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Return of MLB to Montreal draws debate — mostly negative

Montreal ExposTalk of a return of Major League Baseball to Montreal certainly is drawing a lot of passionate responses, though we’re surprised to hear from many folks who love the city declare the prospect to be a dead issue.

Specifically, there are two responses that have been a little surprising. First, the Montral Gazette comes out dead-set against any return of MLB to Montreal, saying that the economics of the game won’t allow a small-market team to prosper. It also fails to acknowledge the changing economics of the sports scene in Canada and specifically in Quebec, which will be shifting once Quebecor launches another 24-hour sports channel. To ignore the existence of TV as a economic driver for sports these days betrays a certain unsophistication about the modern sports-business scene.

Second, author Jonah Keri — whose The Extra 2% is a great look at the business of baseball, specifically with the success of the Tampa Bay Rays came out and said there was zero chance MLB would return to Montreal. Keri is working on a history of the Montreal Expos and may actually be a little too close to the subject: he (and the Gazette) makes the logical mistake of assuming any future MLB team would be run like the Expos under the same circumstances. And we all know why the Expos failed: a crappy owner (Jeffry Loria) dumped a poorly run franchise into the lap of MLB, whose officials made a bad situation worse before the team was moved to Washington. A perfect storm, as it were.

Now, we’re not saying a team is on the verge of moving to Montreal. Far from it; there’s no MLB owner at this time looking for a new home. But it’s not nearly as far-fetched a notion as either party wants to admit.

First of all, it’s really silly to declare that there’s zero chance something can happen, unless it’s actually physically impossible, like pigs flying. We remember naysayers declaring for decades that baseball would never return to Washington, that it was a salted and bad market, and yet it happened because some powerful folks in and out of baseball decided it could happen.

Second, the elements to make a move happen are developing. Rodger Brulotte, the former French-language broadcaster for the Expos, says a serious group is in place to explore the possibilities, and we’ll accept him at his word. At some point we’ll see a resolution of the Oakland Athletics situation, and given how long it’s taken already, it’s hard to be optimistic that the Giants will suddenly back off on their opposition to a San Jose ballpark plan and all will be sunshine and light. It’s not hard to see a day where Lew Wolff throws in the towel and there’s a MLB team on the market. Right now there’s opposition to any public funding of a new ballpark; that certainly could change once there’s an actual possibility of MLB returning, especially with local owners willing to put up some serious money.

And third, the Montreal of 2011 is a lot different than the Montreal hosting the final days of the Expos. We remember traveling to Canada with much delight when the exchange rate was $.69 or so to the American dollar; that sort of rate bought us a lot of cheap Blue and Cuban cigars. It also helped kill the Expos and made a huge impact on the Toronto Blue Jays as well. Now that the Canadian dollar is close to par, the Canadian economy is in considerably better shape and the Montreal economy is on a very solid footing. There’s no automatic penalty for a Canadian team.

Look, we’re not saying it will happen, nor necessarily that it should happen. But to reject the possibilities only because the Expos failed under some pretty unique circumstances is no reason to declare MLB will never return to Montreal.

RELATED STORIES: More MLB dreams in Montreal; Montreal capable of suppporting MLB — if there’s an owner with deep pockets


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