The Expos Move to Washington

 10/03/2004

We all knew it was coming sometime. Major League Baseball announced the Expos are leaving Montreal. Perhaps the only surprise is that it took this long.

After years of poor attendance records the move was inevitable. What a cry of desperation it was to even have the Expos host a portion of their home schedule in Puerto Rico. Imagine having to explain that to our kids! A baseball team switching home facilities between the Great White North and the Caribbean. Les Expos becoming Los Expos.

The fan population in Montreal truly never recovered from the 1994 strike. The Expos were in first place and the average nightís attendance was higher than it had been in over ten years, since the days of Tim Raines, Andre Dawson and Tim Wallach. Canít forget Floyd Youmans or Bryn Smith.

For the three following seasons, one-quarter of the fan base had fallen off. And by the 1998 season another 25% left. Neither of those groups came back. In fact, Expos management didnít have much room to spare as it was, let alone losing half the fan base in four years. It has now been two decades since the Expos were not in the bottom third of National League attendance figures. They couldnít afford to lose any, yet they ended up losing half.

Even the attempt to increase attendance by hosting games in Puerto Rico wore off quickly. Sellouts were often early. By the second season the Expos were there, the novelty wore off and those who were financially able to only attend a couple games had already done so. Itís not like MLB went to a reservoir of riches and people with deep pockets. How much disposable income did they expect the locals to have?

Itís not all to the fault of the fans. MLB sure didnít help. They started nailing the coffin shut while there were still some readings of life. The way MLB treated the Expos, the fans were never going to come back in Montreal. The first nail was talk of contraction. The second nail was taking over the franchise. The third nail was running the franchise into the ground. By this time, the fans in Montreal had suffocated and burial was necessary.

But thatís all in the past. What does the future hold for the franchise? Certainly it looks more promising in Washington than it had been in Montreal. Honestly, though, what wouldnít appear more promising than that?

Perhaps it appears more promising, but how much is actually going to change? MLB still runs the show. Ownership is not changing. MLB is only hoping that being in Washington will make it look more presentable for prospective buyers. You know that Orioles owner Peter Angelos will do everything he can to see to it that the eventual buyer of the franchise moves them to another locale. Itís not definite the franchise will even stay in Washington.

But thatís all in the future. What about the present? Will we see a third edition of the Senators? After all, the first two Washignton Senator franchises moved. It could be quite fitting.

Natural rivalries would include the Mets and Phillies, at least for the communities. The rivalry wonít mean anything to the players. But donít tell me the people in Philadelphia and New York donít already have resentment toward Washington-based teams. Baseball is the only of the four major professional sports leagues that doesnít have a division containing teams from Philly, New York and the District. Well, ďdidnítĒ would be more appropriate.

The Mets have recently announced the hiring of Omar Minaya as GM. After working for MLB as the Expos GM, perhaps some form of a rivalry could develop there. But how good a job did Minaya do in Montreal? They did overcheive at times. Perhaps that was more due to manager Frank Robinson than the work of Minaya.

Itís arguable the Minaya helped deconstruct the organization. The farm system is at its weakest in years and the big league club is no longer competitive. Sure, MLB placed constraints on Minaya that disallowed him to make a legitimate offer to resign Vladimir Guerrero. Other cornerstone players like Javier Vazquez and Orlando Cabrera were moved because they knew long-term deals were not possible. Jose Vidro would appear to be next if status quo were to remain in the front office.

But what has Minaya done within his control? Well, heís turned some of baseballís better prospects into borderline major leaguers. Consider some of Minayaís work.

When the Expos had a sniff of competitiveness in 2002, they acquired Bartolo Colon for the stretch run. Wish them the best, but that was exactly a stretch. To acquire Colon, Minaya gave up three players that could end up being the cornerstone of the Indiansí next competitive team; outfielder Grady Sizemore, lefthanded pitcher Cliff Lee and infielder Brandon Phillips. Colon gave Montreal a productive half-season and was traded in the offseason for career minorleaguer Jeff Liefer, reliever Rocky Biddle and pitcher Orlando Hernandez, who made zero starts for Montreal in his one season as an Expo before resigning with the Yankees before the 2004 season.

Two weeks later, Minaya acquired Cliff Floyd for 19 days and 53 at-bats before trading him to Boston. What was the final tally for those moves? The Expos gave up Carl Pavano and spare parts for spare parts and mid-level and floundering prospects in return. Minaya nearly vanquished all the quality prospects in the system without doing much to build for the future. He sounds like the perfect fit for the Mets.

Whether you want to put the blame on the fans, MLB, or Expos management, or some combination of each, it all led to this move to Washington. Now all we need is a buyer who is willing to turn this mess around. Any takers?