Wednesday, November 23, 2005

And Here We Go Again…
By Ben Valentine

In October of 2004, the Montreal Expos played their last game as the Expos at Shea Stadium. I was at the game and still remember seeing large numbers of Montreal fans there, soaking up their last chance at watching “their” team, before it would be unceremoniously taken away from them by Major League Baseball. One couldn’t help but feel for them; they were the loyal people who had stuck with the organization after the 94’ strike dealt the Expos a blow from which they never recovered. So when they gathered behind the visitor’s dugout after the game to say their final goodbyes, it was a moment that became embroidered in my memories forever. Some players came out to acknowledge them. Brad Wilkerson tossed his batting gloves into the stands. Ovations, rounds of applause on both sides. Then in a few minutes it was over. The players left, the fans departed… and ten years after they could have been celebrating a World Series crown, the Montreal Expos were no more.

But it was a death that could have been prevented. Of course, baseball didn’t want that. You see, despite the fact MLB had screwed the Expos organization over in 94’, they felt they had been slighted. What, pray tell, could the city of Montreal and Province of Quebec have done to possibly incur the wrath of Bud Selig, after baseball took away the Expos’ best chance at a championship?

They refused to build the Expos and then new owner Jeffery Loria a stadium.

What bastards! This was an age where new owners bought baseball teams and had cities roll out the red carpet to build new ball parks. Just look at Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, San Diego, Seattle… new stadiums galore! Yes, these cities owed it to those teams to spend tax payer money on buildings which generated billionaire owners more money. After all, the teams had provided them with entertainment for years at a reasonable rate. And it’s every patriotic American’s duty to pay for their home team’s new stadium! I think it’s in the Constitution somewhere in one of those lesser amendments…

But our Constitution isn’t any good in Canada! So those backwards Canadians didn’t get the memo. Apparently, the leaders of Quebec told Loria they needed the money for outlandish things like hospitals, schools and infrastructure. Olympic Stadium may not have been pretty, but when it came down to it, doctors and teachers were more important than luxury boxes for big suits.

Well baseball didn’t like that thinking. Apparently, Olympic Stadium was making it impossible for the Expos to compete. Somehow, between 1994 and 2001, that Stadium had become the bane of the franchise’s existence. It was monkey on their back which until removed, the Expos could never hope to overcome. So they threatened to move the team. And threatened, and threatened. Meanwhile Loria dumped players left and right, making them the worst team in baseball. So nobody showed up to the games. Why would they? The team stunk! MLB, of course, blamed la stade Olympique and the city, which loved hockey, but hated baseball.

Then as a reward for killing the Expos, Loria got handed the Marlins ownership reins in one of the most ridiculous things professional sports has ever seen; an ownership trade. The owner who had continued the screw up of the Marlins, John Henry, ended up in Boston, with the Loria in Florida and MLB owning the Expos. It was like baseball had instituted a welfare program for owners who had messed up their own franchises to ruin others.

In any case, baseball made sure to finish off what Loria had started in Montreal. Even as the team was threatened with contraction, forced to play in Puerto Rico and unable to make any free agent moves, they battled. On September 1st, 2003, they sat one game out of a playoff spot. Baseball would not allow them to make any call ups that year either. The hockey fans came out… they sold out Olympic Stadium for a late August series with the Phillies. Well sort of; only 20,000 fans were allowed in. Apparently, baseball didn’t expect people to care in Montreal, so they didn’t have the rest of the stadium ready. What a joke.

And so, in 2005 the Expos were no more. After years of being torturously dragged to their deaths, the city of Montreal lost their franchise, all because they decided tax payer money would be better spent on the people rather than millionaires. It was something that shouldn’t have happened, but supposedly couldn’t take place here.

What do I mean by that? Many suggested the reason the Expos situation broke the way it did was because they were a Canadian team. Had they been in the US, many argued, the government would not have allowed such a travesty to occur. It seemed somewhat reasonable. Congress does like meddling in baseball affairs and the Twins, Marlins and D-Rays all seemed to have avoided similar fates because of governmental pressure.

Until now.

Take a glance to South Florida and we see the same thing happening again. Jeffery Loria is angry the state of Florida and the city of Miami won’t give him a baseball only stadium with a retractable roof. They of course, deserve one because they’ve won the World Series, not once, but twice! And when you do that, it trumps the fact the country is in an economic recession and oh yeah, AT WAR. Federal funds are being cut to states, state budgets are consistently cash strapped, people are paying record prices at the gas pumps, but hey… the Marlins don’t like rain delays!

So in response, Loria is gutting this Marlins team. Josh Beckett is rumored to be on his way to Boston with Carlos Delgado, Luis Castillo and everyone not named Miguel Cabrera to follow suit. This is a team that was expected to contend for a division last year and with some tweaks could again this season. Instead they are rapidly turning into the Montreal Expos circa 2001 or… the Florida Marlins in 1998, after then owner Wayne Huizenga dismantled his World Series team of the year prior. Then this news today that the Marlins have begun to explore relocation plans to Las Vegas or Portland, Oregon. They could potentially leave as soon as the 2008 season.

Baseball is again attempting to blackmail a city into giving a man who does not deserve it a welfare stadium. It’s despicable. It’s reprehensible.

It’s Major League Baseball.

Forget steroids here people. I could care less what athletes inject into their own bodies. It doesn’t affect me in anyway. But this affects people. This affects their wallets, it affects their schools, their hospitals, things in their every day lives. It’s disgusting that baseball, whether it be Selig, Loria or whoever, is allowed to kill a team and move it just because the state shows fiscal responsibility in a period of economic hardship. It was bad when Woody Johnson tried to get away with the same garbage here in New York with the Jets’ West Side stadium, and at least he didn’t break up the team and threaten to move it.

Something needs to be done. I’d prefer they stay out baseball matters
entirely, but if Congress wants to get involved anywhere in the sport, this would be the place to do it. Their constituents are potentially the ones on the tab here.

Unfortunately, I’m not all that optimistic. I can just see it in a few years; a loyal group of Florida Marlins fans will end up grouped behind a dugout saying their goodbyes, less then ten years after being on top of the World.


Blogger Sports Litter said...

Kudos to you for being able to write so much on the Montreal Expos.

Do you really think a new stadium would attract fans to games in Miami. I'm not so sure it would. The people who love baseball there, are probably the ones who can't afford it. The people who can afford games in Miami are not natives and likely root for the Yankees.

It's a sad situation, and WS Titles should trump all, but it doesnt. Money trumps all.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

First off, I agree with Ben that this is a total travesty. As much as I love the Mariners, I was furious that Seattle was blackmailed into building a new stadium at a cost of about $500 million to the taxpayers.

The problem with building a new stadium is that all it really does is provide a one or two-year boost to the team's bottom line. Look at Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Both built new stadiums, both were packed for the first year, but because their teams stunk, the sellouts stopped and the teams remained in the cellar. Everyone likes to point to the success stories (Cleveland, Baltimore, Seattle, Texas) but ignores the fact that many of the newer stadiums (Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Colorado, Milwaukee, Toronto, Detroit) have had little long term effect on the team's success, either on the field or financially.

Building a new stadium in South Flordia might provide a temporary boost to the Marlins attendance levels, but won't solve the main problem, which is that MLB put two teams in a area which barely seems to care about one.

11:37 AM  

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