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Take the “baseball in Montreal” stuff with a big grain of salt

Dec 16, 2013, 8:58 AM EDT

Olympic Stadium

The “could baseball return to Montreal” thing kind of took off over the weekend, much the way it takes off every year or two. The impetus this year was a study by a Montreal business group that showed, under a certain set of assumption, yes, it could be financially feasible.

Which, yes, it may be under such assumptions or others. As a purely intellectual exercise all manner of things are possible. But understand that it is but an intellectual exercise. There is no one with money or influence in Montreal — be they private citizens or public entities — proposing or pledging anything. There is no one even five steps removed from talking about doing anything in any serious way, let alone turning dirt or moving teams.

I feel like I need to point this out because, whenever something like this study or some release or expression of interest happens, people seize on it a bit too strongly. Lots of places (including HBT) wrote about it over the weekend. MLB Network did a segment about it. I get that because it’s an interesting topic — all potential expansion/relocation stories are — but I feel like we need to be realistic about it for reasons separate and apart from protecting against disappointment.

The biggest reason: our excitement about such things plays right into the hands of those in and around Major League Baseball who would like to extort local governments and taxpayers for new ballparks and tax breaks and the like. It’s in the best interests of baseball ownership and management to have a plausible alternative to a current major league city so that they can bluff their way into free goodies. The NFL does this with Los Angeles. The NBA does this with Seattle. We used to see this all the time when Washington D.C. was a vacant city. Eventually baseball’s moved a team there, and it’s working out for them, but it did cost them a good bogeyman. Now, by bootstrapping some innocuous little studies and some generalized excitement, baseball can, increasingly, point to Montreal as a potential landing pad for teams in cities it deems sufficiently ungrateful or ungenerous.

My guess: baseball returns to Montreal one day. But that day is decades away, not years. In the meantime, Montreal will be used as a point of leverage and not much more. We should all strive to be realistic about that fact.

  1. gbrim - Dec 16, 2013 at 9:14 AM

    You nailed it, Mr. C. MLB needs a more attractive alternative than San Antonio, Charlotte, Portland, etc. to try to force Tampa and Oakland into better arrangements. The problem with the cities I mentioned (and Montreal, too) is there is no groundswell for baseball teams in those cities. Its no accident that the last two expansion teams were placed in spring training areas, and the last relocated team went to DC, a longtime baseball town. Support of a baseball team needs a larger commitment of time and money (fans and sponsors) than any other sport—hard to generate demand from cities not already inclined that way.

  2. stex52 - Dec 16, 2013 at 9:22 AM

    I would have thought over the years that with the size of San Antonio and the strong interest it shows in sports that it would be a good fit. But it may be that the presence of two alleged MLB teams within a 200 mile radius may dilute some of the perceived need for a team.

    It sure seems like it would be a good market.

    • 18thstreet - Dec 16, 2013 at 9:30 AM

      I was thinking the same thing. Why not San Antonio?

      Really, the best place for a baseball team right now would probably be Brooklyn/Queens, Long Island or Northern New Jersey, but the Yankees and Mets surely have territorial rights that would block such a move. (And even with that said, given the depressed states of the Yankees and Mets (looking at attendance and TV ratings), I’m not sure there’s a huge appetite for another team now anyway.

      I love Portland, Oregon, but I can’t imagine having an MLB team there.

      Off the top of my head, I can imagine Indianapolis being a good location for an MLB team, but it would feel like a lame threat. (No offense intended to the good people of Indiana.) I mean, “Build me a stadium or I’m moving to Indianapolis” sounds a lot weaker than the constant threat of moving a team to DC. And, by the way, someone should have been smart enough to move a team here before the Expos did. Big area. Rich. Horribly untapped market. I don’t understand why no one came.

      • clearwall - Dec 16, 2013 at 11:16 AM

        Queens already has a team…I understand the Mets are easy to overlook, but still…

      • 18thstreet - Dec 16, 2013 at 11:57 AM

        That’s a pretty funny mistake. Whoops.

      • Old Gator - Dec 16, 2013 at 11:43 AM

        It’s not so much that they’re easy to overlook as that they’re easy to trip over.

      • billybawl - Dec 16, 2013 at 12:22 PM

        No way the Yankees or Mets would allow a third NY team, but if there was another team in NY, I suspect it would immediately be more valuable than many current MLB franchises.

        MLB really doesn’t have a credible bogeyman to threaten existing cities with. Used to be Denver and St. Petersburg. There’s a reason the A’s haven’t left Oakland yet, and are trying to find a home in the Bay Area.

      • pastabelly - Dec 16, 2013 at 2:45 PM

        Agree on the NY comment. A third team in New Jersey makes sense, but the Yankees and Mets are never going to let that happen. Oklahoma City, which also draws in Tulsa has been very successful for the NBA and Indianapolis is another large market without a team. Both of those cities are probably better bets than Montreal.

      • raysfan1 - Dec 16, 2013 at 3:49 PM

        I currently live in OKC. It’s a fine place. The Thunder is well beloved in basketball…but I gotta admit, as much as is love to have a MLB team here, I’m not convinced we could support another major sports franchise. Tulsa is 1.5 hours away (average) and really can’t be considered part of the same metro area. The Rangers also consider this their territory.

    • raysfan1 - Dec 16, 2013 at 10:11 AM

      Cincinnati would block any move to Indianapolis.

      I don’t see either the Astros or Rangers being happy about a team in San Antonio/Austin either. Another issue would be where to build the stadium. The higher income areas tend to the north of the city, but traffic along I-35, loop 210 and loop 1604 was awful 10 years ago when I lived there.

      The problem with all of the aforementioned cities (other than NY) is that they would still be small markets. Any would have to show a real willingness to give the $500M-$1B freebies to a team to create any real leverage for the As or Rays to gain any leverage.

      I believe both will ultimately get new parks…in the same metro area where they are currently located…but not soon.

      • clearwall - Dec 16, 2013 at 11:19 AM

        1604 is actually much better now until you get around Bandera where there are still traffic lights. The rest of it drives like an interstate and doesnt have horrible traffic.

        If SA were to build a stadium, I would imagine theyd put it up near Schertz/Cibolo up where they’re putting all the big attractions nowadays. They put a giant football stadium there, the outdoor music pavilion is out that way…it could be done well

    • clearwall - Dec 16, 2013 at 11:15 AM

      Disagree strongly about San Antonio. That place is a baseball hotbed. The game is played, literally, 12 months of the year and there are thousands of kids in the game. Dont take the minor league attendance into account here. If you are an intelligent sports fan, which I assume you are, you realize that attendance is predicated on the stardom associated with a certain franchise. There is little of that with AA baseball.

      If you were to live or visit SA for a Spurs game or during the basketball season, you would see how beloved that franchise is to the city. The same would be said for baseball there. Heck, look how huge the one game that took place as a type of exhibition between the worst team in baseball and the Rangers became. Imagine that for a REAL hometown team! Baseball would be tremendous in that city.

      • stex52 - Dec 16, 2013 at 12:11 PM

        I’m not sure who you are disagreeing with about San Antonio. Pretty much the notes above (except the small market one) agree that it has potential. I’m not sure how they would qualify as market size. That can be deceptive. Houston is the fourth largest city, but because they are not close to other major cities they are like tenth on market size for broadcasts. I would think Austin/San Antonio combined would be at least as big or bigger.

        But I do think the Astros and Rangers management would be against adding a team there.

      • raysfan1 - Dec 16, 2013 at 2:04 PM

        Last I heard, about 1.4M in San Antonio, 2.3 with adding in Austin…but that’s like adding Orlando to the Tampa Bay population stats.

        I mean no disrespect to San Antonio–loved it when I lived there.

      • stex52 - Dec 16, 2013 at 2:09 PM

        Well, then, I’m off, Raysfan. Houston is claiming 4-6.

  3. innout10 - Dec 16, 2013 at 9:25 AM

    Just when I thought this article was pretty sensible you made it about your own political agenda. Brutal

    • Old Gator - Dec 16, 2013 at 9:37 AM

      Just when I thought we were going to have an intelligent discussion about the realities of the situation – market size, economics, political – along comes another gibbering moron who thinks the construction of stadiums with public money can be discussed without involving politics. More brutal.

    • Kevin S. - Dec 16, 2013 at 9:41 AM

      What in this article even remotely smacked of a political agenda?

      • Old Gator - Dec 16, 2013 at 10:10 AM

        I suspect what innout10 was referring to was the following passage by Craig:”The biggest reason: our excitement about such things plays right into the hands of those in and around Major League Baseball who would like to extort local governments and taxpayers for new ballparks and tax breaks and the like. It’s in the best interests of baseball ownership and management to have a plausible alternative to a current major league city so that they can bluff their way into free goodies.”

        I suppose our latest iteration of the virtual village idiot is contending that this passage smacks of (gasp) our esteemed Blogmeister’s personal opinion (2Xgasp!) in utter ignorance of the difference between a blog and an objective news report. Apparently, though, innout10’s comment also implies that surrendering public funds sufficient actually to hamstring other, far more critical, social programs and uses is the “neutral” position, any deviation from which represents an “agenda.” You have to read between the lines, even if those spaces are sodden with idiocy and crawling with some of those new cold-resistant super-roaches.

  4. cackalackyank - Dec 16, 2013 at 9:30 AM

    I agree. In another decade or two the sting of the “Big Owe” will have subsided a bit more. Right now, I am going to guess that the odds of getting one cent of public $ for a new park in Montreal run between slim and none, to put it mildly. This is sabre rattling of the weakest kind. The current environment would seem to indicate there is not a lot of leverage to be had. I think it is going to be awhile before we see any drastic moves. I admit I was stunned by the Braves move. However they are still in the same Metropolitan area. I think there will be an NFL team in LA, and maybe even London before MLB goes back to Montreal. I think in some ways that’s a shame, because Montreal is a beautiful city, but it is foremost a Hockey city.

    • rdillon99 - Dec 16, 2013 at 11:23 AM

      Agreed. Those “socialists” in Quebec are pretty tight with their public funds… They could learn a thing or two from a “fiscally conservative” government like the one in Cobb Co.

  5. nbjays - Dec 16, 2013 at 10:07 AM

    Montreal also suffers from the same fate as Toronto (and, some might argue, Detroit and Minneapolis-St. Paul). It is too far north to endure a full April – October season without having at least a convertible stadium (like Safeco).

    Early season or playoff games in the cold (and possibly snow) make for a miserable baseball experience. The old Exhibition Stadium in T.O. and Jarry Park in Montreal proved that long ago.

    Give global warming another decade or two, and Montreal can build a lovely downtown ballpark surrounded by palm trees. :-)

    • cackalackyank - Dec 16, 2013 at 2:19 PM

      If Montreal isn’t under water.

  6. anxovies - Dec 16, 2013 at 10:07 AM

    San Antonio, Indianapolis, Montreal, even OKC-Tulsa, would be better than Tampa Bay. Any of those would probably be considered a small-market area (Montreal for reasons different than population), but infinitely better than TB. The Rays deserve better fans and would find them in any of those areas. I wouldn’t inflict the Marlins on any city. Besides, they have their new stadium.

    • raysfan1 - Dec 16, 2013 at 11:22 AM

      The Rays have excellent fans but a crummy stadium in a bad location, with an inescapable lease–making a move really unlikely in the next decade+.

      I’ve lived in San Antonio and currently live in OKC–no, they are not better markets than the Tampa Bay Area. They are also in other MLB teams’ spheres of influence, and would have to build appropriate stadiums too.

      Again, any move anywhere would have to come with the hundreds of millions of $ in freebies for the ownership group–and in the case of the Rays, 15 years of rent for St Pete, etc (St Pete will not accept any sort of buy out).

      The A’s are much freer to move than the Rays, but that isn’t happening either.

  7. sdelmonte - Dec 16, 2013 at 10:12 AM

    Meanwhile, there is the question of whether there is enough of a fan base up there. I know that those who loved (and still love) the Expos were as passionate as any other fans (see under: Keri, Jonah). And that the last owner of the team was using “Major League” as the source for his business plan. But I always had the sense that the market there was never going to be that successful, that there is hockey and there is everything else, and that “everything else” will always struggle.

    Never mind that Canadian franchises have to be creative to convince free agents to sign or re-sign and to cope with the various issues of working and living in another country.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Dec 16, 2013 at 12:26 PM

      I wonder how the Expos would have turned out had the ’94 strike not happened. Check out that team, it was loaded. Wonder if our friends in the north were far more disillusioned with baseball than we were here in the US.

      • sdelmonte - Dec 16, 2013 at 1:29 PM

        They seem to have forgiven the hockey lockouts, but I daresay that hockey holds a place in Canada that dwarfs baseball and football combined.

  8. innout10 - Dec 16, 2013 at 10:36 AM

    ” our excitement about such things plays right into the hands of those in and around Major League Baseball who would like to extort local governments and taxpayers for new ballparks and tax breaks and the like.”

    Pretty easy to see where he is going with this article from that quote after writing a dozen articles about his political thoughts regarding the braves new ballpark. I’m sure you are well versed in those gator so it shouldn’t be so hard for you to see what he’s going for here. Just a Soapbox queen stirring the pot

    • Kevin S. - Dec 16, 2013 at 10:51 AM

      It’s a political agenda to be against local governments getting ripped off?

    • koufaxmitzvah - Dec 16, 2013 at 11:15 AM

      “Just a Soapbox queen stirring the pot”

      I’m taking it that you wrote this while staring in a mirror.

    • billybawl - Dec 16, 2013 at 12:14 PM

      What political party or movement is in favor of publicly financed stadiums? I’m not sure the pro/con positions are aligned with political parties so neatly.

  9. innout10 - Dec 16, 2013 at 11:24 AM

    Are they really getting ripped off by the braves moving to a new ballpark? Do you or Craig live there (or in MTL) for that matter and know the specifics of each deal or the related consequences/benefits? Get serious

    • Kevin S. - Dec 16, 2013 at 11:31 AM

      Actually, I spend quite a bit of time in the Metro Atlanta area. I’m very familiar with the problems that will be caused by the “specifics” of this deal. I know that Cobb County will be re-routing hundreds of millions of dollars from already underfunded public sectors into the sort of project that, at best, redirects economic activity from one area to another (as opposed to actually generating new economic activity).

      • Old Gator - Dec 16, 2013 at 11:46 AM

        What does whether you live in an area or not have to do with the legitimacy of your commenting on corruption, malfeasance and terrible economic judgment? Innout, give it up. You have nothing whatsoever of substance to contribute to this discussion.

  10. nymets4ever - Dec 16, 2013 at 11:36 AM

    Why do you pontificate so much?

    • Old Gator - Dec 16, 2013 at 11:48 AM

      I think it has something to do with the College of Cardinals imposing this blog on him.

      • nymets4ever - Dec 16, 2013 at 12:03 PM

        Serious question, are you mentally challenged, or did you just never outgrow your class clown days from your elementary school classroom in 1964?

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Dec 16, 2013 at 12:28 PM

        There is absolutely no way OG was still in elementary school in ’64.

      • stex52 - Dec 16, 2013 at 12:57 PM

        Pope Gator. Now there is a concept that’ll spin your mitre.

      • Old Gator - Dec 16, 2013 at 1:53 PM

        I never went to elementary school. We were desperately poor, my father needed to stay home and shovel snow, and I had to go out on mammoth hunts with my big brother.

      • stex52 - Dec 16, 2013 at 2:05 PM

        So you’re the reason mammoths are extinct? I should have known.

      • Old Gator - Dec 16, 2013 at 2:13 PM

        I wasn’t very good at it. I would stand at the edge of a cliff gesturing wildly and screaming “Over here boy! Over here!” They never fell for it. Usually they would just raise the ends of their trunks between their tusks at me in a suggestive manner, turn, fart, and march away. We ate a lot of dog-sized horses instead. Of course, there were also dire beavers….but then, there still are.

      • stex52 - Dec 16, 2013 at 2:17 PM

        A fact which Cur would have pointed out for us if you hadn’t.

      • cur68 - Dec 16, 2013 at 9:34 PM

        Fact: Beavers kill Mammoths.

  11. davidbrentfan - Dec 16, 2013 at 12:47 PM

    There is no chance that ML baseball will return to Montreal. They didn’t even adequately support the Expos, so why in the world would they drop $1 billion+ to try it again? This is not happening.

  12. pepperallowed - Dec 16, 2013 at 12:47 PM

    Reblogged this on Pepper Allowed and commented:
    And here’s the other side of the argument…

  13. yanmontreal - Dec 16, 2013 at 8:54 PM

    Montreal deserve a team 100% San Antonio ?? Is that a joke?

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