MLB Could Be Back in Montreal, But There Needs to Be Change

Apr 1, 2016; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Expos former player and now a Toronto Blue Jays base running instructor Tim Raines before the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Blue Jays at Olympic Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 1, 2016; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Expos former player and now a Toronto Blue Jays base running instructor Tim Raines before the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Blue Jays at Olympic Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports /

Reports surfaced about baseball coming back to Montreal. If MLB does bring in a new Montreal team, there needs to be changes from the Expos era.

The Montreal Expos played their last game at Olympic Stadium in 2004. They relocated to Washington in 2005 and became the Nationals, leaving Montreal without a Major League Baseball franchise to this day. Recent news, however, gave hope to a new era of Montreal baseball.

“Just waiting to get a call.”

Reports surfaced recently about an ownership group being fairly close to getting the ball rolling on bringing a team to Montreal soon. The report stated the group was no longer looking for investors, had financial support from two levels of government, new stadium designs and potential locations, along with strong financial set-up. It was even reported that investors were just waiting on a call from MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred to start the process. Those details were shared by an anonymous source.

Unfortunately for Montreal baseball fans, those reports were refuted by one of the committed members of the project, Mitch Garber. Garber went on TSN 690 Radio and cleared up the report, saying:

"“There’s this great desire to have Major League Baseball in Montreal. But it’s not as advanced as this story would make it sound.”"

Along with those remarks, he also said the report of support from two levels of government and stadium plans were inaccurate. Fortunately, fans should still be confident that baseball could make its way back to Montreal. Commissioner Manfred has expressed a desire to bring in two more teams to bring the total to 32 and make the schedule easier. Also, the unrest in Tampa Bay and Oakland over their stadium situations may be a chance for a current franchise to move to Montreal before expansion is even brought up.

While Montreal is seemingly at the top of the list for a new MLB franchise, we should not forget about how things ended for the Expos before their move to Washington.

Low attendance and bad marketing was the start of the end

The difficulties for the Montreal Expos started in the late 1990s. The team couldn’t draw fans because of poor marketing and by 2001 only drew 619,451 fans, fewer than 8,000 per game. Without fan support, the Expos started to look like a joke. It would only get worse.

In 2002, Major League Baseball took the contraction of two teams, the Expos and Minnesota Twins, to a vote. MLB owners voted 28-2 in favor of contraction. The only two votes against came from Montreal and Minnesota. The plan was to let the two teams play one more season before their franchises were terminated. However, because of a legal challenge from Minnesota that involved their remaining lease, the Expos were saved as the Twins were able to avoid contraction and the league couldn’t find another contraction option since it wanted an even number of teams.

Sold to MLB and partially relocated

Owner Jeffrey Loria went on to sell the team to Major League Baseball shortly after, which hurt their chances of being a true contender. They were in the playoff hunt for most of the 2002 season, but because of the fact they were owned by the league they couldn’t raise payroll to make a push for the postseason at the trade deadline, as that would require owners of the other teams to invest in their competition. Because of this conflict, the Expos would miss the playoffs yet again.

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They avoided contraction yet again going into 2003, as the new collective bargaining agreement barred contraction until 2006. That didn’t stop the fact the Expos could be relocated, though. They played 22 of their 81 home games in San Juan, Puerto Rico, as the league wasn’t ready to fully relocate the franchise in 2003.

The 2003 season was similar to 2002. They were not able to increase payroll for a playoff push, yet again. It was worse this time around because of the fact that Commissioner Bud Selig announced the Expos would not expand rosters after September 1, as the other owners decided not to invest the money to call up additional players. It was a sign Major League Baseball wanted Montreal gone or relocated.

2004 would be the last season of Expos baseball, and it was also split between Montreal and San Juan. They finished their season with a 67-95 record and lost their final home game 9-1 in front of 31,395 fans who came to say goodbye. It was a sad ending for a franchise that never truly made its mark as a contender, only making the playoffs once in their history.

There needs to be change

If a team does come back to Montreal, there needs to be change. The team was barely on the Montreal sports map at the end of their existence in the city, so it is hard to not be skeptical. On the other hand, it may be a situation where fans didn’t miss what they had until it was gone.

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In any case, the marketing needs to extend far after the stage of the team being brand new. They also need to invest and build winners, unlike the previous ownership did for much of the time with the Expos. There needs to be excitement and reason to head to the ballpark. Not just a new stadium and the return of an old friend. They need a winning team, or at least a plan to build one, and an ownership group invested in making the team a mainstay.

If they can do that, Montreal fans will be in for a treat. There needs to be a concrete plan first, not just hearsay.