The Montreal Rays or the Montreal A’s? Why not?


In my last piece for The Hardball Times, I wrote about how Tampa Bay used to be an ideal spot for THREATENING to move your team. There was a baseball stadium just sitting there and the good folks of Minnesota, Texas, Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco all built new ball parks to keep their teams from the Sun Coast.

Now that the Rays are playing in Tampa Bay, they can’t wait to get out of the very stadium that so many other owners were coveting.

Now most teams have either new stadiums or recently renovated ones. Once the Marlins move into their new digs in 2012, the Rays and the A’s will be the only ones left playing it a dud of a ballpark.

There is talk about building a place in Fremont or San Jose for the A’s, but California barely has enough money to pay their policemen, firefighters and teachers. Where is the dough to build a ballpark in the expensive Silicon Valley?

And the Rays proposed new ballpark (or Jabba’s Sail Barge) will go up against a proposed railroad extension in Florida. Good luck having a ballpark beat improved transportation.

But as I wrote in a post from 2009, it is harder for a baseball team to relocate than any other sports team. If you want to move the 49ers to Fayetteville, Arkansas, there’s a place for them to play tomorrow.

A baseball team would have a hard time finding a place where they can play a major league game that is just sitting there.

Or would they have a hard time?

What is the biggest American or Canadian city to NOT have a Major League team?

That would be Montreal!
And guess what they have?

A BASEBALL STADIUM THAT IS JUST SITTING THERE!

OK, it’s not exactly Wrigley Field. It’s Stade Olympique… the Olympic Stadium from the 1976 Games.
It’s the big ugly eye sore sitting on the outskirts of one of the most beautiful cities in North America.

It’s the money pit that sits empty and reminds everyone in Quebec that the Olympic Games were a financial disaster there and that the Expos couldn’t stay.

It is the travesty in architecture that had the crane that was supposed to lower a roof on the stadium not work and an ugly canvas roof put on instead… all the while their neighbors in Toronto had figured out how to make a retractable roof.

The giant behemouth of a ballpark that looks less like a place to see a baseball game and more like the Starship Enterprise from The Next Generation after they did the saucer separation!

I’ve been to a game in that park.

It was awful and ugly and empty.

So why the hell am I suggesting to put a team back in there?

Well it is hard to make the case that the A’s and the Rays would be hurt if they played in an empty ugly eye sore of a stadium.

Guess what? They both are playing in empty ugly eye sore stadiums already!

The A’s play in what used to be the Oakland Coliseum. I used to go to games there a lot. It was a nice place to watch baseball. Now, after the Raiders parked an aircraft carrier into center field, it is a dump. And I went to a playoff game in that dump in 2003. There were at least 20,000 empty seats. During the 2006 playoffs when the A’s made it all the way to the ALCS, they had an embarrassing tarp covering the entire upper deck to create the illusion of a bigger crowd.

The Rays play in the park that, as I covered in my Hardball Times piece, was obsolete before the Devil Rays played their first game. It took a month of playing there before people began to suggest “maybe they need a new place.”

So how could playing in ANOTHER dump hurt the team.

There are some advantages to Montreal… besides its size.

Of course they love the Canadiens (probably more than they love being Canadians). But remember there was a point in the early 1980s that the Expos drew some of the biggest crowds in the National League.

Somewhere there is a fanbase that could get excited about baseball. And they could get excited about a team that wants to STAY in Montreal.

Yes, the 1994 strike forever scarred the fanbase and made it irreparable. But guess what? That was 16 years ago! There are 20 somethings in Quebec with no memory of Moises Alou, Larry Walker et al being robbed of a chance to bring a pennant to a French speaking people.

They don’t remember the team being dismantled. They don’t remember the Brochu ownership and the Loria group buying the team and the travesty of the contraction threat and MLB owning the team and bleeding them dry until Peter Angelos allowed a team to play in Washington.

Those aren’t even blurry memories. For the young fans a new ball club in Montreal would be a fun novelty at first, and if they can play well, perhaps they would regain the popularity of the early 1980s.

As for older fans who do remember the wealth spring of great talent that played in Montreal.

Read my Home Grown vs Acquired post for the Expos. They had a HELL of a lot of great players.

Gary Carter and Andre Dawson wear the Expos cap on their Hall of Fame plaques. Tim Raines might be joining them.

Older fans with a new team might be reminded of the fun of following such a talented group instead of grinding their teeth over the strike related fiascos.

I’ve seen dormant Cleveland, Seattle and San Francisco fan bases, bitter over management, bad baseball and bad ballparks, become rejuvenated with a turn around, new management and a new direction.

Those fans not only were happy to have a winner, but thrilled to either be excited about baseball again or for the first time in their lives. Imagine a place like Montreal being awakened.

And, with the Blue Jays good but not exactly a powerhouse (and no longer the 4 million fans a season franchise), Montreal could once again be Canada’s team.

How can that be worse than the other team in the Bay Area? Or the team that needs to give tickets away in Florida?

And who knows? If baseball can catch on in Montreal without the specter of moving, maybe that once rumored to be built downtown ballpark could become a reality.

Now of the two teams, the A’s make the most sense.

As bad a stadium situation that the Rays have, they have decent television ratings and might be able to develop a base. And who knows? They might just build that stadium with a sail.

The A’s? Many of their games aren’t televised, their fan base is dwindling, the Giants own the Bay Area and if there is going to be a new stadium built in the South Bay, it will be to keep the 49ers from moving.

So why not head North of the border?
I wrote earlier about why I miss the Expos. Well, the A’s can reap the benefits of all that the Expos left behind.

They can move from a 400,000 person city that shares its fanbase with the current World Series Champion to a city of 1.6 million that could have a true sports renaissance.

And the name could be altered to “Les Athletiques de Montreal.”

Il semble belle pour moi!

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Montreal had better honor the Hawk

Andre Dawson dusted off the Expos beach ball cap one more time and was honored by the crowd in Washington DC tonight. The Hall of Famer got emotional watching the tribute to his career and the crowd was respectful and cheered.
But most of them were there to see Stephen Strasburg.
You see Strasburg plays for Washington… Dawson never did. In fact Dawson never played a big league game that counted IN Washington.
He played the bulk of his career for the Expos… who moved from Montreal to Washington.
The tributes have been many for The Hawk. The Marlins (his current employer) has honored him already and in August he will have his own day at Wrigley Field. (Hopefully they will retire his #8 there.)
But he went into the Hall of Fame as an Expo and became a superstar in Montreal.
Yeah his knees were banged up there and he became a national figure when he moved to Wrigley… but that doesn’t excuse the fact that he should take his bows in front of the French Canadian fans whom he played his guts out for.
And there is a way to do it.
Montreal doesn’t have a baseball team anymore… and it is sad because that team produced a lot of great players and as I have said before, I miss the Expos.

But they DO have a hockey team. And that hockey team has a crazed following. And it is safe to say if you are a Canadien fan of a certain age, you probably have fond memories of the Expos of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
When the Canadiens start their season, they should do the right thing.
They should bring out the Hawk and have him do that strange honorary first puck drop before one of their first games.
It would be the fitting farewell to his year long victory lap and closure to his Expos career that ended in collusion after the 1986 season.
One more time, Montreal. VIVE LE FAUCON!

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