The Near Death of Baseball in Canada

Jonathan Williams@@jonathanbwCorrespondent IMarch 6, 2009

When Joe Carter hit the walk-off home run in the sixth and final game of the 1993 World Series, baseball was at its zenith in Canada. 

The Montreal Expos and the Toronto Blue Jays were the pinnacle. The Blue Jays were the better team, but the Expos still had a loyal following and some great talent.

Canada had fallen for baseball.  Canadians were following the sport more closely than at any other time in their history.

Canada has a long history with baseball.  The sport came early to the country and became a staple of Canadian life just as it had in the United States.

However, unlike the Canadian Football League, which rose up in parallel to the American game, Canada never embraced a professional aspect.

Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver would historically all have teams in various parts of the minor leagues.  When the Expos were established, they were built on the foundations of minor league teams going back to the beginning of the 1900s.

In 1993, a total of 10 teams existed, ranging from from the Majors to the rookies in A ball.  These teams were spread across the country.

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Baseball had a foundation in Canada.

From 1993 to 2004, much of the foundation crumbled. 

The first signs of trouble were found in the arrival of the Liberal Party of Canada as government. 

During the past decade, conservative government had kept the Canadian dollar at a rate of 80 cents to the US dollar.  In other words, it cost roughly $1.20 Canadian to buy one US dollar. 

When the Liberals took office, the dollar started a slow slide.  In the late '90s, the dollar was at 63 cents to the US dollar. 

For Canadian teams paying players in US money while receiving Canadian dollars from fans and sponsors, this was a huge artificial deficit.  It created a firestorm effect across professional sports in Canada.

For baseball, this came on the heels of the 1994 strike.  The strike, which killed the season, did nothing to help teams like the Expos and Blue Jays.  Worse yet, it hurt the Expos because the team was seen as a real threat to win the division.

Within a year of the new collective bargaining agreement, the Expos were in sell-off mode.  They lost their players, like Larry Walker, and they lost their window of opportunity. 

Eventually, Montreal lost their ownership and their team.

In other leagues, the dollar difference and the apathy of Canadians toward the Major Leagues filtered down to other teams.  Costs and attendance drove Triple-A baseball to its knees. 

By the time the Ottawa Lynx, the last Triple-A team in Canada, moved in 2007, the country had lost 10 professional teams.  Good will and good performance were long gone.

However, as the players join the Majors from Canada, they come there in large part from the era of the Blue Jays two World Series wins.  They built their interest in the game and they have kept it.

In place of farm teams have come a patchwork of independent teams.  Some of whom struggle against the backlash of former teams.  But there appears to be green shoots after the fire.

Canadian baseball will once again survive, and time will tell if they can once again be a part of the Major League system. 

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