Results tagged ‘ Montreal Expos ’
Happy Valentine’s Baseball lovers. Tonight is the second half of the current season of “The Walking Dead” and while it is far from my type of entertainment, I’m personally all too familiar with the storylines because my wife like so many American’s finds it more interesting than politics, the news, or other more pressing subjects. So much of what is presented at least in the view of this writer is an overhyped and overblown focus on a postapocalyptical world where everything has been destroyed by some horrible event, be it man made or nature’s doing or some out of world alien/zombie created circumstance and the few survivors fight for what is left in a tribal like society.
What I present may seem a tad apocalyptical but based on past baseball history and current trends, it could become a stark reality that dramatically alters the sports and baseball landscape over the next 20-40 years. God willing, I’ll still be alive at age 82 in 2056 with spring training upon us, but will baseball look anything like it does today, will any major sports league? Below, I present some of the potential pitfalls that await MLB and its pro sports partners in the NFL, NBA and NHL, and the question is, what will they do to prepare for the end of the sports world as they know it?
Walkers are coming from all around to eat up the sports landscape. From the west, a group of walkers is carrying signs that state in very harsh language that government funding is dead, sports leagues must make it on their own. The owners are running in circles with no idea how to resolve this conflict. They don’t want to admit that society finally grew tired of their endless begging for corporate welfare, which asked for public money to build new stadiums and arenas to replace the ones that were built just 15-30 years ago. The last round of the sports building boom, everyone was told that to compete and field a winning team, the club had to have the latest, greatest state of the art facility. Build it, we win championships and contend every year for the opportunity to win more. Don’t build it, we leave. NO one stopped and realized, there are 30 teams in MLB, so if every team won just one single championship, it would take 30 years for every team to get its title, meaning it was nearly a stone cold lock that several MLB teams would not see a championship and might not even make it to the World Series during the same 30 year or shorter term for said stadium lease. The White Sox, Giants, Astros, Padres, Marlins, Rays, Athletics, Twins, Pirates, Mariners, all made the I’m leaving threat in baseball and the Expos eventually did leave. IN the NFL, the Rams have made good on the threat twice, the chargers and Raiders both could potentially join the Rams on that have done it twice list, while the Saints, Jaguars, Colts, Bills, Vikings, Seahawks, and buccaneers, have had or are currently making the same threat to government officials, while the Colts and Cardinals, and old Houston Oilers made good on the threat. IN the NBA, the Kings and Bucks are the latest teams to make the threat and get a new building, those two had brand new arenas in 1988, while the Hornets, Heat, and Magic which all got new buildings at the same time as new expansion teams all have since moved into new buildings that replaced those original new homes. The Grizzlies had a new home in 1995 and moved six years later, getting a second new building in 2004, while the Supersonics moved and became the Thunder in 2008. Similar arena threats were put out by the Rockets, Spurs, and pacers that got new buildings put up between 1999 and 2003, while other multiple sports cities, Dallas, Denver, and Chicago opened new facilities between 1994 and 2001. IN the case of Dallas, the new arena was replacing a building just 21 years of age that now no longer exists, Reunion Arena. Miami may be the most gross case here, because the new Miami arena that opened in 1988 was used to get both the expansion Heat in the NBA that year and the Panthers NHL team in 1993. It was built specifically for both sports. Yet by 1996 both teams were asking for new buildings, they each got one that they call home, the Panthers in 1998, the Heat a year later. The original Miami Arena was used sparingly until it was brought down less than 20 years before its first NBA game. Meanwhile, in the NHL, the Senators want a new arena, the current facility this 1992 Ottawa expansion franchise called home opened in 1996. The Red wings are getting a new building of their own, largely paid for by local public dollars in a city and state that is bleeding red ink, even though the owner could easily spend enough of his money to build the whole thing and still have billions left over. Talk about welfare, but of course when it is the owner of Little Caesar’s Pizza, the Tigers and Red Wings, that is somehow OK, but it is horrible when we give well fare to a 19 year old pregnant girl who is on her own with no family to turn too? Every arena used by NBA and NHL teams today not named Madison Square Garden and Oracle Arena is younger than Jennifer Hudson, younger than Yankees slugger Mark Teixeira. Remember the Warriors are getting a new building unless things fall apart in San Francisco, scheduled to open by 2018. Only six MLB stadiums are older, Wrigley which is getting remodeled, Fenway which has had upgrades, Kaufman which received a new round of upgrades on the public tab in 2006, Dodger Stadium and yes, that ballpark urrrr stadium in Oakland; Angel Stadium went through a pair of major upgrades, one to add football in 1979 and one to undo that change and update the baseball only feel in 1997. IN the NFL, the only older venues that predate Jennifer and Mark are Lambeau Field and Soldier Field (both which had a major makeover and upgrade in 2002-03), Arrowhead Stadium, Rich Stadium, that stadium again in Oakland, the temporary home the Rams are moving to at Los Angeles Coliseum which had no NFL team since the Raiders left in 1995, QUALCOMM Stadium in San Diego and the new Orleans Super Dome which has had its share of upgrades and repairs. The Falcons like several NBA teams got a new facility that opened the year Bill Clinton was elected to his first term in office, only to have it torn down potentially in the first year of another Clinton administration 25 years later in 2017. The Dolphins again as we point fingers at greater Miami moved to a facility built in 1987 for them and to get what would become the marlins. Almost immediately, the Marlins wanted out when it rained too much before baseball games to keep fans coming, hey Miami has always been that way, and now the Dolphins want upgrades or a new facility.
How do owners then fund new palaces to play in you ask? Well that depends on where else they can reach out with buckets in hand begging for private money to build the new stadiums. The public money is all gone, being used to build much more needed and much more outdated public works items such as electrical grids, water and sewer lines, replacing old gas pipes that keep exploding, and upgrading the telecommunications utilities. But there is another problem, walkers coming from the east, with signs featuring more stark language. Your cable TV money is gone, never to return. Here, we see another problem that takes us back in time while also developing on the horizon like a hurricane 1000 miles out in the Atlantic. We know damage could be done, we don’t know where or to what extent, but we know it is coming. IN this case, let’s think back to 1988 and the announcement that CBS had paid massive media rights fees to MLB. Teams were spending money on players left and right with this new found wealth of TV dollars. Yet in 1994, that CBS deal was gone and the new package was not nearly as lush with free greenbacks. Since MLB is not the treasury, it could not issue its own money and had to cut back. Baseball’s best season was ruined by a player strike, but the owners had just as much to do with it. Instead of using some of that TV money to build and update stadiums, owners bid against themselves and overpaid players, then begged for a salary cap to keep their fellow owners from spending too much on player contracts. We all know how that ended. But now fast forward to 2016, many teams have recently entered into or are just now starting new TV contracts with massive payouts from regional sports networks that are operated by and owned by divisions of the major cable and satellite TV companies. ESPN, Fox and TBS also are in the middle of huge contracts that pay very high rights fees to MLB through the 2021 season. But by 2021, it could be painfully apparent that baseball will need to come up with new revenue sources. The problem is simple, many people especially younger folks are ditching cable and satellite TV for on demand internet programming and who can blame them, a new trend known as chord cutting. Our own Time Warner bill has gone up almost 25 dollars in the last year, most of that in extra fees including a 6 dollar sports channel use fee. TWC and the other providers like Comcast, DirecTV and Dish will say that ESPN is to blame because of the high fees it demands for carriage over these systems. That has some truth to it, but look at how much money these same cable companies have sank into local TV rights contracts for teams in MLB< the NBA and NHL. The NFL largely dodges this issue because most of its games are still on over the air TV, something that is almost unheard of these days with the other leagues. This also does not even take into consideration the huge amount of money promised to college athletics, mainly in the form of NCAA football and men’s basketball at the division I level, viewed by many including myself as nothing more than university sponsored minor leagues. As more and more customers drop 180 to 200 dollar a month cable bills for on demand internet programs where they are purchasing only the programming they want to see, it forces the cable folks to raise rates. That bubble is about to pop like an overblown helium balloon and when it does pop, the sports leagues could find themselves being short changed because future promised dollars that were coming are suddenly now evaporating in the smoke and dust that is left behind by the burning down of the cable and satellite TV industry as we know it today.
Walkers are coming from the north and south too. From the north, they carry signs from entitled players who want even larger salary figures from owners who no longer have public welfare and no private money in hand to spend. The southern flank carry signs representing fans who are revolting against ticket prices that are increasing at many times the rate of working wages, fans who are tired of overpriced food and drinks provided by third party venders that do not follow food safety requirements in several instances. Minimum wage was $4.25 in 1993, it is now $7.25 in most locations. Yet $4.25 in 1992 will cost you more like $9 in today’s market for the same goods.
So the fans won’t buy tickets, the players are demanding money that is not there because the cable contracts are dead and worthless sheets of legal paper, while the government bonds have expired and no public official worth his or her weight in is coming through that door with as much as a dime of free goodies. This could happen and when it does, how do the pro leagues respond, and how does baseball in particular adapt to this very possible future reality?
I don’t have all of the solutions, but here are a couple. First, MLB should realize that the way fans are going to consume sports is changing and they will not be able to rely on passing this service fee on to the backs of many people who will never watch a game on television, much less attend a game in a stadium. MLB must come up with other revenue from the broadcast of game events. How you do this in part would be to make every single game you broadcast on TV and radio available worldwide to anyone online, no matter what. The audio service largely already accomplishes this and the MLBTV product should follow suit. Make that service available to any fan who wants to see any game, any team, anywhere. Already class action has forced MLB to sell an individual team package for out of market games, but this out of market concept is outdated and frankly it should have been terminated 15 years ago. MLB should have a very basic process here, no matter the fan, no matter where in the world you are geographically. Want to get the audio only package, sell it on a monthly or season long basis, sell it also on a per team or whole league type of package. So, I can get all MLB games for a month at a time, one team for the entire season, or all MLB games for the entire season. The same concept naturally would be true for those who upgrade to the video streaming service.
MLB should also hire broadcasters to cover games in other foreign languages. Many teams already have Spanish announcers, but hire a few MLB controlled broadcast teams who can do games in various popular languages around the world. While these announcers would not be able to cover all 2430 regular season games, they could cover 5-7 games a week, with all teams being offered throughout the season. Imagine if on any given day, you could find a couple games with an option in French, or German, or Chinese, Etc. These foreign language products would be streamed anywhere in the world, including to US based customers with a 30 day free intro to get fans interested. Teach them about the game if you will, then if they get hooked and fall in love, they can by a subscription. Similar audio broadcasts in various languages should also be made available via streaming services and if in languages that are in parts of the world with less internet traffic, dedicate a shortwave or related radio broadcast service specifically for this purpose.
Second, find ways to make the stadium into a year round money generating facility. Stadiums would become better public works investments if they were used more than 80 some odd times a season. MLB teams should find ways to book events at stadiums on all possible dates outside the baseball season and during the season, allow various events to take place at the facility on all dates not used for baseball, accept the day prior to a team returning home from a long road trip when the facility needs to be prepared for the next home games on the schedule. With more and more teams creating social zones in stadiums, those could all be rented out for big events and receptions on a very regular basis. I think the future here is interesting, as I could see a day where seats as we know it are no longer sold, with fans instead buying tickets to various zones within a ballpark and having areas to move around in, while using more restaurant style seating with tables and movable seating that allow for folks to face the field of play if using such setups on game days. Plus here is a big leap of Sheldon Cooper sarcasm, host more baseball games. Schedule the big state high school tournament during certain seasons at your stadium, bring college teams in on a regular basis for more than just the single weekend tournament and have events at the stadium on those open dates that are baseball related that get the community involved with one another. Have showcase events for international prospects, have baseball combine style events prior to the draft, and other events that promote baseball’s future talent, but do so in MLB stadiums where you can draw in MLB crowds. Imagine, you sell 30 thousand seats at 15 bucks a pop for any seat in the stadium and charge 5 dollars for parking, you know, minor league rates back in the day and you have made 450K just in ticket sales for that one event. For the stadiums as we know them to become true profit machines and thus to view them as investments or properties that have value, they must be living breathing spaces that are regularly active throughout the calendar year. We would never see funding for office buildings that were open only on Monday and Tuesday, or about 100 days in the year, which is even more than we see for actual game day events in MLB, even when postseason is accounted for. The numbers are certainly much worse in terms of usage dates for the NFL which has a max of about 12 in any given season, while the numbers for NHL and NBA arenas are about a max of 58 dates if a team played all the way to the finals, since no team plays the max 7 games in all four series. Even and arena that is home to both an NBA and NHL team gets a max of fewer than 120 usage dates during the year.
In conclusion, it is safe to say that things will probably not unfold in exactly the way that my imagination is presenting here. But the issues I have laid out on electronic paper here could very well take baseball and sports as we know it into new directions that require very difficult decisions and it will require creative solutions by power brokers who are used to getting everything the way they want it. All in the baseball and sports industry will need to be willing to make some real sacrifices and change how they think today, or risk forever destroying the very games we love in the future when resources have dried up and the league as currently funded becomes a bankrupt hulking mass of debt with empty decaying buildings that are home to no games, no fans, and no joy.
In this very space March 18, I wrote about the exhibition games scheduled for March 29-30 that would mean more to the cities of Montreal and San Antonio, than they would to the teams playing in them, Mets and Blue Jays at Olympic Stadium, Rangers and Astros at the Alamodome. I wrote about how unlikely expansion appears to be in the short term for Major League Baseball and I wrote about how we all know which two teams potentially would be paying attention to these efforts, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland athletics who let’s be honest need a new stadium and who genuinely want to stay in the greater San Francisco Bay region. San Jose already offered to build a stadium, but efforts are being blocked by the Athletics’ neighbors in San Francisco, creating a Giant obstacle to stadium efforts and potentially leading to the removal of the Athletics from the region all together. The issues with the Tampa situation I detailed in brief in my March 18 editorial.
My closing comments were strait forward, it would be almost unthinkable that both franchises would relocate and given the less than high percentage odds of expansion, Montreal and San Antonio were not only trying to show folks in the Commissioner’s Office that they deserved baseball, they were also trying to outscore one another. IN terms of the box scores then from those games Friday and Saturday, what truly stood out was the very last column, attendance. I genuinely expected San Antonio to draw more than Montreal and this is not because I am from Texas and yes, I was a big Expos fan growing up. For one, San Antonio drew over 75,000 two a pair of games at the Alamodome last spring, Rangers victories over the San Diego Padres and as baseball capable facilities go, Olympic Stadium 113 months after its last baseball event was still leaps ahead of what the Alamodome could be as a ballpark. Furthermore, this spring saw both of the Lone Star State’s teams playing in San Antonio and unlike last year, both of these games were on dates where the local Spurs basketball franchise was not playing a home game simultaneously. Instead, neither game drew more than 28,000, 22,677 on Friday night and 27,255 on Saturday afternoon, a total of 49,932 fans for the two games. The Saturday game alone last spring in San Antonio drew more than 40,000.
Then there is Montreal, a city most Anglo writers here in the States gave up for dead as a baseball market, a city most thought never deserved another team, despite Montreal outdrawing both the Mets and Yankees at various times from 1979-1992. How did Le Québécois respond? ON Saturday alone, fans of the former Expos chanting “Let’s Go Expos”, showed up and then some, 50229 in attendance, which topped the two nights in San Antonio combined. Oh and the prior night for the Friday game, they only drew another 46,221. If this weekend taught us anything, Montreal is a baseball town and given the proper ownership and support for the team from MLB, Montreal will show up for a winner and for the game that is only outpaced in popularity by hockey. This is not to say that San Antonio is a bad market, it could very easily be a high level baseball city, but such a drop in attendance from year one to year two is concerning. Perhaps the 2014 numbers are a better gauge of baseball fandom in the Alamo city and if an average of between 24,000 and 25,000 per game came to see the Rangers and Astros, perhaps one could argue that such numbers for the new local team if it existed could push north of 30,000. But one could also argue that 2013 was an example of the baseball novelty which drew in more fans per game, over 37,000 than the baseball purity represented by the 2014 numbers. That is alarming for San Antonio, because a drop of 13K per game in attendance is similar to the drop in attendance after the expansion season of 1998 for the afore mentioned Tampa Bay Rays, who saw a drop from 30,900 to 19,200 per game from season 1 to season 2. The Rays in their best years of attendance from 2008-2010 would average right around 23,000, since then the club has not broken 20,000 per game, despite contending teams that made the playoffs in 2011 and 2013 and a team in 2012 that was contending well into September. Montreal remember drew as well in 1995 per game after having its team gutted and its baseball dreams crushed by the 1994 strike, as Tampa drew in its 2011 and 2013 playoff seasons. Montreal in 1994 drew more per game than any Tampa season accept 1998 and how bad was Tampa outdrawn by its expansion cousins that first season, 1993 Marlins +7,000, 1998 Diamondbacks +14,000, 1993 Rockies +25,000. Furthermore, while Tampa saw a drop from its first to second year in average attendance of more than 12,500, Arizona and Miami each dropped by around 5,000 and Colorado actually went up another 2,000. When the Rockies left 70,000 seat Mile High Stadium for 50,000 seats at Coors Field, they averaged over 40,000 for seven seasons 1995-2001 and only once has attendance averaged below 25,000 in 2005. The Diamondbacks worst season average has been in the 25,000 range, but they have never cleared 40,000 a game per season after their huge draw in 1998. San Antonio will not be Denver or Phoenix, but it needs to be better than Tampa and better than Miami to prove its worth as an expansion city. Montreal has numbers that can be as good or better than Miami and this such a relocation to Canada may just be what the Rays need.
What this weekend shows is that Montreal is ready for baseball and if San Antonio had any hopes of trying to convince the Rays or Athletics to relocate to the home of hot salsa, their dreams may be shattered by a cold dose of reality blowing down from baseball hungry Montreal. One can only imagine how the Montreal Expos would be doing right now if they had the current Tampa Rays ownership in place. Montreal would also be a perfect fit in the division where the Rays currently call home and so it would require no realignment. The question is, what is more likely to be in place within five years, a new baseball stadium for the Rays somewhere on Florida’s sunshine coast, or a new stadium for the relocated and rebranded Montreal Expos in French Canada?
Fans who want baseball to return to Montreal have circled March 28 and 29 on their baseball calendars, the two dates when former MLB ballpark Olympic Stadium (using the ballpark term loosely), will once again play host to the great game which was last on display on its artificial surface for the final Montreal Expos home game on Wednesday September 29, 2004, a loss to the Florida Marlins. Nine and one half years will have passed between that final Expos game and the two-game exhibition series between the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets. For its criticisms, at least the Big Owe did not turn into a sewage dump like the Oakland Coliseum and if the Athletics ever did leave the Bay Area, the one city that thinks it has a suitable temporary stadium big enough for Big League ball is Montreal. Of course such a relocation would be tied to a new stadium that would eventually become home to the new Expos and sadly one of the great logos and team names tied to the long and glorious history of the Athletics would be lost. That is assuming that the Athletics moved to Montreal.
ON those same dates of March 28 and 29, San Antonio is trying to sell baseball on its viability as a future home to a Big League franchise such as the Athletics. San Antonio managed to transform its white elephant known as the Alamo dome into a temporary baseball park, as the stadium built in 1990 was intended to bring football and keep the NBA Spurs in town, but it was never even considered for baseball. IN fact, baseball was the only major North American sport that the venue genuinely could not hold under its original configuration and design. Yet a year earlier in 2013, the stadium hosted a two-game exhibition series between the Texas Rangers and San Diego Padres, a series that drew 35,000 the same night the Spurs were in town and then pulled in another 40,000 the next afternoon. This year while the Jays and Mets are playing in Montreal, San Antonio plays hosts to the two existing Big League teams from the Lone Star State as the Rangers face the Houston Astros. The Alamodome too would be just a temporary site if San Antonio were to obtain a team in Major League Baseball, as a stadium designed truly for baseball would have to be built.
A second franchise though will closely be watching the unfolding of events in Montreal and San Antonio; the Tampa Bay Rays WHO HAVE PLAYED IN A LESS THAN IDEAL BASEBALL SETTING SINCE THEIR 1998 INCEPTION. From almost the beginning, the Rays ownership groups found out a hard lesson in baseball real estate, its location stupid and it’s also about having a truly available local fan base that didn’t already have a team to call its own. Tropicana Field when it was built was supposed to be the modern baseball domed stadium, only it was built before the region even had a chance at a team, built before the new modern take on ballparks in Baltimore, Cleveland, Arlington and Denver forever changed the way a ballpark is designed. Worse, the stadium was built in a location that lacked desirable fan experiences outside the ballpark and it was a night mare to travel to the facility from Tampa by public transit. Even with its problems though, fan attendance more than anything showed how the Tampa area was not ready for Major League Baseball. Average attendance in the expansion season of 1998 was around 30,000, dropping sharply to 18,000 the next year and average attendance has never again touched even 20,000 despite the Rays posting winning and contending seasons now for six straight years. Montreal averaged more than 25,000 a game during its high point from 1979-1983 and for several other seasons between 1984-1997, the Expos averaged more fans than what the Rays have drawn since their second year in St. Petersburg. As much as Florida fans are rightly criticized, Miami had an excuse in that the stadium was not truly built for baseball when the Marlins moved into Joe Robbie starting in 1993. Miami drew 37,000 that season, 32,000 in 1994 and even after the strike, they drew over 20,000 in 1995 and 1996, peaking at 29,000 in 1997. If ownership didn’t tear down a championship franchise, Marlins attendance would not have been ruined as it would be for years to come, a situation only further inflamed by the breaking down of the 2012 team after the new ballpark opened in south Florida. The Miami fans can be forgiven for not trusting their local team’s ownership to do right by the fans, the same cannot be said for Tampa. Miami for its first 19 years had a genuine issue of not knowing if the rain would wash out the game, Tampa fans did not have that problem to deal with either. Comparing the Rays fans to the Diamondbacks and Rockies fans in their franchise history is an insult to the fans of the Rockies and Diamondbacks, though one can argue with some truth that those teams both quickly rose to successful heights.
What the Rockies and Diamondbacks have though is something the Marlins lacked and something the Rays truly lack, a genuine local fan base with local roots. Many Arizona and Colorado fans did not have teams of their own to cheer on growing up, they watched and listen to games play by teams far away. Many of the fans in Florida though did not grow up in Florida, but rather in cities like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, and thus those fans cheer for their favorite home town nine when their heroes pay a visit to Miami and especially to St. Petersburg.
Could baseball expand again to 32 teams and perhaps give those franchises to San Antonio and Montreal, sure it could, but this season marks 16 years since the 1998 expansion and next season will be year 17; 16 years was the previous record time between new franchise additions from 1977-1993. Thus, the more likely result for San Antonio and or Montreal is to obtain and relocate an existing franchise and the Athletics and Rays are both primed picking.
The loss of the original Athletics name would not of course be a new thing for baseball, because while the Braves, Giants, Dodgers and Athletics have maintained their team names following relocation, the Browns changed to the Orioles when they transferred from St. Louis to Baltimore and both of the franchises that left Washington took on new names as the Twins and Rangers. So while Montreal could bring back Le Expos, San Antonio’s team would also probably take on a local flavor in its identity and the top candidate would be Missions, in honor of the long time minor league team name that is inspired by the cities long history with the old Mexican missions and presidios.
How would this impact alignment? Montreal would be a natural fit in the AL East with Boston, the Yanks, Baltimore and Toronto. If the Rays go to Montreal, it is just a natural progression, while if the Athletics went to Quebec, the Rays would be moved to the Central and the Royals would have to shift west. An Athletics move to San Antonio would require no change in division alignments and Texas would have three teams in the same division, I would recommend a flip of Houston or the new San Antonio franchise to the NL and a transfer of Arizona or Colorado to the AL. If Tampa moves to San Antonio and Oakland stays put on the west coast, that franchise would have to move into the AL West with Texas and Houston, thus pushing the Astros to the NL Central, moving the Brewers to the AL Central and moving the Tigers back to the AL East, so that your divisions would be as follows: AL West: Seattle, Oakland, LA Angels, Texas, San Antonio…AL Central: Kansas City, Minnesota, Chicago Sox, Milwaukee, Cleveland…AL East, Detroit, Toronto, Boston, New York Yankees, Baltimore…NL West, San Francisco, LA Dodgers, San Diego, Arizona, Colorado…NL Central, Houston, St. Louis, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh…NL East, New York Mets, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, Miami.
March 28-29 will mean a lot to observers in many cities, in New York at the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, in Oakland, in St. Petersburg. But it will mean more perhaps to those in Montreal and San Antonio than anywhere else, as they make their case for expansion or relocation into Major League Baseball. They won’t have Spurs basketball or Canadiens hockey to compete with, the former plays a road game on Friday and will be home Saturday night after the 1:05 start for baseball in San Antonio, the ladder is off Friday and plays a Saturday night road game after the 1:05 start of baseball in Montreal.
Given the unlikely chance that two different franchises would relocate at the same time, Montreal and San Antonio will be competing in one major column that shows up in the boxscore and it is not runs, hits, errors, or runners left on base, no its that very last number on the page, ATT. Which stands for attendance.
From 1901 to 1960, 16 teams called Major League Baseball home. Between 1961 and 1977, a period covering 17 seasons, 10 franchises were added. It would be 16 more seasons until the Rockies and Marlins joined in 1993, followed by the Diamondbacks and what were then known as the Devil Rays five years later in 1998. While the Devil may be out of the Rays, there is no doubt that the devil is always in the details, or in this instance, those details that are not yet known as to baseball’s future expansion potential. But whereas it seemed possible in 2002 that contraction would occur, there are clearly no arguments in my view that support future contraction and yet several arguments that support future expansion.
Every time expansion takes place, there are those who say that the talent is watered down further in the Major Leagues, but can anyone genuinely say that our baseball of 2013 is more watered down than it was during the golden age? During the golden age, blacks were just beginning to be allowed to play in our highest level of pro ball and the concept of international players, much less international scouting and the draft were ideas that only the brightest outside the box thinking types could have conceived. Now look at where our game is today, the Great American Pastime has become the great global game and all signs are that it will only continue to grow all over the world. Sure there have always been the baseball hot beds like Venezuela and the Dominican, but look at what developments have taken place in nations like the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Mexico, South Korea, all who have contributed a great deal of talent to our top level of baseball. I have not even mentioned Japan, which had 0 MLB players in 1994, now you are likely to find a player from Japan on every single organizational roster and more than just one in some cases. Then there are the many Cuban players who have defected and come to the US to play. If and when relations are ever more open between the two bitter rival governments, there will be a flood of talented players coming across the Florida straits seeking big league money and big league exposure.
Then there is Europe, which many baseball experts who follow the international game believe is the future growth spurt of an even deeper international talent pool. It would not be surprising at all to see nations like Italy, Germany, France, and Spain get to where the Dutch are today and that can only mean one thing, even more big league capable players seeking work.
What does this mean for the future of MLB? It simply means that the game which is expanding globally will eventually have to expand to meet fan and player demands if our professional baseball circuit is to maintain its clear status as the world premier league of top notch professional competition. Now, I present my big and bold expansion proposal.
The expansion would be a record for MLB, six teams at one time. Some of you are now taking a big gulp and catching your breath, really, six teams? But let’s put this in some perspective. IN 1969 when four teams joined, they increased the size of the league from 20 to 24 teams, or an increase of 20% in size. Each team took 30 players in the expansion draft, meaning each of the 20 existing organizations lost six players to the new kids on the block. IN the 1977 expansion that added just two teams in the AL, they too took 30 players each. Since they only drafted from AL rosters, the impact was similar for those 12 existing AL teams, losing five players each. The impact on existing teams was much less in the 1993 and 1998 expansions because for one thing, more existing teams were available to be picked from. So in 1992, the Rockies and Marlins each added 36 players, six more than in prior expansions, but the impact was just three players from each NL organization, three players from eight AL organizations, and 2 players from the remaining six AL members. The 1997 expansion saw the Rays and Diamondbacks each take 35 players, this time as before, some organizations lost three players and others lost just two. Given the fact that we now have 30 teams plus all of the affiliated minor league clubs that are part of the farm systems, expanding by six teams and letting each team take 25 players would not be asking all that much. If each new team took 25 players, that would mean a loss of 5 players from each existing organization, which would be no more impactful than what we saw in the 1969 expansion. Furthermore, increasing from 30 to 36 teams is mathematically exactly the same as increasing from 20 to 24 teams, in that you expand the size of MLB by 20%.
Where to put these six teams? Now there are several approaches that one can take when thinking of where and how to expand. Fans and critics will take note and offer their own ideas and responses, but when reading this. in my view, what follows is a sound judgment in terms of my philosophy of expansion.
I’ve read a couple articles recently that said if baseball expands, Brooklyn should be considered and I agree, given the history of baseball in that location. But the one thing I would say that would counter this view, is the fact that baseball is in more dual markets than any other sport. The NBA has two teams each in Los Angeles and New York, assuming the Kings stay in Sacramento, they are not too far from Oakland which is home of the Warriors, though Sacramento is not considered part of the Bay Area market like San Jose and thus the reason San Jose is much favored over Sacramento to land the Athletics assuming they do eventually move from Oakland. The NFL has three dual markets, Oakland/San Francisco, Washington/Baltimore, and New York. The NHL has a dual market with Los Angeles/Anaheim and a tri market with New jersey and the two New York teams. Baseball has five dual markets, Los Angeles/Anaheim, San Francisco/Oakland, New York, Washington/Baltimore, and Chicago. Add to that fact that Philadelphia is right between DC and New York, San Diego is not that far from Anaheim, and Milwaukee is not far from Chicago, and you quickly see that 15 teams or one half of all of MLB is concentrated in five geographic regions, more than any other sports league. Those facts which are very strait forward doom the Brooklyn idea.
So where does MLB go? Go west was a phrase heard during the mass expansion of the United States and North America in general, I apply that in part to baseball, which has cities in Portland and Vancouver that both seem ready to support the great game. Vancouver was a candidate for the 1998 teams but was quickly passed over for the Florida Sun Coast and Desert southwest. Portland has also been mentioned for years as a future expansion or relocation site and it is time that baseball put steaks down in a city that has proven it will support a team that tries to put a good product out there for the fans, see the Portland Trail Blazers for that example from pro hoops.
City number three, San Antonio. The Rangers and Padres series at the end of spring training drew 35 thousand on the same night the Spurs were playing at home, then 40 thousand for a 1PM start the next day, at a place that can only be described as the most temporary baseball setting imaginable, the Alamodome, which was never built or intended for baseball of any kind, period! This would provide a third team in Texas and it is crazy that the Lone Star State, home to a population only smaller than California does not have a third team. The Dallas Fort Worth metro is after all much larger in population than Washington/Baltimore and one could genuinely argue that a second team could also go to DFW, though I don’t propose such a move.
My other three teams go in the eastern region of the continent, one back to Montreal which MLB never gave a fair chance and as we now see in Miami, the marlins owner cares nothing about the fans and he was the nail in the coffin for the Expos in 2001 when his ownership forced the clock to strike midnight in Montreal. Remember that there were several times back in the period of the 1970’s and early 1980’s that the Expos were on par with or outdrew their counterparts in new York, both the Mets and Yankees, so history tells us with no doubt that Montreal was and is a baseball town. They should revisit the plans for Labatt Park, because the Big Owe will only serve as a temporary home.
Finally, the fifth and sixth franchises go to the southeast US, no not to Florida which has sadly been baseball’s worst experiment for the simple fact that unlike Phoenix, Denver, and other cities mentioned here, Florida cities are full of transplants who could give a damn about a local team because they root for their team from back home. While one of these two slots could instead go to Brooklyn, I have instead chosen Charlotte and Nashville. Both have had success with new franchises and only ownership issues caused concern for Nashville’s NHL franchise and ruined fan interest in Charlotte’s first NBA team. Both cities are solid distances from the nearest markets of St. Louis, Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Washington, certainly further away than San Diego is from Orange County and further than Milwaukee is from Chicago.
So now to the question of alignment, how will this all work? My proposal calls for Charlotte to join the existing teams in the AL East and for Nashville to join the AL Central. Portland and San Antonio would both go to the AL West, while Houston would transfer back to the NL Central. Vancouver would join the NL West and Montreal the NL East, plus Pittsburgh and Atlanta would flip divisions, Atlanta to the NL Central and Pittsburgh to the NL East. Now that I’ve made everyone grab for their maps, here is the easy to digest version of alignment.
AL East, Toronto, Boston, NY Yankees, Baltimore, Charlotte, Tampa.
AL Central, Kansas City, Minnesota, Chicago Sox, Nashville, Cleveland, Detroit.
AL West, San Antonio, Texas, LA Angels, Oakland, Portland, Seattle.
NL East, Miami, Washington, NY Mets, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Montreal.
NL Central, Houston, St. Louis, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Atlanta.
NL West, Colorado, Arizona, San Diego, LA Dodgers, San Francisco, Vancouver.
Time table for expansion, award franchises in 2015, franchises can begin participating in the amateur draft and international free agency process in 2016, new MLB teams take the field opening day, April 2, 2018.