Nov 21, 2010

Remember the Expos, St. Pete

by Aaron Giddens

I just finished watching the documentary on the Montreal Expos on MLB Network called "Triumph & Tragedy: The 1994 Montreal Expos" (clip).

And after watching it, I got to say the situation they had is eerily similar to the one the Rays are facing today. The question is are we gonna learn from their mistakes or repeat them?

Here's what I mean by it being "eerily similar": In 1994, the Expos fielded what many consider to be the team of the year, even though they never got near the postseason due to the strike shortened season. It was essentially do or die for them because like the Rays today they had financial problems as well. As it is well known now, they were forced to die, thanks to a player/owner dispute that brought on the 1994 baseball strike. And with the strike the '94 season was over, no finish to the season, no division champions, no league champions, and no World champion.

Now, I know what your saying, "But, Aaron, the Rays 2010 season was not strike shortened." And this is true, but it was ALSO do or die for them as well. As we know now, that the Giants are the champs, the closest the Rays got was Game 5 of the ALDS against the Rangers. As after this season the team would be split apart due to financial straits. The team ended the season with the best record in the American League and only one game short of the best record in baseball held by those pesky Phillies. The 2010 Rays are dead with only a division championship. So the team is now split up, where the player who are free agents end up will be seen in the coming weeks, but it will almost guaranteed not be in St. Pete.

Back to the Expos, after the '94 season which had no postseason, the Expos missed out on money they needed to keep the team together. So came the infamous '95 Expos firesale. which is similar to the Rays offseason currently underway. Many of their best players ended up with success elsewhere because of lack of money. And the team never recovered for this and one other reason, and this other reason is the main reason I say the Expos situation is eerily similar to the Rays situation: They were denied a new stadium in a central location by their government.

Just like St. Pete is doing, the government in Montreal refused to pay for a new stadium. This ultimately meant the end of baseball in Montreal. And 9 years later after the denying of the stadium, the Expos moved and now reside in Washington, D.C. as the Washington Nationals. Baseball no longer lives in Montreal.

St. Pete is repeating the mistakes of the Montreal government. In 2004, it cost them their franchise, as most expert agree that a new stadium would most assuredly saved baseball in Montreal. It would have revitalized the fan base, brought back attendance and along with it, the money.

This, in my honest opinion, proves the people that say "A new stadium won't fix attendance" wrong. As it would have saved the Montreal club, I see no reason why it would be any different for our Rays. You move the Rays to a more central location and boom Attendance will go up, cause just like in Montreal, the Tampa Bay Area loves their club. And I'm sure deep down keeping the team is more important to them than some stupid lease. With a lease you only get so much money, but with a new stadium, that money which you spend to build it would be payed back and then some for YEARS to come.

The Expos are considered one of baseballs biggest tragedies. Are the Rays next on that list. Or will we wise up and learn from Montreal? It's too early to tell at this point. But we will find out soon enough. By 2028, we will know. So St. Pete, the ball is in your court, what are you gonna do?


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