There was some unexpected news last week, as some people in Montreal put together a study outlining the necessary ingredients for the return of major-league baseball to that city. For a solid overview of things, let's turn to Montreal columnist Jack Todd:
Major League Baseball isn't back, but the results of the feasibility study conducted by the Board of Trade, the Montreal Baseball Project, EY (formerly Ernst & Young) and BCF LLP says its return is entirely possible.
This is a big-time play, and without big money it isn't going to happen. The estimated total cost of the project is $1.25 billion - but that assumes whoever brings a team to Montreal would be paying $525 million in expansion fees.
That would clearly not be the case if an existing team could be transferred to Montreal - and that existing team is out there, in the form of the Tampa Bay Rays, an excellent organization that struggles at the gate. No less an authority than Peter Gammons said three months ago that the Rays might have to move and Montreal was the likely destination if they do - meaning this city would get a team in the American League East with the Yankees, Blue Jays and Red Sox, where the Expos should have been all along.
I've long argued that Major League Baseball eventually follows the people (or if you prefer, the money). It usually takes a while, but eventually Baseball went to California and the Twin Cities and Texas and Seattle and Florida and Phoenix, and so it's really just a matter of time before Baseball arrives in Portland and San Antonio and maybe even returns to Montreal.
Well, yes ... but I might have been overly optimistic about the future. The past is not always prologue. In the past, Baseball moved into new territories for a variety of reasons: there seemed to be an economic opportunity, or powerful politicians were throwing their weight around, or Baseball was looking at a damaging lawsuit.
None of those things are on the horizon.
Yes, the A's and the Rays could probably make more money elsewhere ... but thanks to revenue-sharing and the new national-TV deal, they're probably not losing money now, and aren't likely to lose money any time soon. Things might well be easier somewhere else, but the A's and Rays' problems are nothing compared to those of (say) the Boston Braves and the St. Louis Browns back in the day. Those latter franchises moved; followed the money, as it were. Expansion's also chased money; for example, it's often been said that MLB expanded in 1998 because franchises were cash-strapped and needed the fees paid by the expansion Diamondbacks and Rays. But nobody's particularly cash-strapped now. Nobody's having problems making payroll, or in danger of bankruptcy.
As for politicians, any political will is against the A's or Rays moving anywhere. There aren't any senators from Oregon or Texas threatening to hold hearings if their states don't get a major-league franchise. Let alone from Quebec. Meanwhile, if a team left California or Florida, there would be some angry (or pandering) Congresspeople.
And finally, there aren't any big lawsuits coming. Well, except for San Jose's lawsuit. I don't think we know yet if that one's big. But even if it's big, the A's moving 40 miles south is hardly the Rays leaving the entire country; that would take one hell of a lawsuit.
Maybe it's true that the Dodgers and Giants moved to California purely due to unbridled greed; after all, New York then and New York now could support three major-league teams in style. But Montreal isn't California; I suspect that nearly every owner goes weeks or months at a time without even thinking about Montreal. The same wasn't true of the Lords and California back in the 1950s, when there was actually a sort of competition between the leagues to see who could get there first.
Always, there has been some pressure when teams moved, or franchises were created out of whole cloth. At this point, there might be enough pressure building for the A's to find a new home just down the road, within five or ten years. But there just isn't enough pressure for Montreal to get another team in the foreseeable future. Something big has to change.