The Expos Are History in Montreal- Right After Hell Freezes Over

By John Brattain/MLBtalk

The Montreal Expos are history.

Here's how it's going to go down. Santa's sleigh will land just outside of Olympic Stadium November 1st. Mr. Claus will be adorned in a red pinstripe number with a fancy 'W' on his cap and he'll have his sled pulled by ten tiny reindeer named First Baseman, Second Baseman Third Baseman, Shortstop, the triplets; Left, Right and Center Fielder (no relation to Cecil), Catcher, Pitcher and Closer. They'll load up the bats, the balls, Youppi's costume and Vlad's MVP trophy and fly off to Washington D.C. land just outside a beautiful new stadium that makes Camden Yards look like the Metrodome by comparison, not only is there free rent, but the fans will gladly pay $200 a pop for bleacher seats and the park, club seats and luxury boxes are sold out in perpetuity. Cheering throngs will greet the new team and Peter Angelos will be leading the parade honoring the arriving Expos. The Washington Expos will go on to retire the World Series trophy, the Players' Association will agree to a salary cap, George Steinbrenner and Rupert Murdoch will lead a movement to introduce full revenue sharing, the world will decide to enact full disarmament, world hunger will be no more, John Rocker will be named president of the NAACP, Scott Boras will be named commissioner and we'll all live happily ever after.

Hey, if you're into fantasies, may as well make 'em big.

Of course -- with the exception of Guerrero's MVP trophy -- this account is obviously pure fiction.

Roll call

In 1979 Washington insider -- and part owner of the Washington Redskins -- Edward Bennet Williams purchased the Baltimore Orioles from Jerry Hoffberger. The Orioles had been discussing the possibility of replacing Memorial Stadium for about a decade before then. Williams told the Washington Post shortly thereafter: "For as long as the city (note: not the fans, but the city) will support the team it [the Orioles] will stay here."
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and American League president Lee MacPhail went public with their approval of a new stadium between Baltimore and Washington D.C.
The Orioles are still in Baltimore.

The May 30th 1990 issue of the Cleveland Plain Dealer ran an article entitled: "Baseball Chief Opposes City Losing Indians but Says Move Is Possible." It was based on Fay Vincent's visit to the Cleveland city council where he warned that the Indians had met three of the four criteria for an approved move: the team was losing money, the team had poor attendance and if a new stadium was not built, it would indicate to the 'Lords of Baseball' that city support was lacking for the Tribe.

The Indians are still in Cleveland.

The Houston Chronicle ran an article on August 8th 1996 entitled : "Baseball officials want Houston to hurry stadium plans." The article quoted National League president Len Coleman as saying: "We want to do all we can to keep a team in Houston. However if we cannot strike some kind of agreement with regards to stadiums ... I don't think we would ask a businessman to lose millions of dollars each year." Earlier that year the Chronicle posted this headline (June 19th 1996) "Threat of Astros moving to Virginia remains alive."
The Astros are still in Houston.

The Giants we sold to Tampa Bay interests, the league nixed it. The Giants are still in San Francisco.

In an earlier interview on 'Sportstalk' with Neil deMause mentioned "In Jay Weiner's new book 'Stadium Games,' he reveals how the Minnesota Twins' threat to move to North Carolina -- which took up untold thousands of column inches in 1997, and was deemed a done deal by otherwise sensible members of the media -- was in fact concocted by members of the governor's staff, who wanted to leverage the threat to arm-twist the legislature into coughing up money for a new park. (It didn't work, and the Twins stayed put). A decade ago, the governor of Illinois did the same thing, telling the owners of the Chicago White Sox to pretend to move to St. Petersburg, Florida, in order to force a stadium deal." In fact, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (May 1st 1997) reported Bud Selig issuing this dire proclamation: "if there isn't anything on the horizon to change the economics, baseball will allow that club to move. We'll have no alternative."
Suffice it to say the White Sox and Twins are still in Chicago and Minnesota respectively.

Do you see a pattern emerging here?

Getting back to the present

May 7th 2000: "The Commish was in the house yesterday. And baseball commissioner Bud Selig reiterated what just about everyone involved - with the possible exception of some anonymous local shareholders - believes: that without a new stadium in Montreal, there is no team in Montreal." Selig went on to say: "For the Expos, a downtown stadium is a necessity. It was here in Milwaukee. It is in Pittsburgh, it was in Atlanta."

May 28th 2000: Montreal Gazette: "Loria and his son, David Samson, have failed spectacularly. They have failed ... with the new stadium initiative that is the only hope for the long-term survival of the Montreal partners. Now, barring a miracle, the Expos are playing their final season in Montreal. At least one veteran baseball reporter believes their real intention is to move the Expos to New York - probably to the Meadowlands in New Jersey in the beginning - with the help of their still-unseen New York partners."

As Yogi Berra said: "It's deja vu all over again."

There's a method to the madness of major league baseball owners. The way they run the industry is to maximize leverage -- with leverage comes financial muscle. Ownership has deliberately allowed there to be less major league teams than markets that can support them. The threat of relocation is what prompted the cities of Chicago, Baltimore, Cleveland, San Francisco, Seattle, Texas, Houston, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and San Diego to approve stadium bills. San Francisco was built with a fair bit of private money because when push came to shove it was too good a market to vacate. That's why George Steinbrenner will never leave New York City for New Jersey and the Red Sox will be in Boston forever.

Up to the time the Devil Rays were sired by the 'Lords' Tampa Bay was the favorite blackmail gambit for teams seeking publicly funded stadiums. The Giants, Orioles, Indians, White Sox and Rangers all stated that they were looking seriously at Tampa Bay. The 'city/cities du jour' now for ownership are Portland, Washington/Northern Virginia, Charlotte and Sacramento. Of course these areas were considered not viable sites for expansion franchises but I guess nobody thinks about that much.

So much for threats. All the more so when you consider that Charlotte turned down a stadium funding bill and there's no immediate plans to build publicly funded facilities in Portland, Washington/Northern Virginia, Charlotte and Sacramento. Oh well.

Many Expos' fans bemoan the fact that major league baseball doesn't care much for them. Well rest assured -- they don't. More specifically they don't care for the Expos, still more specifically they don't care to do much for the Expos, including relocating [them]. The simple fact of the matter is, major league baseball owners live by a simple credo: 'look out for number one.' Let's suppose for a moment that the Expos are allowed to move to Washington D.C. Then Boston, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Oakland and Florida can't threaten to move there. Or if a team's lease at their (relatively) new park expires they can't use it as leverage against their host cities. Perhaps they're not enough votes there superficially to veto a relocation vote but bear in mind that certain owners form blocs among themselves. Bowie Kuhn in his memoirs stated it was such a bloc that did in his commissionership in baseball.

Leaving that aside, suppose the Expos are allowed to leave, where will they go -- really? Will they be any happier at RFK in Washington than they would in the Big Owe? There's few luxury boxes and club seating, the necessary revenue streams required to compete in the new millennium. Will they build a new stadium on the public dime? Charlotte has already said no. What about Sacramento and Portland? Is there any plans real or imagined to build a state-of-the-art baseball park in those cities? The Montreal Gazette posted an article June 5th this year where columnist Jack Todd opined: "Ultimately, even if the fans came back, the Big O can't generate the revenue to meet a major-league payroll in the 21st century. Not even close. To do that you need mega-luxury boxes and corporate support, which the Expos will never get at the Big O no matter how well they play." Does Charlotte have 'mega-luxury boxes and corporate support' for the Expos? Does Washington? Does Portland or Sacramento? They'll have the fans perhaps, but as was mentioned in the Gazette, fan support isn't enough. There's nothing even in the remotest planning stages in these cities to build a state-of-the-art ballpark. If the Expos were to decide to relocate, how long would it take to get a new stadium built in it's new locale? Tom Yawkey first made noises about wanting to replace Fenway back in the late 1960's, Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn began stumping for a new park almost from the time the ink was dry on the check they wrote to acquire the White Sox back in 1981. The Tigers tried to jump on the new stadium boom back in the late 1960's only to come up empty. The effort began to pick up against in earnest in the mid 1980's, ditto Cleveland and San Francisco etc. Simply put,, the time needed to get a stadium from the idea stage to where the first pitch is thrown in it takes years, in some cases a decade or more. So to think that the Expos can just pull up stakes and go and have a new playground with the necessary 'mega-luxury boxes and corporate support' is just plain naive.

Of course there's always been another baseball tradition that accompanies franchise relocations -- lawsuits. Despite how allegedly abysmal a team's support was, hell hath no fury of a city scorned. Baseball hates lawsuits, even more, baseball hates jilted cities threatening to have their antitrust exemption revoked. Just because Montreal is located outside of the United States, it's still part of an industry located in the United States ... major league baseball.

Over the last couple of decades a lot of teams have threatened to leave their cities but such an occurrence has not happened in close to three decades. Generally the easiest way for baseball to handle a Montreal-esque situation is to threaten, bluster, issue interminable deadlines until the situation resolves itself. Drayton McLane issued deadline after deadline each time the consequences became more dire. However the Astros remain in Houston.

This much is certain with management, what they release to the press isn't the 'straight goods' but rather they plant things there to gauge reaction. The 'doom and gloom' scenarios regarding Montreal's future is in all likelihood an effort to build pressure within the fan base, local corporations, broadcast companies and the Quebec government to up the ante a bit: in other words asking for more fans show up, to get more financial backing/investment from local business, get local T.V. /radio to increase their offers for broadcast rights and of course, seeing if [Quebec premier] Lucien Bouchard will increase their pledge toward a new stadium.

The 'Lords of Baseball's modus operandi has been to take the line of least resistance. It's far easier to issue threats than it is follow through on them. Considering the time (and trouble) it would take for a major league facility to be built in a different city, the expenses of the inevitable lawsuits from aggrieved parties in Quebec, to get 75% of ownership to agree to let the Expos move (thereby lessening their own leverage with their host cities) it's in ownership's best interests to accept the status quo. Deadlines will be issued, threats will be made, 'moving vans are backing up to the Big Owe' headlines will appear frequently, Montreal will be given more 'last chances' than Steve Howe and Darryl Strawberry combined and during all this, the Expos will improve, they'll contend, the fans of 1994 will reappear, broadcast companies will realize the value of the Expos for programming and most likely -- as has happened over the last 28 years -- something will happen that will result in a new stadium being built for the Expos.

History repeats itself and it will again.

The Montreal Expos -- get used to it.

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