stretching rosters too thin (don’t leave a team short-handed or without a real chance to compete).

Okay, let’s see how things ended up after all of the gathering of players into birthplace groups; assigning team territories as judiciously as possible (always aiming for geographical integrity, 100% potential player participation, and competitiveness); and moving along with actual, historical Major League Baseball through the various eras on a “parallel universe” track. Below are four chart-pages that capture franchise composition and changing team-territory assignments as populations shifted and players began to stream in from more and more areas of the globe. Keys to the charts:

  1. The “REGION” column starts with American states (and major urban areas within them to accommodate any “Urban [City-level] League” offshoot one may like to run) and generally proceeds from the East Coast to the West; to the Caribbean-Central American-South American “Latin [-American] Zone,” then to the Pacific Zone, Asia, Africa, and Europe; finally, closing the full circle in Canada. [Incidentally, “CN” is used for its abbreviation — and not “CAN” — in order to be able to abbreviate California-North as CAN after it split off from the general CA (California) franchise; this was designed to facilitate spreadsheet sorting and head off possible confusion];
  2. “ABR” = abbreviation, of course; “CODE” = Regional Code (or, “RC” in appropriate places); states of the U.S. are designated by their usual/official 2-letter abbreviations (including Washington, DC); most extra-national (international) abbreviations follow either official international norms or fairly-intuitive abbreviations; [Tip: to help visualize the regions referred to here, check the Regional Affiliations page]
  3. Among U.S. regional abbreviations: NEL= New England (ME-NH-VT-MA-RI-CT) and NEA= the same American 6 states when allied with extra-national entities; NYE= New York Extended (whenever territorial “claims” were extended to include extra-nationals); OPA= Ohio-Pennsylvania Alliance/Co-op; MAS= Mid-Atlantic-South; MAT= Mid-Atlantic (contraction of MAS); SE= Southeast (NC, SC, and usually GA); DS= Deep South (most often, AL-MS-LA-FL); OHV= Ohio Valley (OH-WV-KY); OH+= (OH plus WV); OHA= Ohio-Appalachia; APP= Appalachia (usually VA-WV-KY-TN); MW= Midwest (IN-MI-WI, and sometimes IL); MRR= Mississippi River Region (MN-IA-MO-AR); WST= Western (states west of the Mississippi River, usually excluding CA); TXL= Texas-Latin America; TX+= TX-OK-NM; CLW= Classic West (usually OK-KS-NE-SD-ND-MT-WY-CO, and sometimes with AZ-UT); FW= Far West (usually NV-ID-OR-WA-AK-HI-Guam-Samoa-Pacific Zone nations, and at times, AZ-UT)


FRANCHISE TRACKING, 1871-2020 (5 chart pages)


4 Teams only, 1871 through ’82 (New England Alliance, New York, Pennsylvania, American Independents)

5th Team added in 1883 (Mid-Atlantic and South [MAS])

9 Teams in 1884 (first 5, though NEA became NEL and NY became NYE, and NYC split off NY) + Ohio Valley (OHV), Midwest (MW), Western (WST), and Canada-Europe (CEU)

7 Teams, 1885 through 1889 (NYC and CEU dropped out until 1890)

9 Teams in 1890 (NYC and CEU added back in)

7 Teams, 1891 through 1900 (NEL-NYE-PA-MAS-OHV-MW-WST)

[3/21/22 Insertion: The chart-pages below may contain “non-finalized” data. If, upon review, discrepancies are found, the affected pages will be updated, though you’ll be informed if/when even minor changes are made. In any case, these chart-pages can help to paint some accurate pictures re: player distribution, and that’s the main point of this section.]


Well, there you have it; the bulk of the franchise-and-personnel infrastructure has been laid out into view:

  1. How teams were formed and which historical MLB (and NLB) players were eligible to fill the respective rosters;
  2. How all of the players born in the same places moved together as teammates, even when territories expanded and contracted;
  3. How the number of OBL teams changed with population shifts and expanded player pools (reflecting historical MLB expansions in roster sizes and league franchise counts;
  4. How many players sharing the same birthplace were active and RetroPlay-qualified in each of the seasons from 1901 through 2020 (for a breakdown of such numbers in the 19th Century, stay tuned; hoping to post that soon on one page or another);
  5. Even how many players were available — region-by-region, territory by territory — the pools from which the respective teams could draw their rosters and starting lineups (think of these as 40-man(+) rosters or system-pools that could usually include players in the high minors; see “AVG. AVAIL. PER TEAM” data for these snapshots). [If you take a close look at how relatively even this number is across the board, you can better appreciate the pains taken to draw territorial lines so that regions had roughly the same number of eligible, potential “roster-ees” from which to draft their personnel, year in and year out. Note, too, that this was done blindly; I looked at numbers of players, and not at who the players were, in order to avoid favoritism/subconscious bias and to keep things neutral as much as possible].

As of Monday night, March 21, 2022, this page is fairly-well updated. The final review of the established data is ongoing site-wide, but only minor tweaks are anticipated for this page. The one thing that I’d like to add soon is an Open Baseball League (OBL) logo, so that’ll be the next project-within-the-project. Check back, stay tuned, and if people still “bookmark,” well, … do that.