Population Article Spurs Baseball Questions

Back in 1950, Houston didn't have quite 600,000 people, but he thought that was pretty good for what the Chamber of Commerce hailed us as "the fat growing city in the south."

Back in 1950, Houston didn’t have quite 600,000 people, but we thought we were doing pretty good when the Chamber of Commerce hailed us as “the fastest growing city in the south.”After all, “bigger was better” – right?


A fascinating local history anecdote on Houston hitting the one million mark in estimated population back in July 1954 caught our attention at Chron.com this morning. Check out “Feels Like a Million” by Chronicle staff writer Elmer Bertelsen.  It’s worth the quick read:


The subject stimulated me to take a look at where Houston stood in 1950 relative to most of the other big population bases cities in 1950 in comparison to where the city stands now on the July 2016 estimated order for our 20 top population municipalities. These stats, of course, do not take a detailed look of the population densities that around each, but id does provide us with a pretty unsurprising confirmation of the fact that USA population continues to shift away from New York and the other early power big cites in northeast to the more hospitable and much easier to reach cities in the south, southwest, and far west. It shouldn’t be long now before #4 Houston catches and surpasses #3 Chicago on the list. And who knows? Houston could even grow into the largest city in the USA sometime between now and 2116.

There have to be much more scholarly thoughts on how probable that Houston as #1 possibility actually is. All I know is, most of us now living will never see it. And for the sake of those who will be, especially including our as-of-yet unborn children and grandchildren, let’s hope we can get a working handle on a mass transit plan that people will actually use in preference to the one-person-per-car congested route we still take on wider and wider “freeways”.

The two graphs that follow show Table A: The Top 20 Cities by Population in 1950 and Table B: The Top 20 Cities By Estimated population Through July 2016.

Table A: The Top 20 Cities by Population in 1950

1 NEW YORK 7,891,957
2 CHICAGO 3,620,962
3 PHILADELPHIA 2,071,605
4 LOS ANGELES 1,970,358
5 DETROIT 1,849,568
6 BALTIMORE    949,708
7 CLEVELAND    914,808
8 ST. LOUIS    856,796
9 WASHINGTON, DC    802,178
10 BOSTON    801,444
11 SAN FRANCISCO    775,357
12 PITTSBURGH    676,806
13 MILWAUKEE    637,392
14 HOUSTON    596,163
15 BUFFALO    580,132
16 NEW ORLEANS    570,445
17 MINNEAPOLIS    521,718
18 CINCINNATI    503,998
19 SEATTLE    467,591
20 KANSAS CITY    456,622

Interesting to Note. In 1950, there were 16 MLB clubs. But only 12 of the the 20 biggest cities hosted a major league club. New York which includes Brooklyn, hosted 3 clubs. Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and St. Louis hosted 2 clubs each; and Pittsburgh, Washington DC, Cleveland, Detroit, and Cincinnati each hosted a single club. 9 of the above cities from 1920 that had no MLB club representation; these included Baltimore, San Francisco, Milwaukee, Houston, Buffalo, New Orleans, Minneapolis, Seattle, and Kansas City. Of those 9. only two cities – Buffalo and New Orleans – would remain out of the big leagues through 2016.

Table B: The Top 20 Cities By Estimated Population Through July 2016

1 NEW YORK 8,491,079
2 LOS ANGELES 3,928,864
3 CHICAGO 2,722,389
4 HOUSTON 2,239,558
5 PHILADELPHIA 1,560,297
6 PHOENIX 1,537,058
7 SAN ANTONIO 1,436,697
8 SAN DIEGO 1,381,069
9 DALLAS 1,281,047
10 SAN JOSE CA 1,015,785
11 AUSTIN    912,791
12 JACKSONVILLE FL    853,382
13 SAN FRANCISCO    852,469
14 INDIANAPOLIS    848,788
15 COLUMBUS OH    835,957
16 FORT WORTH    812,238
17 CHARLOTTE NC    809,958
18 DETROIT    680,250
19 EL PASO TX    679,036
20 SEATTLE    668,342

Table B Notes: In 2016, 12 of America’s most populous cities are home by city or county, or by contiguous county proximity to 17 of the current 30 MLB clubs. The Texas Rangers make Arlington, TX their home, but their larger fan bases cover them to the immediate east and West By Dallas and Fort Worth. The San Francisco Bay Area includes San Francisco and Oakland, but these franchises also are located very close to San Jose CA too. And remember too – one of the MLB franchises that does not appear here is the Canadian entry, the Toronto Blue Jays.

The shifts in population density are compelling evidence that nothing stays the same. The Question that turns here with great curiosity is more centered on what goes into the best decision-making about establishing or relocating a franchise to a new site besides population. In this changing world, does MLB thinking still give the most weight to the city with the largest population density. And do some baseball people still assume that a large population center is their best bet? Or did they ever think.

Common sense seems to say that a new owner would need to s good handle on positive answers to these questions before he moved his business anywhere:

How do we know there any baseball fans where we hope locate? Will they be able to afford MLB games on some kind of regular basis? Will getting to the games be feasible – or will problems with public transit, traffic, and parking just keep people away? Will fans actually attend games, or will they prefer to stay home and watch them on HD television? What does our research tell us we will need to do make the MLB brand appealing to the fans in this area – and let’s just assume that they will expect us to win – and go right after the best ongoing profile we need to build on what the fans want from us to the extent that they actually bond to the fortunes and fates of our club?


We would love to hear your take on what these numbers mean to each of you.


 Bill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas



2 Responses to “Population Article Spurs Baseball Questions”

  1. gregclucas Says:

    What probably matters most is “metro” population. You won’t see cities like St. Louis or Boston listed but their metro area is packed. It is the same with Chicago. While Houston likely will surpass Chicago in city population it’s metro (slightly behind DAFW) is not that close to Chicago. But it is “metro” population that has its greatest benefit if public transit, parking around the stadiums and–perhaps even more important–long term habits of going to games exist. Also, proximity to other MLB markets is a factor in the TV age since a franchise that capitalized on the San Antonio-Austin population corridor, for example, would likely not get great support from the Texas Rangers or Houston Astros unless both those franchises were at the peak of their success and it had been established long term. Thus they had little to fear in loss of fan base.

    Professional football remains the best bet for “new” markets thanks to its much fewer games and need to fill stadiums only about ten times per year.

  2. David Munger Says:

    This is kinda of a different thought, how much does an MLB Team bring to a Host City with 81 home dates. A sobering statistic to me was when the Oilers left town, those in the know said the City of Houston only lost the equivalent of a large anchor Department store in a Prominent Mall. I was caught off guard because they meant more than that to me. Another surprise to me was the morning I woke up and the Astros became an American League Team. I might be prejudiced my I’m a National League guy, born and bread lol. (Bill knows why I misspelled bread) My question is, how would a city benifit the most….by being in the American League or by being in the National Leagu

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