We all know the Toronto Maple Leafs, one of hockey's Original Six franchises. They haven't won the Stanley Cup in a while, but they're still an iconic team with an incredibly dedicated fanbase. Even the average joe could point out their famous blue and white leaf logo from a crowd.
What many don't know is that there was another team in the city called the Maple Leafs, and they date back way earlier, to the 19th century. This team played a different game; not hockey, but baseball. The Leafs baseball club were a minor league team, playing in the International League for their entire history (1896-1967).
The Leafs aren't as well known as some other minor league teams, like the Montreal Royals for example. The Royals were the team that Jackie Robinson broke in with before being promoted to the Dodgers, so they have a bit more cultural cachet. The two teams actually played in the same league and went head-to-head in the finals of 1943, '52, and '58, with Montreal taking two out of three.
Though the Royals had their rival's number both on and off the field, the Leafs do have a few stories to tell. Before moving into Maple Leaf Stadium, where they spent most of their history, the Leafs played at Hanlon's Point on Toronto's Centre Island. And in 1914, that would be where Babe Ruth hit is very first professional dinger. Because the Bambino, then with the Providence Grays, was focusing on pitching at that time, it would be his only minor league home run. He would go on to hit a few more in the majors, though.
Hitting fast forward, the Leafs had coaching legend Sparky Anderson on their side as both player and manager in the 1960s. He would go on to lead the Reds to back-to-back World Series titles in 1975 and '76, and won with the Tigers in '84 as well. Other notable players for the Leafs were Elston Howard, who went on to have a good career catching for the Yankees, and Al Cicotte, the great-grandnephew of one of the infamous "Black Sox," Eddie Cicotte.
The Leafs even got their own Jackie Robinson moment, though it was brief; number 42 donned their uniform for a media event at Maple Leaf Stadium in 1962. There is photo evidence of this, though Robinson doesn't look particularly pleased about the experience. Perhaps he felt like he was cheating on the Royals!
Despite a high level of play and some notable names coming through, the Leafs struggled for attendance in the '60s, mostly due to the increasing age of Maple Leaf Stadium. With costly renovations needed, ownership instead decided to sell the team to an American businessman, who moved the team to Louisville after the 1967 season. Toronto would not be without baseball for long, however, getting the Major League Blue Jays ten years later.