Legends On Deck

Baseball Needs to Come Back to Montréal

Photo Credit: SportsLogos.net

First, I didn’t have a chance to write this in my return article to LegendsOnDeck.com, but I’m so happy to have come home. David Conde and the crew at LoD have done a tremendous job revolutionizing the baseball website concept on the internet and this is a site on the rise.

While I’ve been gone, I’ve been researching on a particular topic that has really been on my mind for the past several years in regards to MLB. It has been a unique feeling that been inside of me since 2005 and I’ve always wanted to say it.

BASEBALL NEEDS TO COME BACK TO MONTRÉAL.

Ever since the last game of record for the Expos on October 3, 2004, baseball, to me, has never been the same. Even though the team relocated to Washington D.C. for the start of the 2005 season, the National League East has never been the same.

People don’t really remember much about the influence that Montréal had on baseball, but it was a lot. It was Canada’s first MLB team. It was a place where guys like Rusty Staub, Gary Carter, Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Steve Rogers, “Spaceman” Bill Lee, and Vladimir Guerrero became legends. The 1994 Expos team were the best team in baseball before the 1994 Strike with a record of 74-40. Olympic Stadium, while not being the prettiest ballpark, was the home to some of the most enthusiastic fans in baseball history, especially in the 1980s. Charles Bronfman, the first owner of the Expos, really emphasized utilizing the development of home-grown talent in the minor league system instead of breaking the bank during the beginnings of free agency. Even at the end, Montréal was transcending baseball by broadcasting their games online, an early precursor to the MLB At-Bat App.

However, it’s the negative that is always looked upon when it comes to this club. The financial woes, “Blue Monday” in 1981, the 1994 team being split apart in 1995 due to money issues, the team almost being retracted in 2002, and low attendance to games were only the tip of the iceberg.

In my opinion, the sale of the team from Mr. Bronfman in 1991 to a consortium of Québec businessmen was the start of the beginning of the end. Mix in Claude Brochu’s failures to get a publicly funded stadium in downtown Montréal (LaBatt Park, which I have written about HERE), the sale of the team to Jeffrey Loria, and the three-way deal that led to MLB owning Montréal in 2002 made for a disaster of things which led to the Expos becoming the Nationals in 2005.

In hindsight, Québec was smart not to fall into the publicly-funded stadium plans. Seeing what Mr. Loria pulled with the building of Marlins Park in 2012 and the little money the Marlins actually put into the stadium, combined with the funds the team will be pulling in with sponsorships and revenue sharing, it would have been demoralizing to the Province of Québec to lose all that cash for citizens and businesses alike.

Photo Credit: Olympics.Ballparks.com

In spite of this, there has been an upswing of fans wanting a team back in Montréal; especially over the past several years. Former Expo Warren Cromartie and his Montréal Baseball Project have been researching a multitude of opportunities of trying to MLB back up North. Jonah Keri’s incredible book Up, Up, And Away really helped shed light on the magic the Expos had over their history. Entertainers like Annakin Slayd have written ballads and songs about the days of baseball past in Montréal. The passing of Gary Carter, as well as Tim Raines going into the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame have also inspired the city and the love affair of baseball it once had.

But, the ultimate showcase of love has been the exhibition series that MLB has had over the past 3 seasons. Since 2014, the Toronto Blue Jays have played a weekend series prior to the start of the MLB season in Stade de Olympique. The attendance, from 2014 on, has grown in tremendous numbers, actually reaching over 100,000 fans last season for the two game series. From all accounts, MLB has taken notice over the seeming revolution to bring baseball back to Montréal.

The one noticeable trait that has repeatedly come up, as it comes to the Québec situation, is the rumblings of the Tampa Bay Rays sending out feelers to search out Montréal for a possible relocation. The struggle for attendance, combined with difficulties to building a new stadium in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, have led Rays owner Stu Sternberg to attempt and send out feelers for a possible move out of Florida.

Rumblings first started on a possible search to Québec when Keith Olbermann, a friend of Mr. Sternberg, reported on his feelings regarding Tampa Bay and a feasible opportunity to relocate to Montréal in 2013. Over the past few years, stories have come out regarding Sternberg spending money towards a viability study towards a possible ballpark in Montréal near the Griffin Town area, which was denied earlier this month by the Rays owner.

Regardless, the next few years will be incredibly interesting as it comes to Québec baseball. In particular, there is a strong love and want for a MLB return to Montréal.

“Tough” Tim Hughes, a professional wrestler based out New Jersey, has made frequent trips to Montréal and its surrounding towns over the past year. A die-hard baseball fan, Hughes has talked about the Expos with a lot of Quebecers. When I decided to ask him about it after his last trip to Quebec in January, his response made me smile.

“Every time I go up to Québec, I always see people wearing Montréal Expos gear. Everybody up there is certain that the Expos return to Montréal is imminent. A lot of the old Expos fans have changed their allegiance to the Blue Jays strictly out of Canadian pride, but there is no hiding that the Expos are sorely missed among baseball fans in Québec.”

Seeing Tim’s perspective on the matter, it really centered things for me. As a baseball fan, I would love to see this North American city return to prominence with a Major League Baseball. Granted, it won’t be easy, but Montréal is doing its part. I want to see an Expos return as badly as anyone. Hopefully, it won’t be too soon.

Until then, may Pedro Martinez’s dedication to Montréal in 2004 after the Red Sox won the World Series be the love letter Québec needs to make baseball possible again.

Jon Harder

Editor at Legends On Deck
Jon was born in Queens and now resides in New Jersey. He is a die-hard Mets fan and believes HoJo should be in the Mets Hall of Fame. Not only is Jon a contributing writer on Legends On Deck, but he also is the founder of @HardwayHQ, host of the #TheHardwayPodcast and somewhat plays Air Hockey on http://HardwayHQ.com. You can follow Jon on Twitter @TheJonHarder