One more chance for Major League Baseball in Montreal?
Why not? Washington had the Senators (twice) and then got the Nationals. Milwaukee had the Braves and then waited to get the Brewers. Seattle had the Pilots before the Mariners.
Former Expos star Warren Cromartie started his campaign to bring a major league club back to Montreal about a year ago. Big money is being spent to accumulate data to determine if Montreal could sustain a major league team almost nine years after the Expos moved to Washington.
It’s too bad it ended so ugly in such a beautiful city, known more for its hockey. Yet the talent that came out of Montreal since the Expos began play in 1969 was undeniable.
Hall of Famers Andre Dawson and Gary Carter, plus Rusty Staub “Le Grand Orange,” Tim Raines, Marquis Grissom, Cliff Floyd, Randy Johnson, Dennis Martinez, Pedro Martinez, Larry Walker, Andres Galarraga, Moises Alou, Vladimir Guerrero, and Tim Wallach all had stellar careers in Montreal.
Felipe Alou, Dick Williams, Gene Mauch, Buck Rodgers, and Frank Robinson managed there. Dave Dombrowski, Dan Duquette, Murray Cook, and Omar Minaya were among the general managers.
The attendance peak was 1979-83, when the Expos drew an average of more than 2.2 million fans with a high of 2.32 million in 1983, but loyal fans always believed that if majority owner Charles Bronfman had been able to keep the team and make the necessary improvements, including a new stadium, Montreal baseball would have thrived.
Who knows? The skeptics say if baseball couldn’t make it then, why would it make it now?
The feeling among many is that things have changed.
Cromartie and Michel Leblanc, head of the Montreal Board of Trade, are among many involved in the Montreal Baseball Project who believe the sport can make it there now.
Leblanc has brought in $200,000 of government money to explore the possibility and has implored business leaders to match the amount. Leblanc said that “several” business leaders have come forward with matching funds. That means there will be resources available for the research, polling, and other necessities to determine if Montreal could sustain a team and a new stadium.
“The Canadian dollar is much stronger now than in those days,’’ Leblanc said. “The players back then were being paid in US dollars. The exchange rate now is almost near parity, where back then there was a large discrepancy. There’s now a system where funds are redistributed to smaller markets [revenue sharing], and of course all the money from the broadcast companies are much higher now. There’s a new economy in Montreal.”
Leblanc thinks it can work because “Montreal is a great sports city.”
Duquette, who worked in the Expos’ front office and as a GM there for seven years, said, “I wish them luck. Montreal is a great city. I’m not too sure that Montreal is a viable market for Major League Baseball. You have to look at the culture and the economics of the city.”
And that’s precisely what the studies will reveal.
Leblanc, who thinks the team would have to be in the American League, feels natural rivalries would be formed with the Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Yankees.
How could this be accomplished? Would baseball ever expand again? Would the Rays, who can’t draw in Tampa, consider a move to Montreal? The problem for the Expos, with all of their talent, was that they couldn’t draw.
For now, MLB has not commented on Montreal’s exploration, waiting until the data is in.
The group already has commissioned architects to look into a downtown retractable-roof stadium, which Leblanc wants built with private financing, and he believes there’s enough interest in the business community to make it happen.
Cromartie, a South Florida radio talk show host who played for the Expos for 7½ years, gets the feeling that people in Montreal want baseball back. “They miss it. It was never about the fans, it was about the leadership, and except for Charles Bronfman, who was the only leader they ever had here, they didn’t have it,” said Cromartie.
“We have a lot to prove and we know that. It’s a long shot, but it’s a shot I’m willing to take so that we can have all of our facts and data together and present it to Major League Baseball.
“Montreal is a major league city. It has a [metropolitan] population of more than 4 million. It’s so much different than eight years ago. We have the population, the corporate presence, the hunger by the population that misses baseball and misses talking about baseball. I look at it like a scout. Montreal is a five-tool city. We have rich baseball history. Jackie Robinson played here.”
Red Sox special instructor Tommy Harper spent 10 years there as a coach.
“I would love to see something like this happen, but I’m not sure they have the base of fans,’’ Harper said. “I know in ’94 before that strike, we started to draw some people. Mostly walk-up. It was all about putting a good product on the field, and we had great talent and fun players to watch. If Charles Bronfman could have held on to that team, we wouldn’t have lost so many players. He would have signed them. We’d develop them and then they’d leave. That really hurt baseball there.”
Will Montreal join the list of cities that have had to wait for a second chance?
Apropos of nothing
1. The Yankees are the oldest team (average 31.3 years) and the Braves (27.9) the youngest. The Dodgers are the oldest in the National League (30.66).
2. The Rays went 1,693 consecutive starts without using a free agent pitcher before Roberto Hernandez (the former Fausto Carmona) pitched Thursday. Wilson Alvarez (July 14, 2002) was the last.
3. The average age of managers this season is 53.8, down from 54 in 2012. The oldest is Davey Johnson at 70 and the youngest is Bo Porter at 40. Twenty-one of 30 major league skippers have managed in the minors.
5. The A’s used a different left fielder on Opening Day — Yoenis Cespedes — for the 14th straight season.
6. The Brewers have the most foreign players (14), representing seven countries.
7. The Brewers and Marlins employed the most rookies (eight) on their Opening Day rosters. There were 72 rookies on Opening Day rosters. Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, and Toronto had no rookies.
8. CalorieCount.com’s director of nutrition, Rachel Berman, reveals some of the fatty foods at major league ballparks. The DaBurger Triple Play, a 3-pound pork burger at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago with cheddar cheese, bacon, pulled pork, and barbecue sauce, is 1,100 calories; Moe’s Southwest Grill Billy Barou Nachos at Yankee Stadium has about 1,380 calories; the Victory Knot at Dodger Stadium is a megasized pretzel designed for four people, and is about 3,080 calories; Fenway Park’s lobster rolls are about 696 calories; and the BBQ Bisket Nachos at Minute Maid in Houston has 968 calories.
9. Nolan Ryan not only has the most no-hitters in history (seven) but also the most no-hitters lost in the ninth (five).
10. Often asked, who are the classiest players in baseball? Based on my dealings with them, I’d put Jays outfielder Jose Bautista at the top of the list. Also in there are White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko, Jays third baseman Mark DeRosa, Giants catcher Buster Posey, Yankees lefthander Andy Pettitte, Twins catcher Joe Mauer, Phillies righthander Roy Halladay, Reds righty Bronson Arroyo, Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter, and the Red Sox’ David Ortiz.
11. Daniel Pietronava. Heard of him? Pietronava was the family name of Daniel Nava before it was Americanized a couple of generations ago by his ancestors from Italy. “Maybe I should do a reverse Giancarlo [Stanton] and go by Pietronava,” Nava said.
12. Yu Darvish aside, there will be more amazing performances vs. the Astros this season. A no-hitter or two? A 20-strikeout game? Very possible.
Talk of streak burns Pirates
The Pirates certainly want to avoid a 21st consecutive losing season simply because it’s a subject that the players don’t want to keep talking about. Ask Red Sox closer Joel Hanrahan, who had to endure question after question about a streak he had very little to do with.
“That’s the thing,” Hanrahan said. “You’ve got guys on that team who have been there two or three years. I think Jeff Karstens has probably been there the longest and that’s four or five years. How would any of us know about a 20-year streak? That was the unfair part and the thing you kind of inherit when you’re on that team.
“The players don’t talk about it because we have no history with it, but you’re a part of it by association.”
Asked whether he thinks the Pirates can break the curse, Hanrahan said, “The players there want to win as badly as anyone and it has nothing to do with the streak. I think as we were building the team the feeling was, ‘What’s the big deal about going 82-80 just to break the streak? We’re trying to build toward something bigger than that.’ That’s the way we approached it.”
Yet, there’s been a whole generation that has not experienced a Pirates winning season.
“And that city supports its sports teams and they love baseball,” Hanrahan said. “I think the 2010 and 2011 teams gave them some hope. It was no fluke, in my opinion, that we were in first place at the All-Star break in 2010, but then we fell back again. And last year we didn’t perform as well as we thought we would.”
Hanrahan didn’t react when asked whether he thought the management was doing all it could to build a winner. He did acknowledge that some players were getting tied up long term. He obviously wasn’t one of them.
The Pirates wanted to get something for Hanrahan rather than lose him to free agency. The Pirates saw a chance to acquire some younger players and replace him with Steve Grilli, as well as adding a former closer in Mark Melancon to the bullpen.
If they do break the streak?
“Then A.J. Burnett will get the key to the city,” Hanrahan said. “They love him there.”
Updates on 9
1. Kip Wells, RHP, free agent — Looking for a veteran reliever? Wells, soon to be 36, is available. He’s throwing 93 miles per hour, according to his agent, Burton Rocks. It is surprising that Wells is not signed.
2. Bud Norris, RHP, Astros — Norris’s stock rose higher after he beat the Rangers in the opener last Sunday. He should bring the Astros a good haul between now and the trade deadline. One veteran NL adviser indicated the Rangers might be his landing point.
3. Jose Valverde, reliever, Tigers — As one AL evaluator pointed out, “The Tigers had better hurry and get themselves a closer. That team is too good to be searching for someone to do the job.” There aren’t many who think Valverde could be the answer, but he could add to the mix in the bullpen.
4. Carl Crawford, LF, Dodgers — Crawford has looked superb as the leadoff hitter and in the field. “He looks more like the Crawford of old,” said an NL scout. “He’s running well, and he doesn’t seem to have anything holding him back with the elbow or the wrist. I think he wants to show everybody he can still play at a high level.”
5. Mike Pelfrey, RHP, Twins — Rebounding from Tommy John surgery, the ex-Met had a slow start to spring training but has picked it up. He went 5⅓ innings, allowing two runs against the Tigers Thursday. The Twins were forced to retool their rotation with lower-cost pitchers. They got Vance Worley in the Ben Revere deal, and also added veteran Kevin Correia. All three pitched solidly to open the season.
6. Aaron Hicks, CF, Twins — Hicks, who looked fantastic in spring training, went 0 for 11 to start the season. But nobody’s giving up on this exciting talent. Hicks, a switch-hitter, can defend and is fast. He also has some pop at the top of the order. It can’t be easy to face Justin Verlander in your first major league game, either.
7. Ted Lilly, LHP, Dodgers — The Dodgers have to pay him $12 million this season. He started the season on the disabled list after pitching only nine innings in spring training. The Dodgers would love to move him, but there has been little to no interest.
8. Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pirates — One of the fastest men in baseball, McCutchen, who finished third in the NL MVP voting last season, isn’t resting on his laurels. What’s bugging him is his lack of success stealing bases. He was 20 for 32 in 2012 (62.5 percent), but started this season 4 for 4. “With my speed, it should take a perfect throw to get me,” he said. “I’ve really tried to work on my secondary leads and reading pitchers’ moves. More than anything, it’s a mind-set. I just need to be more aggressive and I feel I have been.”
9. Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox — Konerko has talked in the past about retiring, but now is different because he’s in the final season of his contract. Jerry Reinsdorf always has taken care of Konerko, but at some point the classy first baseman may decide enough is enough. That would leave GM Rick Hahn having to scramble to replace not only his powerful bat, but also his leadership.
From the Bill Chuck files: “Bronson Arroyo has never missed a start. He has successfully made 177 minor league starts and 324 MLB starts.” And, “In his first two appearances this season, covering 1⅔ IP, John Axford allowed three homers. Goose Gossage pitched 141⅔ innings in relief for the 1975 White Sox and gave up three homers.” . . . Happy birthday, Adrian Beltre (34) and Bobby Doerr (95).Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.