Talking Baseball

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Posted by Jon on Thursday, September 30, 2004

A Sad End to the Saga of the Expos

After years and years of speculation, it hasn't taken long to soak in: Major League Baseball in Montreal is no more. The Expos, a childhood favorite ever since a family trip brought me to Le Stade Olympic, will soon cease to exist. I'm not tearing up, but there will always be a soft spot in my heart for the mighty Montreal Expos. Their accomplishments may seem minimal, but they could have expositioned themselves all the way to the World Series if the 1994 season hadn't ended prematurely.

Beginning with the strike that cancelled that magical season -- the Expos were easily the best team in baseball when play ceased -- it has always seemed as if the fates were against the team. Really, though, Montreal had a much more tangable enemy in Major League Baseball, who has mismanaged the Expos' situation for years.

We hear stories about the emptiness of Olympic Stadium all the time. After all, the Expos have frequently drawn fewer than 4000 fans per game this season. It was nice to see almost eight times that amount on hand to see the team off to Washington, but those numbers used to be the norm, not the anomoly. In 1994, the Expos drew over 47,000 fans on their home opener and drew almost 40,000 in their final homestand of the season a week before the strike.

Where did all of these Expos fans go?

For starters, it's hard to follow and enjoy a team when the team is not allowed to compete with its best interest in mind. That's just what happens when the 29 owners of the competing teams in Major League Baseball own one team, as has been the situation with the Expos for years. Their payroll has been the smallest in baseball and their General Manager, while always trying to work out the best possible moves for his team, was unable to put anything other than a rag-tag team of bottom-of-the-barrel guys.

The Expos have been a breeding ground of talent for as long as I can remember. They had the system down pat. Montreal was spitting out quality players from their farm system from the time my life as a baseball fan began. Superstars like Randy Johnson and Vlad Guerrero came to Montreal only to be traded away. Pedro Martinez reached his potential as an Expo, then was traded to Boston for prospects. Grissom, Walker, Dawson -- the list goes on. And when a team fails to hold onto its key players -- the ones the fans immortalize as their own -- it's hard to sustain community interest. Not to mention that without such players, the team can't compete with the rest of the league.

Then Major League Baseball goes ahead and flat-out tells the fans in Montreal that their team isn't worth enough and will soon be no more. Whatever they were told, from relocation to contration, it's been going on for years.

One fan at the last game to be played in Montreal offered this: "The Expos could have worked a little harder in getting the fans to (Olympic Stadium)." In essence, the phrase should read that Major League Baseball could have worked a little harder to create fan interest. Instead, no games weren't even broadcast on TV. But there's one issue, while relatively unimportatnt, that stands out more than any other in relaying how little Major League Baseball cared about its fans in Montreal, whose official language is French. While fans are invited to vote their favorite players into the All-Star game online in three different languages, French isn't an option. Only one Major League team, the Expos, offer visitors to its web site content in two languages. Major League Baseball just didn't care.

Fans, what you would do if it happened to your ballclub? Your favorite players gone and your team unable to compete. You and your local community disrespected and disregarded by an outside ownership group made up of 29 rivals. Some of you might continue to follow the team and pay the big bucks to visit the ballpark, as some Expos fans have done just that over the last few seasons. But the majority of the fanbase would lose interest -- and quickly.

Yes, baseball was floundering in Quebec, and there just weren't enough fans coming to the ballpark to make the kind of money a Major League Baseball franchise should. But there's really nobody to blame but Major League Baseball for the team's floundering fall out of favor in Montreal.

They could have done more.

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