OpinionJuly 11, 2004

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An Exposé on the Montreal Situation

By Brian C. Grindrod

The following is not a plea or a rally to keep The Expos in Montreal. Far from it. This is rather a case study as seen through the eyes of a Montreal native as to why the city has turned its back on MLB. It seems like a lifetime ago, but Montreal did beat to the sound of The Expos’ drum at one point during the history of the franchise.

From the early to mid-1980s, Gary Carter and Tim Raines were the idols of many youngsters throughout the city while the likes of Pete Rose and Al Oliver made true believers out of longtime followers of the team. Nowadays, the average Montrealer may not even know that the season has started or that there is still a professional baseball team playing at the stadium. If you ask somebody to name a player from the current roster, chances are you will receive responses ranging from Wayne Gretzky to Buck Rodgers, although they might be referring to Steve Rogers. That is, if they have some idea of what you are talking about.

Throughout my youth, going to a weekly Expos game was always an exciting and inexpensive way to spend the day, but for the past ten years, I have attended but one contest (this season). I suppose that my story is similar to that of many Expos fans who cheered Larry Walker, Moises Alou and Pedro Martinez when they donned the white and blue pinstriped uniform of the hometown boys in 1994, the year that another strike ended the dream season of a team who had the city ecstatic about possibly winning the World Series. While MLB overcame this incident, the war between owners and players that abruptly ended the season has never been forgiven by Montrealers and never will.

Strike one!

To this day, the local French media still maintain that the work stoppage in 1994 was a plot conspired by the U.S., the Canadian government and George Steinbrenner (good grief!) to ensure that the organization would not win. This misinformation and political propaganda was the first step in the franchise’s path towards the grave. Yep, only in the province of Quebec does sports go hand in hand with issues such as language and the destructive intentions of the Francophones towards Canada.

While no one can debate that previous Expos owner Claude Brochu had to contend with a weak Canadian dollar, his lack of business and sports savvy made him public enemy #1 with baseball fans in the city and throughout Canada. He simply could not grasp the simple concept that in order to make money, you also have to spend money. Brochu and his partners negligently ran an organization to the ground that had been solidly built by general manager Dan Duquette during the early 1990s. Thus, while alienating what remained of the die-hard fans by trading away marquee players and not signing any viable replacements, the Quebec consortium headed by Brochu guaranteed that the younger clientele would not be interested in their product for years to come. The teens that were not interested in cheering for a faceless team back in the latter half of the last decade are definitely not going to be interested in the sport nowadays, especially now that they are on the job market and could afford higher priced tickets, food and beverages, jerseys and all sorts of Expos paraphernalia … (insert sarcastic tone).

Jeffrey Loria was a victim. Seriously. He arrived with great intentions but when he publicly confronted the minority owners who had no steadfast objectives of putting together a product that could reap long-term benefits, the French media immediately sided with their fellow Quebec kinsmen. They stamped Loria as the evil American who wanted to move the franchise elsewhere. Perhaps there was some truth to the matter after Loria took over as sole owner of the Expos, but what is an entrepreneur to do when he has been branded as a two-bit con man by his potential customer base, and his public image is ruined by the petty local journalists?

Full count…

What was certainly the last nail in the Expos’ coffin is the murky circumstances surrounding the sale of the Red Sox to John Henry (who now wants a salary cap!), the Marlins to Loria and the Expos to twenty-nine MLB franchises. While the antics of Brochu disgusted the ever-dwindling core of MLB fans in Montreal for far too many years, it is Bud Selig’s approval of this manoeuvre that extinguished any trust and credibility that the league had within the city walls.

Montreal is certainly not a sports town and suffers much cultural, economic and political instability. But with a population of over three million, it is hard to imagine that this franchise could not have attracted one percent of its citizens to regularly attend a baseball game throughout the last decade had it been managed competently. If and when Bud Selig does decide to transfer the organization elsewhere, it will be a relief for both MLB and the city. It still must find an owner for the franchise, but having been stripped of assets such as Pedro Martinez, Vlad Guerrero and Javier Vazquez in the past years, no sane businessman will want to acquire the team unless it is a bargain basement deal. Perhaps it would be best to give the Expos a mercy killing and simply dissolve the organization.

“Make mine sports cards, comic books and figurines!” – Soon to be a dad, Brian C. Grindrod is slowly preparing to relive his childhood by stockpiling all sorts of cool stuff that made his youth so friggin’ awesome. He also believes that Steve Dahl should be inducted into the MLB Hall Of Fame, while he considers Charles O. Finley and Bill Veeck to be genuises.

What’s your take on the Expos’ situation? Discuss this article here.

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