Winners and Losers of a MLB Team's Would-Be Return to Montreal

Rick WeinerFeatured ColumnistApril 8, 2013

Winners and Losers of a MLB Team's Would-Be Return to Montreal

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    It's been nearly a decade since a regular season MLB game has been played in Montreal, but baseball fans in Canada's second-largest city may not have to wait another decade to see America's pastime return.

    According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, the Montreal Baseball Project, a group headed by former Expos star Warren Cromartie and Michael Leblanc, head of the Montreal Board of Trade, have been working for more than a year to bring a MLB team back to Montreal.

    While expansion certainly isn't in the cards for MLB, franchise relocation could be. The last time a MLB team was relocated was back in 2005, when the Expos moved south and became the Washington Nationals. 

    It's all speculation, of course, but the Tampa Bay Rays come to mind as a possible candidate to move—and it's the team that Cafardo speculates about as well.

    Cromartie isn't optimistic about a move of the Rays (or any current team), but he's not willing to give up on the city he called home for nearly a decade without a fight:

    “We have a lot to prove and we know that. It’s a long shot, but it’s a shot I’m willing to take so that we can have all of our facts and data together and present it to Major League Baseball."

    If Tampa Bay did relocate to Montreal, the impact would be felt far beyond their respective city limits.

    Let's take a look at who the biggest winners and losers would be should such a move take place.

     

    Spoiler Alert: The winners far outnumber the losers.

Winners: Baseball Fans in Montreal

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    Part of the reason that the Expos were uprooted from Montreal was the lack of attendance at the ballpark. From 1998 through 2004, Montreal ranked last in the National League in attendance, drawing a total of 5,844,437 fans.

    For comparison's sake, the Toronto Blue Jays drew 13,576,316 fans over the same period.

    You can't fault Expos fans for turning their back on the club—a perennial loser during that time, the Expos weren't giving fans any reason to show up at the ballpark to watch a substandard product. But when the Expos put a quality team on the field, the fans came out to support their hometown club.

    During the club's heyday, from 1979 through 1983, the Expos drew more than 10 million fans to Olympic Stadium, averaging more than 2 million in attendance annually.

    Former Expos coach Tommy Harper, who served as a special instructor for the Boston Red Sox in spring training, has his doubts, but told the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo that he believes if you build a solid team, they will come:

    I would love to see something like this happen, but I’m not sure they have the base of fans. I know in ’94 before that strike, we started to draw some people. Mostly walk-up. It was all about putting a good product on the field, and we had great talent and fun players to watch. If Charles Bronfman could have held on to that team, we wouldn’t have lost so many players. He would have signed them. We’d develop them and then they’d leave. That really hurt baseball there.

    Expos fans never wanted to see their team leave—and a team like Tampa Bay, with a deep farm system and a perennial contender in the American League East—would surely bring them back to the ballpark.

     

    *Attendance figures courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

Winners and Losers: Tampa Bay Rays Fans

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    Watching your favorite team pick up shop and move is a painful experience for any fan to live through.

    Watching that team pick up and move to another country? That has to sting even worse—and it certainly makes the fans of the Tampa Bay Rays losers in this equation.

    But while missing out on a chance to see the team play in person might seem like a big deal, fans of the Rays simply don't come out to the ballpark to show their support.

    Tampa Bay has drawn over two million fans only once, in the team's inaugural season of 2008. Only twice in the franchise's history has it finished higher than 10th among American League teams in attendance: 1998 (seventh) and 2010 (ninth).

    The year that the Rays advanced to the World Series? Twelfth out of 14 AL teams, drawing just over 1.8 million fans.

    Fans of the team who chose to keep supporting the club in Montreal would likely see an influx of cash bought into the team, with homegrown talent finally being able to stick around, not just be developed and leave in the primes of their careers to help another team win.

     

    *Attendance figures courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

Winners: Baseball Historians

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    The first MLB team outside of the United States, the Montreal Expos may not have been a perennial playoff contender, but the team had its fair share of memorable moments and players wear the uniform.

    Hall of Famers Gary Carter and Andre Dawson got their starts in Montreal, as did future Hall of Famers Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez. Tim Raines should be in the Hall of Fame, and Vladimir Guerrero has a legitimate shot at becoming one if he ever retires.

    The franchise's leaderboards are littered with former All-Stars, like Delino DeShields, Andres Galarraga, Marquis Grissom and Larry Walker.

    In 1984, the only season he'd spend in an Expos uniform (and for only 95 games, traded to Cincinnati in August of that year), Pete Rose would pick up the 4,000th hit of his career, joining Ty Cobb as the only two MLB players to break the 4,000-hit plateau.

    It's not just the major leagues that have a storied history in Montreal.

    Jackie Robinson spent 1946 as a member of the Montreal Royals, the Triple-A club for the Brooklyn Dodgers. A year later, he'd change the face of the game—and much more—when he broke baseball's color barrier.

Winners: Everyone Else in the AL East

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    Ask any professional baseball player what some of the cons of the job are, and the extensive travel is sure to be a subject that is bought up more often than not.

    According to Google Flights, here's how a move of the Rays from Tampa Bay to Montreal would impact travel time for the other teams in the AL East:

      Hours to Tampa Bay Hours to Montreal Hours Saved
    Baltimore 2 2 0
    Boston 3 1 2
    New York 3 2 1
    Toronto 3 1 2

    It wouldn't make a noticeable difference for the Baltimore Orioles, but each of the other teams in the division would spend less time travelling—and that's never a bad thing.

    Of course, the travel time for the Expos would be shortened as well.

Winners: Toronto Blue Jays

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    You could make the argument that bringing a team back to Canada would negatively impact Toronto's market share, as the Blue Jays are now the only team in town for Canadian MLB fans, but the positives far outweigh the negatives.

    Most notably, it gives Toronto a natural rival.

    With the Expos being a National League team, the two franchises never met in a regular season game.

    In the same division, the rivalry would have added fire behind it—and those games would be sure to become major draws for both clubs.

Losers: Tampa Bay Rays Employees

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    I'm not talking about manager Joe Maddon or his coaching staff, nor am I talking about Andrew Friedman and the key members of Tampa Bay's front office.

    I'm talking about the marketing department. The ushers, the parking attendants and the hot dog vendors. People who, should Tampa Bay move, would find themselves out of a job.

    You don't ever wish for someone to lose their job, especially in today's job market, but make no mistake about it—the powers that be in MLB wouldn't think twice about these folks when voting on whether to approve a move for the franchise.

Winners: The World Baseball Classic

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    While the World Baseball Classic aims to grow interest in the sport in places that major league clubs don't currently reside, there's nothing wrong with picking up some new fans in countries that the sport is already established in.

    Baseball is never going to trump hockey in Canada (nor should it), but adding a second MLB team to the Canadian market is only going to increase interest in the sport as a whole.

    Like shorter travel times, that's never a bad thing.

Winners: Tampa Bay Rays Players

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    First and foremost, a new stadium is something that every player on the Rays would love to play in.

    According to Michael LeBlanc (per Cafardo), the Montreal Baseball Project has already begun investigating what it would cost to build a retractable-roof stadium downtown. He believes that the stadium should—and can be—built with private money.

    A move to Montreal would require new ownership, and you can be sure that one of MLB's demands will be that the new owner be able, willing and ready to spend money to not only add pieces to the club but to retain some of the homegrown talent that Tampa Bay has been forced to part with due to salary.

    More talent on the team? Perhaps bad news for some fringe players, but a major coup for the bulk of the 25-man roster.

    Other than the weather and potentially having to uproot their families (far more difficult than it sounds and something that can be emotionally draining on everyone involved), can you think of a reason why the players wouldn't come out as winners in this deal?