End of the Expos in Montreal

By Jack Todd/The Gazette

And without a new stadium, the Expos are on their way elsewhere - after next season, if not immediately following the current season.

Characteristically, Jeffrey Loria and David Samson failed to inform anyone of their decision after sending a letter to Canada Lands dated Aug. 21, stating that the club had no intention of renewing its lease option on the property bounded by Peel St. on the east, Mountain St. on the West, St. Jacques St. on the north and Notre Dame St. on the south. Instead, it was left to Canada Lands spokesman Gordon McIvor to drop the bad news in an interview with TVA.

"Now that we've gotten this news, unless the Expos change their mind between now and Sept. 1, we will be putting the property back on the market," McIvor told the French-language TV network.

According to one source with inside knowledge of the backroom machinations of the past nine months, Loria turned down a $75-million offer from Stephen Bronfman to buy out his shares because he intends to resell the team in the U.S. for a much larger profit.

"It's a pure flip," the source said. "He can't run something like this, and he knows it."

After holding it for the Expos for 212 years, Canada Lands has other buyers and clearly intends to move quickly to sell the property, putting the one perfect location for a new baseball stadium out of play. And without a new ball park, no one can seriously suggest that the Expos have a future at the Olympic Stadium beyond the end of next season, at the latest.

There is no point speculating about other possible sites. For the Expos to succeed in Montreal, everything had to be perfect. Former club president Claude Brochu had found the perfect site, within easy strolling distance of downtown Montreal and with easy access to key highways, bridges, trains and the metro.

I believe the polite word for the statement Loria put out in a press release yesterday is "bullspit." If you believe what Loria had to say, perhaps I could interest you in paying me $200 million for the Brooklyn Bridge:

"It is public knowledge that Canada Lands has had serious interest expressed by other potential buyers for this property that has been vacant for 20 years," Loria was quoted as saying. "The Expos do not wish to stand in the way of an opportunity for Canada Lands to sell the property while the issues we face remain unresolved."

Loria acknowledged the Expos risked losing the land to another buyer, but said "we fervently hope that before Canada Lands finalizes a sale to another party, it will give the Montreal Expos a chance to purchase it."

My sweet patootie. Loria must think we're a bunch of rubes who are too busy hewing wood and drawing water to know a fib when we see one.

If you believe Loria is "fervently" hoping for anything except a quick escape from Montreal with our baseball team in tow, then you have to be the most gullible person in town. You don't give up an option on the only suitable piece of real estate in town if you have any intention of building a new ball park at any time in the future.

This would appear to be the unofficial end of the franchise. Loria and Samson, the New Yorkers who took over with such fanfare last Dec. 9, have also reportedly reached final agreement to buy out the 14 Canadian partners involved in the ownership consortium.

With the sale approved in principal and stadium plans now abandoned, it would appear the way is clear for Loria and Samson to relocate the team to the U.S., possibly as soon as this off-season.

The decision to drop the option on the land is sure to set off another round of furious speculation about the Expos' possible destination, with northern Virginia still the most likely suitor. William Collins III and the Virginia Stadium Authority hold the rights for any team relocating to Virginia, so one possible scenario would appear to be that Loria intends to sell to Collins for a quick profit.

Northern Virginia is the only obvious place the Expos could move immediately, meaning after this season, assuming Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos can be persuaded to step aside to allow the team to play in RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. for two or three seasons while a new stadium is built in Virginia.

He would also have to have the approval of Major League Baseball, obviously, although it is conceivable that Loria has already received some sort of assurance from the office of commissioner Bud Selig Jr. that baseball will not stand in the way of a move.

Given the way Loria operates, however, it is also possible that he is attempting to bulldoze Selig by abandoning the one piece of property in Montreal that would make baseball feasible in this city.

It is pure speculation, but in the absence of a clear statement from Major League Baseball, it is not unthinkable that Loria is attempting to pull off an end run here, to make it literally impossible for anyone, including Stephen Bronfman, to save the Expos in this city.

If there is nowhere to build a ball park, in other words, then Selig's office would theoretically have no alternative but to give the green light to Loria to move the club.

The developments this week are the latest twist in the bizarre melodrama that began when Loria took over the club and, within an astonishingly short time, had the baseball fans of this city longing for the return of Brochu.

It's so bad now that even the Ottawa Lynx are getting ready to abandon this sinking ship. The Lynx have already informed baseball that they intend to explore other affiliation options in the off-season, rather than remaining tied to an organization that will become anathema to Canadians if and when the Expos depart.

Until the moving vans actually haul the team out of town, there will remain a sliver of hope.

But unless Selig himself opposes Loria's latest stunt and persuades him to extend the option on the land before the end of the month, it would appear that Major League Baseball in Montreal has run its course.

The game here is obvious. The Expos are gone. Loria is simply delaying the announcement until the end of the season in hopes a few more suckers can be enticed out to the Big O to help reduce his losses before he moves the team - which he obviously intended to do all along.

About the only thing the fans of Montreal can do is organize an all-out boycott and refuse to attend Expos games. It won't keep the team from moving, but a boycott might cost Loria a few more dollars along the way.

The Field of Dreams? Maybe Bill Lee will organize a pick-up game down there now and then, just so we can all dream about what might have been.

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