Tuesday, September 28, 2004

An Epitaph For The Montreal Expos

I never thought I’d type these words, but here goes: Good-bye Montreal Expos. I’ve kept the faith about the Expos future in Montreal for years now. Year after year we’d hear reports of the Expos soon-to-occur exodus but put little stock in them. When owners and commissioners open their mouths I assume one of two things: (a) they’re lying, and (b) they’re trying to extort money from the fans, the players, the regions that host/wish to host MLB.

However this time it’s real. Bud Selig and his money-whoring heart got the necessary corporate welfare from D.C. to give them a team. A vote on the Expos’ relocation is about to be taken and Budley Do-Wrong never calls for a vote unless he’s positive about the outcome.

I do not bear any ill will toward baseball fans in Washington. I wish them well and hope Nos Amours bring them all the joy and none of the frustrations that the Expos have brought me. I was thrilled back in 1976 with the news that Toronto was going to get the Giants from San Francisco so I am in no position to bear any kind of animus toward Washingtonians for rejoicing over the arrival of les Expos.

I do not blame Washington for my losing my National League rooting interest. There’s plenty of blame to pass around for the Expos’ demise and baseball fans in Washington’s fingerprints are nowhere to be found on the murder weapon. I wish I were a dog so I could cock my hind leg and give the following a proper salute:

  • Bud Selig: I love pizza. If there was only one pizza joint in my hometown and they advertised that the food was poor, the beer was lukewarm and watered down, the servers were rude and inattentive, and that chances were excellent that I’d leave their establishment unsatisfied and a little nauseous and they had absolutely no intention of improving things, would it be logical to say that I didn’t like pizza because I refused to patronize the place? What if you complained about the restaurant to management and they told you that if you ate high priced feces and drank cat urine a couple of dozen times a year they might decide to serve slightly better pizza and a have decent beer in a few years--although they might have to jack up the prices in order to so?

    Doubtless you’d suggest that the establishment do something that’s both auto-erotic and anatomically impossible.

    Well, that’s Bud and the Expos. Blame the consumer for not swallowing his #@*#!! And calling it ice cream or the 1927 Yankees incarnate. His other crimes (I won‘t list them all, bandwidth problems y‘know) include the bad faith negotiating that led the strike of 1994 derailing a magnificent season for Expos that could’ve revitalized the franchise. Not letting the Expos call up players Sept 1st when they were contending for the wild card not long ago, not offering Vlad Guerrero arbitration so the Expos could get draft picks or at the very least extending the negotiating window to retain him. Trying to contract the Expos, killing off interest in the Expos but implying that every year was the last season for the Expos in Montreal, his non-stop anti-marketing of MLB, rewarding Jeffery Loria with a World Series championship team for doing his part to killing off any remaining interest in the Expos and then plundering the front office before going to Florida etc. etc. etc.

  • Jeffery Loria: Let the option expire on the tract of land for a new park, kept the Expos off (or significantly reduced) the radio and TV rather than accept fees he felt were inadequate (thereby killing off interest via a lack of exposure rather than trying to build interest and induce demand), ticked off local government, ticked off corporate sponsors, alienated the people he needed to cultivate in order to make the team successful, made dubious cash calls to acquire dubious talent to dilute other stockholder’s share to acquire enough of the team to sell to MLB. Took the money and ran off to Florida with a lot of Expos’ property, and generally helped Bud Selig to assassinate any interest in the Expos. Loria and Selig teamed up to destroy as much interest in the Expos’ as possible to make selling and moving the franchise the only “logical” alternative.
  • Claude Brochu: Supported Bud Selig’s stance during the strike of 1994. The Expos were 13th out of 14 teams in attendance in 1993, moved up to 11th out of 14 in 1994 and drew a total of 2,917,687 fans those [almost] two seasons (in other words--things were picking up). The Expos finished 3 games back of Philadelphia in the NL East (94-68) in 1993 and had the best record in MLB in 1994 (74-40.…with the second lowest payroll in the major leagues). Instead of taking advantage of renewed interest in the Expos and investing in the franchise to continue the trend, they stripped the club of its stars to lower payroll even further. If you don’t think there was renewed interest in the Expos, consider this: Despite the firesale of 1995, the Expos moved up to 10th out of 14 in NL attendance. The interest was there, but Brochu and his partners let it wither and die.
  • Bowie Kuhn: Limited the Expos to 18 telecasts into the Ontario market--which in effect, cut off the Expos from anywhere west of Quebec. The Expos, Canada’s first team, was, in the words of--then owner--Charles Bronfman “ghettoized ... into Quebec.” The Blue Jays would go on to become one of MLB’s wealthiest teams while the Expos became the poorest.
  • “The System”: The system, in theory is fine. A team gets six years major league service from the players they develop. However, the mishandling/manipulating of the system by owners, the MLBPA, and player agents hurt the Expos significantly. Some quick points: The levels of revenue sharing [up to recent times] destroyed the Expos. Large revenue teams bid up the price of players which small revenue teams had to match to hang on to talent. The large revenue teams escalated the cost of doing business for the small revenue teams giving them a built in advantage. Teams like the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers etc. could acquire the best current talent while pricing out future top talent out of the price range of teams like the Expos. This wouldn’t be a problem if this only involved free agents, however it trickled down to arbitration eligible players as well. A player on a small market team might not be able to afford the arbitration awards of its top talent forcing them to trade [the player]. This reduced the period of time a club could hang on to its best players from six to as few as three years. This enabled wealthy clubs earlier access to the best talent developed by low revenue clubs as team like the Expos would have to trade their most talented arbitration eligible players to franchises who could afford them.

I could go on and one but the point is clear: the power brokers in MLB screwed the Montreal Expos repeatedly. Every time the Expos were building interest, expanding it’s base, and growing in success (late 1970‘s-early 1980‘s; mid 1990‘s) baseball management derailed it. The fans did not fail the Montreal market--MLB did. The fan base showed more interest and loyalty to the Expos than MLB ever did. If major league baseball did what they did to the Expos to any other franchise over the last 25 years, they’d be the ones headed to Washington. A team can win despite a cheap/dishonest owner or the current system or an idiotic commissioner etc. but not when all of these factors come into play as they did with the Expos.

Believe it or not, despite his constant whinings to the media, Bud Selig likes the current setup of the business of major league baseball. Competitive balance isn’t the problem it’s been made out to be. Since the strike, the Florida Marlins have won two World Series, the Minnesota Twins just three-peated in the AL Central, the Oakland A’s can win their fourth division title in five years thereby giving them their fifth straight post season appearance, the one time laughable Cleveland Indians (remember the Major League movies) won six division titles and two pennants, the one time equally laughable Seattle Mariners won three division titles and qualified for the playoffs once via the wild card.

Picture if you will, what Bud Selig would call his baseball utopia: 100% of baseball revenues are put into a pot and divided evenly 30 ways. There is a hard salary cap. Perfect, right?


In this “utopia” could you go to your city, municipality, state and say: “I need a new public financed stadium to compete or I‘m going to go broke”? Why do you need a new stadium? You have the exact same revenues as the Yankees. The Yankees can’t outspend you. It doesn’t matter where you play since you’re situation would remain unchanged relative to the other teams in the league. Could you go to your city, municipality, state and say: “I need a new public financed stadium to compete or I‘m going to go broke and if you don‘t build it I‘m leaving”? Where would you go? You’d be no better or worse off than where you were [at the moment].

A degree of perceived competitive imbalance/perceived economic losses is important to Selig (why do you think that he‘s to the word “aberration” that Ford Frick was to the word “asterisk”?) in that it gives him leverage to extract public money for his stadium scams. He can claim market size disadvantages, he can claim payroll disadvantages etc. Absent these “imbalances” he has no claim to need public assistance. Then he has the hammer: the antitrust exemption. There’s only one game in town--major league baseball. If Bud Selig had his alleged utopia, then any market that could support a team could have one. Bud doesn’t want that however; by having fewer teams than cities that could support them, he has another tool in his blackmail belt. Now he can make the threat “[insert team name] needs a new public financed stadium to compete or [insert team name] will go broke and if you don‘t build it [insert team name] is leaving.” The name of the game is no longer fan support but corporate welfare. Could Los Angeles support an NFL franchise? Of course. But why have L.A.’s last two teams left for St. Louis and Oakland respectively? Those regions anteed up more subsidies than Los Angeles was willing to pay. Why has Washington not gotten a major league team during the multiple rounds of expansion since 1977? D.C. didn’t put enough subsidies on the table. Now that they’re willing to cough up 100% of stadium costs and assign the lion’s share of stadium revenues to the team, now Washington is “ready” to become “major league” again.

This is what is so purulent about Selig. When he was trying to find a buyer for the Expos, he wasn’t just looking for a buyer. Bill Gates couldn’t purchase the Expos unless the city Gates would have them play in would subsidize the franchise with a publicly financed stadium. Selig was looking first and foremost for a round heeled city. Once one was located, then the search for a group to purchase the team could begin in earnest. It’s not about fan support, it’s about public support. It’s not about the number of fans willing to buy tickets, it’s about the number of corporations willing to lease luxury boxes and club seats. It’s not about the “best interests of baseball” it’s about taking money from schools, libraries, healthcare etc. and giving it to his billionaire parasites he calls friends.

When Bud Selig dies I am going to go to his grave and dig up some worms. I am going to take those worms and go fishing. I am going to take the fish I catch and feed it to my cat. I am going to take the litter out of my cat’s litter box and take it to the dump. Then I am going to check back at the dump in two weeks and look where I dumped the cat litter so I can say that I watched maggots engage in cannibalism.

Best Regards