It has been 14 years since the Montreal Expos took the field. 14 long years since the first team outside of the United States left to become the Washington Nationals. Other cities who have had their teams stolen have since returned. The Browns have returned to Cleveland, the Jets returned to Winnipeg, even the Rams returned to Los Angeles. In one way or another multiple teams have returned to where they truly belong. It is time for the Expos to join that list.
If it were not for a player’s strike in 1994, the Expos could very well still be in Montreal where they belong. Montreal had the best record in baseball at the time of the strike. It did not seem like it at the time but the strike effectively ended their time in Montreal. The Expos were not a financially stable team which led to the departure of several key players. By ridding themselves of key players the team was not competitive which led to lack of revenue from fans. A scenario which seems to be playing itself out currently in Miami with the Marlins. Ironically both teams were formerly owned by Jeffrey Loria. However the situations in Montreal and Miami are vastly different, it is quite interesting that Loria as once the owner of both franchises.
Fans did not come, so why should the Montreal Expos return?
Simply put a city should never have their team stolen from them. If an ownership group wants to put a team in a different city they should look into an expansion franchise for that particular city. If that is not an option, it is best to not purchase that team or deal with it being in the current city it is in.
Yes it is a fair statement to criticize the lack of attendance from the fans at Expos games.
The picture to the left is at Olympic Stadium in Montreal from 1986 and the upper deck is quite empty. It is worth mentioning that the Expos finished fourth in the National League East that season with a record of 78-83, not exactly a contender.
Part of the reason fans did not flock to Expos games was in part to an overall poor roster which can be attributed to the financial instability of the organization. Former Expos player Larry Walker even stated that the team asked the players to buy their own vitamins. This is not exactly the description of a financially successful team.
Will baseball return to Montreal?
There are lots of obstacles when it comes to this subject. Mainly MLB would have to find another city worthy of getting a franchise. Standard practice is for two teams to come into the league at the same time to keep the league balanced and to have an even number of teams.
Another issue is the lack of support of a new stadium in Montreal. This was part of the reason why the team left in the first place. There were plans in the works for a new stadium named Labatt Park but it never came to pass. The team moved to Washington and the stadium was never built.
The Toronto Blue Jays play in Montreal at the end of Spring Training every year and attendance is encouraging. It seems that fans appreciate what they used to have and would want their team to come back. Seeing support from fans donning Expos gear in a game that they are obviously not participating in shows the passion of Montreal and the desire for the team to return.
As long as fan support continues it is possible that the Expos could return to Montreal sooner rather than later. There are talks about expanding in the near future and Montreal is at the top of the list of cities being considered. If MLB is serious about expansion it appears that the Expos could be taking the field as a Major League club rather soon.