Thursday, September 30, 2004

Au, Revoir...Les Expos!!!

So the Expos are now heading to our nation’s capital.

And in a fitting end to a shameful episode that has basically stabbed the hearts of the Montreal Expos' fans....they get the word just a few hours before their final home game. 

This, sort of, ends an odd chapter in Major League Baseball history. Les Expos. While Montreal baseball wasn’t as rabid as it is in St. Louis, or as legendary as it is in Chicago, or as successful as it is in New York….it did have its niche. It was Canada’s team before the Blue Jays were there. It was French and English. It had the Stade D’Olympique. Those weird looking seats. That weird “retractable” roof. A tough road trip. That unique logo. Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Dennis Martinez, Larry Walker, Vlad Guerrero, Andre Galaragga, Moises Alou, Gary Carter, Tim Raines, Andre Dawson. Heck, Pete Rose and Tony Perez played there. It was a different kind of baseball culture.

However, in today’s marketplace….teams like this don’t fare well. By “like this”….I mean Canadian teams. No one wants to go to Canada to play. The NBA’s Vancouver Grizzlies left for America. Vince Carter may have saved the Toronto Raptors franchise….which is still in some problem areas. Even as successful as the Toronto Blue Jays have been….they still aren’t in the greatest of positions. Canada isn’t “cool”. But, you cannot fully blame that. Even the hockey teams are struggling. Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa are puttering along. The mighty Montreal Canadiens are even going thru some tough times. And all this after Winnipeg and Quebec City went south with their teams. Financially, it is tough for Canadian teams to compete with American ones.

They aren’t really out of the water yet. We all know that DC has had two shots at baseball before. One of those franchises is now the Minnesota Twins…..the other is the Texas Rangers. Also, this will be the first franchise movement in baseball since those Washington Senators moved to Texas 32 years ago. We all know that just because you plop a MLB team somewhere….it may not completely take off. Just look at the Florida teams.

Also, this is a franchise that has hit very hard luck. It usually has had one of the top farm systems in the league. But, since MLB has taken over the Expos….the entire operation hasn’t been as top notch. Basically, the team has been run by people who know their jobs were temporary and really didn’t have much at stake in the team’s success [other than maybe jobs elsewhere]. They’ve lost their GM and are running on a skeleton crew.

Realize, too, that this announcement was made on September 29th. Spring training will be in 4 months. So, in that time…they have to actually move the team, find an owner for the team, approve it, finalize all the stadium deals, renovate RFK Stadium so it can house baseball until the new stadium is built, get an entire new staff together for the team, figure on a new name and logo [which, I’m sure, the new owner will want to select], securing a television deal in a market that already has the Orioles on, actually selling tickets to people, etc…etc….etc. Expansion teams usually have THREE years to pull a move like this off. The Expos have 4 months. The Expos’ 2005 season will be pretty disastrous. Since this whole thing will be hurried along….there will be a lot of “unfinished” segments of the franchise.

Oh, yeah. Remember, they are selling the Expos to this fan base. A franchise that has been to the playoffs ONCE in 36 years….and that was over 20 years ago. A franchise known more for trading players on the verge of greatness than having great players themselves. Their lone Hall Of Famer is Gary Carter….and he barely made it in….and he almost went in as a New York Met.

And, this team cannot be called the Washington Expos….can it?? Even for a year?? In this day and age, a name, logo, team colors and uniform are paramount to a team’s financial success. Get a cool look…and people will wear your gear…regardless how bad your team plays. Teams pay all kinds of money to firms that specialize in these matters. The Expos won’t have the luxury of (1) the wishes of the new owner [who may not be in place by opening day] to what the team’s direction is or (2) studying the demographics to understand what may flourish. The DC mayor has already nixed naming the team Senators again. 

They could stay the Expos….but that just gets rather touchy. In recent times, it has been extremely rare that a team changes its nickname a year or two after moving. The only one that comes to mind is the Tennessee Titans….who, oddly, faced a similar rush when moving the franchise. A late decision to leave Houston, the Oilers scrambled to get everything in place. The played their first season in Memphis as the Tennessee Oilers. They then moved to Nashville’s Vanderbilt University for a season. Then, played their first season in their new stadium in Nashville as theTitans. The Expos may have the same fate.

But, the Charlotte/New Orleans Hornets, Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies, LA/St. Louis Rams, LA/Oakland Raiders, St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota/Dallas Stars, Kansas City/Sacramento Kings and New Orleans/Utah Jazz all kept their nicknames after the move. The Baltimore Ravens [Browns], Colorado Avalanche [Nordiques], Phoenix Coyotes [Jets] and Carolina Hurricanes [Whalers] all had brand spanking new names when they first hit the new scene.

Maybe, at least, the new team can keep that red-white-and-blue "M" logo from the Expos hat.....turn it upside down into a "W" to honor the past.  Probably not.

In the end, this really looks bad for baseball. A league that has actually prided itself for having franchise stability for over 30 years….something even the mighty NFL cannot compete with….after being known as the league of franchise moves. Now a team has defected. Will others now follow?? As badly as other teams also want to move, this whole process has shown that there really isn’t anywhere for a team to go. The Expo options were Washington, Portland, Northern Virginia and [slightly] New Jersey. DC is now taken…which pretty much eliminates Northern Virginia. Now, with the precedent of MLB paying off Baltimore Orioles Peter Angelos for stepping on his market toes….what stops anyone else from making the same demands?? If a team wants to move to Jersey, you know the Mets and Yanks want some cash. Especially since Steinbrenner uses Jersey as his threats. The Seattle Mariners would cry fowl over a team moving to Portland. And if the Oakland A’s want to move down to San Jose….the Giants will want a little chat. There are smaller areas like Norfolk, Raleigh and Nashville that want teams….but Norfolk is out with a DC and B-more teams nearby…and Raleigh and Nashville are struggling with teams they already have. Baseball is tapped out. And cities like Minneapolis, Miami, Tampa and Oakland are barely holding on.

The fans in Montreal have basically viewed the past 5 seasons as maybe being “the last one”. Again, they are the ones who have really been suffering here. Watching their beloved team treated like a stepchild no one wants around. Their players develop and leave. Their finest season ends in September with a strike. They have been told that the team may just die instead of moving. They also got to see their team play home games in Puerto Rico. Today, they got the official word that their team will be leaving….just 3 hours before their final home game. But, don’t be so sure that the Expos won’t still be in playing in Montreal next year…so they have a 6th chance to say goodbye.

I mean, au revoir!

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