A general view of Olympic Stadium prior to the Montreal Expos' final home game against the Florida Marlins in Montreal, Canada. (Photo by Charles Laberge/Getty Images)
The Tampa Bay Rays have had attendance problems despite their good play on the field. People in Montreal want Major League Baseball back. Is there a fit here?
Well now, that's a provocative headline. No, there are no rumors afoot, no proposals to move the Rays, and baseball's been gone from Montreal for eight years.
The idea occurred to me after reading this Jim Caple piece at ESPN.com, in which he talked to many devoted fans of baseball in Montreal who miss the sport and would love to have it back. And then there was this intriguing section of Caple's article:
Fortunately, there is hope for Montreal, even if it is only a glimmer at the moment. Former Expo Warren Cromartie has begun working with Montreal businessmen to bring Major League Baseball back to the city. Not right away. Perhaps not for seven years or more. But sometime.
"A lot of things have changed [since the Expos moved], and a lot of things have changed for the better," Cromartie said. "We understand that Montreal has a lot of proving to do. We understand that. We plan to have our guns loaded to make this happen. We understand there are some skeptics, there is some caution. We also know that Montreal is a great city."
The history of the Expos leaving is well-known. How Jeffrey Loria essentially destroyed the team so MLB would have no choice but to move it (and Loria, a truly despicable man in baseball circles, got Marlins ownership and a new stadium as a reward), and also how the Expos were having trouble competing even before that, due to the weakness of the Canadian dollar. The Blue Jays, for a time, had the same issue -- how could they attract free agents when they essentially had to pay a 40-percent premium?
Now, the Canadian dollar and U.S. dollar are nearly at par, so the money issue isn't there. Clearly, Montreal would need a new stadium; Olympic Stadium wasn't a good baseball venue before 2004 and isn't now. There was a proposal in the 1990s to build a retro stadium in Montreal that would have been called Labatt Park; perhaps that proposal could be resurrected.
Why the Rays? Well, Tampa Bay's attendance issues are well-known, as is the difficulty of getting a new stadium built while the mayor of St. Petersburg insists on holding the Rays to their lease on Tropicana Field.
It would be difficult for MLB to give up on the Tampa-St. Petersburg market, the 18th largest metro area in the U.S., but baseball doesn't appear to be working there, despite the success of the Rays on the field. Even though you'd be giving up a U.S. television market, metro Montreal had a population of about 3.8 million as of 2011, about the size of Tampa Bay-St. Pete and Orlando combined.
So why not? Montreal, as Caple points out, has a rich baseball history:
Montreal IS a great city with a great baseball heritage; Jackie Robinson played there with the Dodgers' farm team before being called up to Brooklyn. More importantly, Montreal is one of the larger broadcast markets in North America. And the old Expos fans remain. As others have noticed, the ExposNation Facebook page wasn't far behind the official Washington Nationals page in "likes" (151,000 to 181,000). The city could easily support a team again.
Further, a move of the Rays to Montreal wouldn't require divisional realignment, as Montreal's in the Eastern time zone and geographically closer to Boston and New York than Tampa is.
What say you? Vote in the poll. Should the Rays be relocated to Montreal if and when they get a stadium and financial support?
Should the Tampa Bay Rays relocate to Montreal, assuming a new stadium can be built?
Yes (887 votes)
No (166 votes)
1053 total votes