I’m not usually one to embrace conspiracy theories. On the other hand…
Yesterday marked the third anniversary of the final home game of the Montreal Expos at the Olympic Stadium. It was also the third anniversary of the official announcement the baseball team was leaving Montreal for Washington, D.C. The official story then was that Montrealers themselves had given up on the team, and the move was inevitable.
Three years on, I still cling to the belief it was a Major League Baseball inside job.
As the Expos suffered through decade-long death throes, culminating in the team’s move, it grew fashionable for out-of-town sportswriters to denigrate the Big O as a sports mausoleum – a big empty toilet-bowl-of-a-stadium.
But having spent a good chunk of my youth there, I remember when it was a raucous, joyous place, filled to its rim with screaming Expos fanatics.
Over time, a combination of relentlessly bad luck and progressively more contemptible ownership drove away all but the hardest-core Expos fans and provided the pretext for Major League Baseball to whisk the team away.
MLB painted the move as a mercy killing and a resurrection of sorts in the U.S. capital.
I tend to see it as more of a long, drawn-out homicide-by-poisoning, followed by a monstrous attempt to regenerate the corpse into a zombie team on the Potomac.
But maybe I’m taking it all too personally.
Nevertheless, the 2002 sale of the Expos to Major League Baseball by Jeffrey Loria – an owner who had done all he could to sabotage the team – and Loria’s concurrent purchase of the Florida Marlins, at the same time as Marlins owner John Henry bought the Boston Red Sox, was a particularly sordid chapter in a baseball history full of sordid chapters.
Within a few years of a team-swap made possible only by MLB’s exemption from U.S. anti-trust laws, Loria’s and Henry’s new teams both went on to win the World Series – a fact that makes the whole episode even more icky.
Speaking of sabotage, the lowlight of Major League Baseball’s three year ownership of the team was the 2003 season, when the Expos – despite being forced to play a chunk of their home games in Puerto Rico instead of Montreal – were contending for a wild-card playoff spot late in the season and beginning to attract big crowds to the Big O once again.
The success was an embarrassment for the league, which was trying to kill off the team. So the league essentially undermined the Expos’ chances by refusing to allow them any September minor-league call-ups, and removed any illusion of fair competition that season.
Did I mention the anti-trust exemption?
On a visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame a couple of years ago, I was dismayed to find my team’s 36-season history presented as a kind of subplot to the Washington Nationals’ glorious then-six-month-long existence.
It’s hard to rationally explain why anyone feels a bond with any given team. You cheer less for particular players than for the uniforms they wear. Jerry Seinfeld famously called it “rooting for laundry”.
Sadly, the laundry I rooted for is now folded away for good. Three years on, my once-burning interest in baseball has ben reduced to indifference at best, schadenfreude at worst.
I barely glance at the major league box scores anymore, but still occasionally find myself rooting for whichever team Washington happens to be playing on any given day.
I know anti-fandom is not a healthy condition. It’s like obsessively following the progress of your ex-spouse’s new marriage. But I am truly more indifferent than obsessive.
On the other hand, I am happy to note the Washington Nationals and Jeffrey Loria’s Florida Marlins are once again this season the two worst teams in the National League East.
And speaking of indifference, when those two teams met for a game recently, I laughed with dark glee when I saw this photo of the crowd they attracted:
Even on their worst days, the Expos’ attracted more fans than this. They’d still be doing so, if it wasn’t for that darn conspiracy…
UPDATE: More here
ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY UPDATE here