Will there ever be another MLB expansion team? by Tony Garcia
Answer by Tony Garcia:
I have to disagree somewhat with Dallas McKay’s response. Former Expos outfielder and current Montreal businessperson and resident Warren Cromartie and other investors are seeking a return of Major League Baseball (MLB) to the province of Quebec.
There was a time, from the 1970’s through the late-1980’s, when baseball enjoyed enormous popularity there. From 1979 through 1983, the Expos drew over two million fans each season, with attendance averaging over 28,000 per game. From 1984 through 1990, the average season attendance hovered around 1.5 million fans. (1)
Baseball has always played a tenuous second fiddle in hockey-mad Canada and could ill-afford any disruptions to the game. Unfortunately, contentious negotiotiations between the owners and Players Association led to two major work stoppages that undermined the Expos.
The first significant decline in attendance occurred in 1983, when a strike cancelled about 38 percent of the team’s games. Another strike, this time canceling a third of the 1994 and 1995 seasons (2), proved to be the deathknell. In 2001, only 642,743 fans attended games; the average attendance for all National League clubs that year was 2,481,346. (1)
When Jeffrey Loria bought the team in 2000, he wanted the city to fund a new downtown ballpark. (3) Olympic Stadium, the team’s home ballpark, originally built as a multi-purpose venue for the 1976 Summer Olympics, had a history of financial and structural problems. (4) It’s retractable roof failed to open, and it’s design caused former Expos’ pitcher Bill Lee to dub it “the Big Toilet.” Its artificial turf was so hard that, during the years of collusion among baseball’s owners—when no gree agents were being signed—star free agent outfielder Andre Dawson signed with the Chicago Cubs for a pittance, $500,000, rather than risk more damage to his knees.
Rather than commit to a new stadium, the city of Montreal chose to spend its money on municipal projects, and baseball limped into its final season there in 2004.
Now, CDPQ Infra (Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec), Quebec's $248 billion pension fund, has proposed funding several infrastructure projects in Montreal, one of which is a new, downtown stadium—provided MLB grants the city a franchise. (5)
In 2014, 2015 and 2016, the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox played exhibition games in Montreal, selling out “the Big Toilet.” (6) It is more than likely that baseball, in the form of an expansion team or a franchise move—the Tampa Bay Rays are likely candidates—will soon return to Montreal.