|The Death of Montreal Baseball|
Written by Daniel Paulling (Contact & Archive) on October 02, 2004
I love the Montreal Expos. Wait, who? Oh, I mean the Washington DC Expos. Wednesday night was the last Major League game played in Montreal if all goes according to plan for the relocation of Les Expos.
“This was a team that had to be moved,” Commissioner Bud Selig said when he announced that he had authorized the Expos move to Washington DC. “We knew it had to relocate. Baseball didn’t want to own it anymore. This was a team owned by baseball that we were anxious to get rid of.”
And the Expos were anxious to get rid of Major League baseball. During MLB’s duration of ownership, the team lost superstars Javier Vazquez, Vladimir Guerrero, and Bartolo Colon as well as Orlando Hernandez, Michael Barrett, and Orlando Cabrera.
Before the announcement of the move, Pierre Arsenault, a former bullpen coach of the Expos and current one with the Florida Marlins, said “It’s like you have a family member that’s really sick, and you anticipate the death. It’s sad. It really feels like this might be it. It might be the last time we ever set foot in Olympic Stadium to play a major league ballgame. My son is five years old. This is all about kids in the province that love baseball who won’t have idols to come and watch. It’s deeper than having a team leaving.”
In 1969 the Expos were born and people began to fall in love with them immediately. Over the years conditions have deteriorated to the point of outright dismissal. The retractable roof doesn’t retract and heckles from the crowd are heard throughout the entire stadium easily.
But there were two bright spots on Expos history. Well, almost. In 1994 the Montreal Expos had the best record in Major League baseball with ace Pedro Martinez leading the pitching staff. There was almost no doubt they would have defeated the Atlanta Braves in the regular season and have done very well in the postseason. The other highpoint in their history is the year 1981, when they almost made the World Series, being eliminated by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But now, pending a $440 million financing plan, ¾ of owners approval (considered a formality), and a new owner, the Montreal baseball experiment dies and Washington gets a third chance at having a team.
Perhaps things are for the best, though. The Expos could probably use a change of scenery, as Montreal was not a high choice for free agents to sign and perhaps the fan base in Washington will be more plentiful than in Montreal, which shouldn’t be that difficult.
So what does the future hold for the Montreal Expos?
The biggest factor to deal with must be dealt with now is getting an owner for the team, which MLB should deal for a bargain. Once a plausible owner has been selected, then the team must get the $440 million necessary to fit RFK Stadium for playing baseball and a new stadium constructed, which will take at least three years from start. Then the team must bring in a new General Manager, as Omar Minaya will be returning to the New York Mets front office. I believe the choice of Jim Bowden, of Cincinnati Reds fame, would be a great pick. He could always put together a decent team with mid-market payroll.
There are a few concerns as to the new Expos situation, beyond actually getting the stuff done to move this team.
“I watched baseball back in the 50’s and 60’s move teams without any thought to what it was doing to existing franchises,” Selig said. “We don’t want to hurt the existing franchises. On the other hand, we want to go to the best places possible. I have a responsibility to make every decision based on the best interest of the sport.”
So what was Mr. Selig referring to? The Baltimore Orioles, namely owner Peter Angelos. Washington DC is just 35 miles from Baltimore and is most definitely going to be a distraction to the fans of the Orioles. So MLB and Angelos are working on a deal; speculation says that Angelos will receive an equity stake in a new regional sports network that would exceed the Washington team’s and an assurance from baseball that the value of the Orioles will not be reduced through competition with the new team. Rumor also has it that MLB will make up any shortfall in Orioles revenue if attendance falls below a certain figure.
“I believe Peter has been treated fairly,” said the Commish. “We came to the conclusion that there has to be equity on all sides. I’m confident with what has been done.”
So pending a few things, the Expos will be moved. Pending a few other things, the Expos will be a very competitive team in a few years. Things aren’t that dismal for Les Expos.