Warren Cromartie has been busy lately trying to drum up interest in the return of Major League baseball to Montréal. Those of us who loved Nos Amours in the seventies, eighties and nineties look back fondly on that era. So the debate ensues. Were we robbed, or did we lose our Expos deservedly?
Declaring that Montréal doesn't deserve a team, or that they were 'stolen' are categorical statements that probably aren't accurate. As usual, a combination of factors were at work.
The dank, cold stadium which was not great to visit, spring, summer or fall, was a big issue. So was the crippling exchange rate, the loss of local flavour and the sense that the team and players belonged here. It seemed that free agents couldn't wait to get out of town. The Québec government, wisely, chose not to invest in the team or build it a new stadium. Fans were more attracted to other summer pastimes: the Fireworks, all the Festivals, the Grand Prix. Just generally being in the sun and enjoying summer. Baseball in itself can be boring to the uninitiated.
On the other hand, being on the West Coast, I witnessed first-hand how a franchise can be set up to fail with the case study of the Grizzlies. The NBA, in its wisdom, precluded the team from drafting at the #1 spot in the expansion year, and some seasons after that. We were presented with a Washington Generals lineup, with Bryant "Big Country" Reeves as the foundation of the team and the star the team was marketing to us. Attendance was still great for a while, then flagged after years of losing and no sign of improvement.
David Stern gets a lot of love, but one of his many great crimes was preventing Tim Duncan from ending up in Vancouver or Toronto. He could have solidified one of these franchises for a decade at least, but he was seen as too great a prize to waste on Canada.
Shyster Michael Heisley swooped in, bought the team after a promise to keep it in town, then moved it after a season, pointing to low attendance and revenue. David Stern chided Vancouver, claiming to be disappointed in the lack of support, which was crap, because we filled that arena for years when the team stank. I hate basketball, but even I went, and was impressed to see guys that big move that fast. I bought Grizzlies souvenirs for the nephews.
So it becomes a chicken and egg thing. Who lost interest first? Who walked away from who?
The Expos had their own shyster in Jeffrey Loria, who poisoned the well and held fire sales, then pointed to low attendance figures to justify the moves and, eventually, the Big Move.
Could a team playing in a smaller downtown location with a retractable roof be able to thrive in Montréal? Sure, but if you ask me, as long as a billionaire is footing the bills, not taxpayers. If another deal similar to the Nordiques-Péladeau deal is struck, Montréal taxpayers should revolt. Anyway, demonstrations in the streets are another typical Montréal pastime that is more fun than baseball.