Simply Baseball Notebook: Cover Stories

MLB belongs in Montreal

January 2002

Don't Believe What You Hear:

The Montreal Expos and their fans have dealt with more than their fair share of setbacks during the franchises' 33 year history. Most notably is the impending elimination of the franchise. MLB and most media outlets would have you believe that the people of Montreal have long since turned their backs on baseball, that they do not deserve a team. Don't believe everything you hear, however, MLB must share the blame for the state of the game in Montreal. These fans have endured despite a great sense of betrayal, but a sizable group continues to remain loyal. Baseball has and can thrive in Montreal, it is MLB and it's current financial system that has turned its back on the city and the team.

History of Heartbreak

The city of Montreal was awarded a franchise on May 27, 1968 and was slated to begin playing in 1969 in the National League's Eastern Division. Before baseball could be played in Canada, however, a few obstacles laid in it's way. The Expos had problems with impatient investors, two of the original seven dropped out, but local millionaire Charles Bronfman swooped down at the last minute with the necessary capital to save the day. The next obstacle was the stadium. There appeared to be no place for the new team to play, but at the last minute Jarry Park was deemed suitable and remained the Expos' home until Olympic Stadium opened in 1977.


Expos survived the early uncertainty and began to flourish making a couple of ill-fated pushes at the NL East crown in the late 70s and early 80s in their new digs. The 'Spos lone trip to the post season came during the strike marred 1981 season in which they captured the NL East's second half title and defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in a best-of-five playoff to win the NL East Title. Like most Expos memories, however, it ended in heartbreak in the 5th and deciding game of the NLCS when the Dodgers' Rick Monday hit the game winning home run in the 9th inning. The game is remembered in Montreal as "Blue Monday." The Dodgers went onto defeat the Yankees in the World Series.

What happened to the Expos in the infamous 1994 season is a travesty. The team had the games' best record, 74-40, and a six game lead over Atlanta in the NL East on August 12 when the players walked out on strike. As we all know, the season never resumed and the Expos have never been the same (for more on the 1994 Expos see "FORGOTTEN IN TIME"). Today the threat of contraction hangs over the head of the Expos and their fans. It is not difficult to see why these fans that have been through so much feel betrayed by the powers that be in MLB.

The City

Montreal is one of the most unique cities in North America. The province of Quebec's official language is French. As a result, the Expos have dual radio broadcasts and two versions of their web site.

The city of Montreal was settled about 350 years ago by French "Habitants" (in case you were wondering that is where the NHL Canadiens get their "Habs" nickname and the "H" on their jerseys). The area was known as "New France" (loosely translated). After the English gained control of Canada they allowed the citizens to keep their existing laws and French school system. That is a very brief summary of the French roots of Montreal.

By the turn of the 20th Century Montreal had become the financial capital of Canada. Because of the lack of prohibition in the 1920s it also became quite a party town. Liquor deprived citizens on the United States' Northeast coast came in droves to indulge themselves in Montreal.

In 1967 the city hosted the World's Fair, which they called 'the Expo'. The Fair did more than provide inspiration for a teams' name, it's success fueled the community's desire for a team of it's own. Backed by Walter O'Malley, the influential owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, (who had seen his AAA team, the Royals, flourish in Montreal) the city made it's ultimately successful push for a MLB franchise.

The Fans

Eric Floyd, 38, is a product manager at Escher-Grad technologies, a Montreal based company that manufactures laser imaging equipment for the printing industry. Since a majority of the companies business comes from the US, he often takes clients out on the town which may include a stop at Olympic Stadium. Floyd, a life long Montrealer and die-hard Expos fan relishes these opportunities, even though they are often met with some resistance.

"I try to attend as many 'Spos games as possible," he says, "which is about a dozen per season. Not much, I know, but I would definitely go more often if I did not have to convince people to come out, even if I provide excellent free tickets. It's a tough sell, I'm telling you....."

Floyd firmly believes that baseball can not only exist, but thrive in Montreal. The key of course is baseball getting it's house in order. Which is much easier said than done. Floyd believes that Montreal needs to capitalize on its party town image and attract a series of summer time festivals (International fireworks competition and jazz, comedy, beer, etc. festivals) that will bring in tourists which have the potential to attend baseball games.

"It does not take a genius to see that all these partying people would absolutely go for a ball game once in a while," he says. "(It could be) in a package arrangement with the theme of the night - Expos fireworks night (for example). (The teams') problem is that they are stuck with the New York 1927 inspired baseball marketing rules that do not work


Steve Lapommeray, who is in his early 20s, represents a younger generation of Expos fans. Too young to remember the glory days of the early 80s and the disappointment of the '94 season, he still remains loyal to his hometown team despite it's seemingly hopeless situation.

Here is a good representation on how the young generation of Expos fans take in game, "(I went to the game) on September 21, 2001, Expos vs. Rockies, and I went with another group of people for $5 box seat night," said Lapommeray. "I did go because I was concerned that it would be the last time I'd be able to see the Expos in Montreal. It went 11 innings in an Expos loss, and had 10,500 people. (and the place went crazy when the attendance was announced) The atmosphere was amazing, the place gets LOUD with all the people banging the seats! And do I have to mention the Molson Ex Girls? Wow! The group I was with & I made our way down to their entrance, and there happened to be a cameraman there and they got on the video wall. All in all, a great time, even though I was the only one who stayed until the end."

Expos fans are not limited to Quebec or even Canada.Jon White of Athens, GA became a fan after attending an Expos vs Braves at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in 1984. "I became a fan of the Expos at age 11," he said. "I was taken to a Braves game for my birthday and the Expos beat them. I loved the killer uniforms they had, and since then have cheered my Expos louder than any one in the South."

Save the Expos!!

The fact is that there are still a number of Expos fans out there. Despite, the overall media's perception and coverage, Montreal does still care about baseball. These fans have been through near misses, the heartbreaks, "the wait until next year's", and even an all out cancellation of their teams' best chance at glory. Now major league baseball is attempting to erase their team, to act as if thirty plus of baseball years never happened. Worst of all, with the support of the media, they shift much of the blame to the fans. However, any real baseball fan knows that the Expos should be saved - it is the game that needs fixing, getting rid of the franchise that has been most hurt by it's flaws is not the answer. Contraction is not good for the game, it only damages its' already fragile public image.

-David Zingler

Special thanks to Eric Floyd for his contributions to this story.


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