Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.

Posted by Mike on Saturday, October 02, 2004

The Washington Bureaucrats?

It's official! Almost. After a few years of playing split-season games in both Montreal and Puerto Rice the Montreal Expos has finally escaped their own personal purgatory and will be moving to Washington D.C. for the 2005 season. Major League Baseball has announced that pending a vote by the major league owners the Expos will be playing their 2005 home games in Washington D.C.'s lovely RFK Stadium. For those of you who don't know much about it, RFK Stadium is one of the few remaining generic cookie-cutter concrete cereal bowls that were built during the golden age of stadium construction, the 1960s and 1970s. If you're trying to picture RFK then think of Three River Stadium, Fulton County Stadium, Veteran's Stadium, and Candlestick Park. Except uglier and still standing.

Before the Senators skipped town a few decades ago the stadium looked like this when it was set up for baseball:

Fortunately for the new D.C. team there is a plan to build a brand new baseball-only stadium for the team that should be ready for the 2008 season. That's great, except the fact remains that the team will be playing it's first three seasons (or more pending the inevitable delays) in a miserable ballpark when the team is going to want to be building a fan base. What I'm getting at here is the fact that in the franchise's first few years in a new place when it should be making an impression on baseball fans in the area the team will be playing its games in a sterile concrete bowl. Compare the Washington team and its RFK stadium to the nearby Orioles and their Camden Yards and there's almost no reason to go see a game at RFK short of prefering National League play.

I don't see how Washington could be any worse for the Expos than the situation was in Montreal, in fact it should and will be much better, but what I'm getting at is that this team still faces a number of hurdles. They're going to need to build a fan base, something that might be difficult early on because the team is playing weak baseball and will be doing so in a terrible stadium (RFK) for the next few years. They still face an ownership change, there are suitors but who knows when MLB will actually pull the trigger and sell the team, and they face a great deal of hostility for Angelos and the Orioles. In time the Expos will do just fine in Washington, but they're not over the hump just yet.

Let's not forget that the team is still without a name. The team can't continue to call themselves the Expos because that name has nothing to do with Washington so they will have to choose a new title over the winter. I would love to see them become the Washington Senators, but that is unlikely because Tom Hicks still owns the rights to that name (the Rangers were the Senators before moving to Texas). Here are a few names that seem to be getting serious consideration:

The Washington Grays - A hommage in the nation's capital to a dominant Negro League team from Pennsylvania. Not only would it be a good name but it might also help to build a fan-base and would bridge a gap into the African American community that Major League Baseball had and has done such a great job of trying to keep out for so long. With the Senators tag being unavailable (thanks Tom Hicks) this name is likely to be in the forefront for a while

The Washington Nationals - It's a good classic sounding name. There's nothing wrong with it, there's nothing great about it either. I don't see why the Grays wouldn't be chosen over this, but it's a solid name nonetheless. If the team were moved to the American League then they would obviously become the Americans instead.

The Washington Generals - Honestly, it wouldn't be a bad name but it would depend heavily on what kind of mascot and uniforms they chose.

And for fun:

The Washington Bullets - Stick it to the Wizards for being politically correct pansies. Stick it to them.

The Washington Corruption - Baseball doesn't have enough unpluralized nouns for teams.

The Washington Bureaucrats - This would make then the best-named team in baseball. Period.

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Posted by Jon on Friday, October 01, 2004

A Monumental Move

For all of the sadness I feel for Montreal and its fans, there's one thing I love about a new team in Washington: coming up with it's name.

Now, I'm sure we'll hear a lot of people calling for the reinstatement of the Senators, but frankly, that's too bland for me. No, instead D.C. needs something new. I just have one rule: no "cool" animal names!

We had the Florida Marlins, then the Arizona Diamondbacks, then the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Maybe it's the untraditional bright colors of their uniforms, but these teams have never appealed to me. I don't want to see the new team be the Washington Squirrels, the Washington Wombats, or the Washington Wrens, although the Wrens could work well with baseball's current ornithological obsession.

The team needs something new, catchy, and clever. Oh, I have just the thing! The perfect name for the newest team in baseball is the Washington Monuments. Hey, I like it. It's unique to the area and gives the team an immediate sense of place without involving any boring government positions.

I can hear it as if it's April already: "Now batting for the Monuments, number 48, the left fielder, Terrmell Sledge."

It certainly has a ring to it. And it wouldn't be hard to come up with some decent front-page headlines, too.

Monuments Toppled in Extras
Monuments Build on Division Lead
Monumental Excitement: Washington World Champs

It's sure to happen with such a great name.

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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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