Anniversary of a Teamicide

30 Sep

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.

Truly.

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:

Marlins vs. Nationals - Sept. 12, 2007

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

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28 Responses to “Anniversary of a Teamicide”

  1. Nationalcoholic October 4, 2007 at 2:21 pm #

    Dear Bitter Expos Fan,

    Suck it.

    Love,

    The Nationalcoholic

  2. Bob Short October 4, 2007 at 2:39 pm #

    Well at least you have all those World Championships to keep you warm in the cold Canadian winters . . . ummmm check that

    Well all those National League pennants . . . ummmm sorry.

    LOOK OUT . . . its falling concrete from a poorly built death trap of a stadium.

    Give it up. A horrible franchise WAS reborn and no one mourns their loss.

  3. Nick October 4, 2007 at 2:44 pm #

    well said sir, as a vermonter (and yankee fan) who only visited the big o once I miss the days when the spose resided just north of me. It was comforting to know that baseball was played so close and in an apocalyptic pinch i could travel an hour north to watch “the perfect game.” incoherent babel, yes, but im drunk and in china in a baseballess void

  4. Chris October 4, 2007 at 2:54 pm #

    You would be completely right in the argument, if say that were a picture of RFK Stadium, or if you were making an argument that the Marlins should lose a team. You are an idiot or a hoser, or whatever.

  5. Mike October 4, 2007 at 2:55 pm #

    Long live the DP combo of Delino Deshields and Spike Owen.

  6. Chemmy October 4, 2007 at 2:55 pm #

    As a former Hartford Whalers fan, I still root for whoever is playing Carolina.

    Sorry about your Expos. 😦

  7. Mark October 4, 2007 at 3:02 pm #

    Take heart, when the Marlins and Nationals fold in a few years, they can’t both move to Charlotte. The Expos will return one day.

  8. Alan Echenberg October 4, 2007 at 3:25 pm #

    To Nationalcoholic:

    The first step in treating your problem is admitting you have one. Good for you.

    ***

    To Bob Short:

    I mourn their loss. Didn’t you read the post? And if you are talking about the Nationals, I think the correct term is “stillborn”, not “reborn”

    ***

    To Chris:

    I may be “an idiot or a hoser, or whatever”, but at least I am not a Nationals fan. And really, if you want some glowing reviews of the crowds at RFK, here you go:

    http://www.google.ca/search?q=rfk+nationals+empty&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

  9. neate s. October 4, 2007 at 3:40 pm #

    Well said, man.

  10. Chris Mottram October 4, 2007 at 3:49 pm #

    You guys already have the Blue Jays. Do you really need two teams? Don’t be greedy.

    I’m a Nationals fan. I’ve spent my entire life in the D.C.-area, so it was with great joy that we embraced your old love. We do appreciate your indifference.

    Good piece though, you’ve made a new fan. You’re a damn fine writer, Echenberg.

  11. Alan Echenberg October 4, 2007 at 4:02 pm #

    To Chris Mottram:

    The Blow Jays? Are you kidding me? That’s like telling a Nationals fan that you already have the Orioles. The only time I have ever cheered for the Blue Jays is when they have played the Nationals. And the only time I ever cheered for the Braves was when they faced the Jays in the World Series.

    Thanks for the compliment. I’m sorry that I hope your team fails and ends up contracted…

  12. Rusty's Glove October 4, 2007 at 4:19 pm #

    As a DC-residing Red Sox fan who has season tix to the Nats, I think it is way too early to pass judgement on the fate of the Nationals. The TV deal is a nightmare for sure, but the ownership group will find all kinds of crreative ways to generate revenue. The true test for the Nationals will be the 2009 and 2010 seasons after the glow of the new stadium wears off a bit, and the Stan Katsen “plan” is more in play. As you well know… the MLB owners gutted the Expos roster and farm system and left very little to market in DC. It will take years to repair the damage. Manny Acta has done an incredible job this year and I think the future is bright for the team to be competitive in a so-so National League. DC is a Redskins town through and through with 30+ years of being the big dog in town. If you put a winning product on the field you will put fans in the seats… it is that simple. I remember the September callup fiasco in 2003 and remember how unfair that was… the same kind of cost cutting BS happened to the Nats while MLB controlled the pursestrings. And don’t forget that DC baseball fans had been yanked around for years and years while MLB used DC as leverage against other cities. Astros, Giants, White Sox, A’s… there is a long list of teams who *almost* came to DC. I see fans at RFK wearing their Expos hats/jerseys… they seem to be adjusting okay. It is not the players’ fault, nor that of the DC Gov’t or the new owners. And at the end of the day… smile… as an Ottawa resident, at least you can vote for your PM!

  13. Alan Echenberg October 4, 2007 at 4:42 pm #

    To Rusty’s Glove:

    I feel for DC fans, I really do. Should have had a team a long time ago. So, let me amend my above thoughts:

    I’m sorry that I hope your team fails and ends up contracted and then eventually you get another team that hasn’t been disgracefully yanked away from another city under shady circumstances by despicable ownership.

    Better?

  14. How Dare YOU! October 4, 2007 at 4:57 pm #

    HOW DARE YOU MAKE FUN OF THE NATIONALS!

    WE ARE WORLD FAMOUS

    GO BACK TO CANADA

  15. Mikeaholic October 4, 2007 at 6:11 pm #

    What’s wrong with the Orioles? Besides, I mean, the franchise?

  16. Scrub Fan October 4, 2007 at 6:12 pm #

    I can’t say I blame you for anything you say, although I am an over-devoted Nats fan. After all how else would I have found your blog in the first place?

    The fact that the once-Expos are in DC is not our fault, and I agree that saying MLB treated the club shabbily would be restraint worthy of an ambassador to North Korea. Still, the evil of Selig aside, your glee at the Nats’ 4th place finish must be diminished somewhat by the knowledge that they utterly exceeded expectations, and that (if you cared anymore) they have made great strides in replenishing the farm system that MLB and, yes, Omar Minaya gutted.

    Keep writing, please. If enough Expos fans keep some measure of passion for the team now gone, perhaps the Nats can try to make some connection that is more meaningful. I don’t wish it happened any other way (unless DC got a team earlier), but I can’t imagine that feeling of being gutted.

  17. Jeff October 4, 2007 at 6:29 pm #

    I’m a lifelong Cubs fan, but the Expos always were my #2 team – the Dawson, Carter, Cromartie & Rogers teams of the early 80’s were highly entertaining to watch. People tend to forget that in the early 80’s the Expos consistently outdrew big market franchises such as the Mets, Red Sox and Cubs. The Montreal fans weren’t anti-baseball – they just stopped throwing good money after bad supporting a team that was being relegated to the second division along with perennial small market contenders such as Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. All the new stadiums and fireworks shows in the world aren’t going to keep bringing in the fans year after year if you don’t even have the hope of “Wait til’ next year…” – hence the success of the NFL, like it or not.

    I made the trip to Montreal in ’03 and ’04 to pay my last respects to a team that was getting the shaft. I still wear my “Gardons Nos Expos” t-shirt every time the Nationals are in town. Long live Youppi!

  18. Alan Echenberg October 4, 2007 at 6:37 pm #

    To Scrub Fan:

    I have to be honest with you – I had no idea they exceeded expectations, because I haven’t followed them beyond an occasional glance at the box scores or standings.

    But my sense is that D.C. had no interest in making any kind of meaningful connection. The stories that came out of the early days of the Nationals were of downplaying and disrespecting the Expos’ history.

    They un-retired all of the retired Expos numbers, for example, and it was left to the Montreal Canadiens hockey team to pick up the slack: http://www.usatoday.com/sports/hockey/nhl/canadiens/2005-10-19-canadiens-expos-mascot_x.htm .

    That didn’t bother me though. As I wrote in the post above, my view is that the Expos were not relocated, so much as killed off, with the corpse dressed up in a Nats uniform…

  19. RL October 4, 2007 at 6:44 pm #

    I was born in DC. I became an Expos fan when the team was first rumored to be moving, when Frank Robinson became Mgr. (To this day, one of my fantasy teams is named St. Jovite Expos). I was at the last home Expos game, I arrived in MTL the day they made it official. It was great that my hometown was going to have baseball again — I was at the last Senators game — but I hated that it came at the expense of MTL and its people (and how ig’nant do you have to be to lump in TOR with MTL? The DC/BAL analogy is exactly apt). It was like BAL stealing the Browns (granted, the Browns were better supported). The Luries made a big deal of being unable to sell English-language radio rights — so what? Quebec is a French-speaking province! Anyway, baseball is not about ticket sales, it is about broadcasting rights. MLB is totally corrupt. Totally. Anything done at the hands of Reinsdorf and Selig stinks and is illegitimate, and that includes the move of the Spos to DC. Yes, they have more fans. They will do fine in the new stadium (100% built at taxpayer expense). But I firmly believe baseball could work in MTL, and I hope it returns there.

  20. NatsVA October 4, 2007 at 8:03 pm #

    Do you have a picture of the final game RFK Stadium a few Sundays ago against the Phillies? You know, the one that drew over 40,000 mostly Nats fans? Granted, people didn’t really enjoy going to RFK Stadium. I mean, the place was a dump-no agrument here. But we have a brand new park opening this April, and”W” caps are everywhere in this town. People care-and will care even more when the team goes to the playoffs in a few years.

  21. byron October 4, 2007 at 8:50 pm #

    Great post. I was born and raised in SC (South Carolina) and the Expos were/are my team. (I think it was the cool hats.) Rick Monday is an ass. (Still bitter) The way MLB just shat on the team was horrible. My wife thought I had lost my mind as I raged around the house following the Marlins WS. Loria = craptastic

  22. tsos20 October 4, 2007 at 10:41 pm #

    When I think of the Expos, I think of Steve Rodgers beating Stece Carlton twice ito eliminate the Phillies in the strike shortened season playoff. I also think of John Boccabella.

    The Sultan on Sports

    http://www.tsos20.wordpress.com

  23. andy2007 October 5, 2007 at 1:56 pm #

    Dude,

    If you are going to post pictures of an empty stadium you should at least label it correctly and point out that it was taken in Dolphins stadium for a Marlins midweek day game at home. You are just trying to make people think it was a RFK which is untrue. At least try and be honest.

    In just three years in DC, the Nationals are getting a brand-new state of the art stadium. Something they would never have got if they stayed in Montreal a 100 years. Sorry, but that’s the truth.

  24. Alan Echenberg October 5, 2007 at 2:05 pm #

    To andy2007:

    Dude – I never said it was RFK. I just said I was happy to see the kinds of crowds the Nats and the Fish were attracting these days. And if you look at an earlier comment in this thread, you will see a link to a large collection of articles about how few fans have been attending Nats games in Washington. Are they dishonest, too? And you’re right that Montrealers would never have tolerated the sweet deal that D.C. politicians gave to Baseball to get your new stadium built. Hope it was worth the tax money…

  25. BNF October 9, 2007 at 11:53 pm #

    ….nice…..

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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