The Demise of the Montreal Expos Franchise: Part 3 of the Expos Article Series

Friday June.29/2012

Note from Chuck Booth:  I am attempting to bring the history for each of the 30 MLB Franchises into a 5 part series that will focus on 1. The teams history. 2. The hitters 3. The pitchers. 4.  The Team’s Payroll going into in 2013 and 5. (The stadium articles will all be done next summer when I go to all of the parks in under a month again.)  To follow all of the updates, be sure to check my author page with a list of all archived articles here.

Chuck Booth (Lead Baseball Writer and @chuckbooth3024 on Twitter)-  The Montreal Expos were a model franchise from 1979-1994.  They only finished under .500 in 3 seasons out of 15 in this stretch of time.  The club simply drafted better than any other Major League team.  Long before the Oakland Athletics and Billy Beane came up with MoneyBall, or the Minnesota Twins, Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays showed us that you can have good runs with your baseball teams on a shoe string budget, the Expos wrote the book on it.  The Expos were forced to trade away their best talent when they came up for free agency or lose them  outright.  There was no way the team could ever re-sign the players.  It wasn’t even in question.  The province of Quebec said good-bye to Hall of Famers:  Pedro Martinez, Vlad Guerrero, Tim Raines and Andre Dawson in the prime of their careers with nothing back in return as Free Agents.

Gary Carter was the 1st great player to be traded by the club after the 1984 season.  Other great players like Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom, Moises Alou and John Wetteland were jettisoned out the door as part of a 1995 Firesale after the strike/lockout because the team could not pay them after a massive loss in revenue at the end of the 1994 season. With the clock ticking on the Expos brass (financially as soon as the lockout was lifted) the ownership could not pay the bills!  It is a sad commentary on this franchise that the two big work stoppages in 1981 and 1994 stifled this franchise-perhaps the most out of any team in the MLB.  It all ended up costing the Expos the team and/or a chance to build a brand new ballpark in the downtown core to ever revitalize the interest of the avid baseball enthusiasts in Montreal.  This fan base had suffered enough and they made the baseball club pay for it at the turnstiles.  They had suffered 7 losing seasons at Jarry Park, a 2 billion dollar scam gone wrong in what was Olympic Stadium, a park that was supposed to be a modern-aged retractable roof that never materialized at all and Quebec was left with the bill.  I don’t blame the fans for walking away from the game after the 1994 strike.  They had supported the team through many of trials an tribulations-only to be disappointed time and time again by the economics of baseball.

There is a lot more of this article past the video clip, just click on: READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY

For Part 1 of the Article Series, The Expos Hitters: click here

For Part 2 of the Article Series, The Expos Pitchers: click here

For Part 4 of the Article Series, The Washington Nationals Franchise 2005-2012: click here

For Part 5 of the Article Series, The Nats Best 25 Man Roster 2005-2012 click here

A nice tribute video to the club!

In 1981, amidst a player strike, the Expos managed to win a playoff series before bowing out to the Los Angeles Dodgers on a game 5 loss to Rick Monday and the eventual World Series winning Los Angeles Dodgers.  The Montreal fans harbored their first resentment towards MLB for the shortened season.  The players were starting to earn more money than ever and it was a known fact that the best talent on the Expos was going to be hard to keep long-term.

A look at the Expo’s 1st baseball home Jarry Park.–Photo courtesy of skyscraperpage.com

The Early Days of the Club: 1969-1978:

The Montreal Expos were awarded a baseball franchise in May of 1968.  They were the expansion cousins of the San Diego Padres.   The team began play in the 1969 season at Jarry Park.  The team endured 9 straight losing seasons until they won 95 games in 1979.  The team had moved into Olympic Stadium in 1977.  It was a park that had been built by the city for the 1976 Olympic Summer Games.  Its original budget was for 131 Million Dollars.  It had several design flaws in the retractable roof designs and the construction company that was hired to build it, went on strike multiple times delaying the project from being finished for years.  With all of the repairs and costs of upkeep, the stadium has cost 1.61 Billion at time of completion in 2006.

Olympic Stadium was a building catastrophe from the get go in 1976. It was a contributing factor of the Expos leaving Montreal.  Total end cost of the Stadium is 1.61 Billion and the roof is permanently closed.


The Good Years: 1979-1994:

The Expos drew well for the first 8 years of Olympic Stadium, however attendance was not the  leader amongst the teams financial problems. In the mid 80′s, the player salaries in MLB started to incrementally rise.  The Expos and Toronto Blue Jays had to deal with an ailing Canadian Dollar.  Where they drew in revenues in Canadian funds, they had to pay out the players in US Funds.  Charles Bronfman, the Expos majority owner since 1969, was having a tough time in balancing the books.  This led to the team losing Gary Carter, Andre Dawson and Tim Raines.  The team suffered a loss at the attendance gate when these star players left.  It wasn’t until the teams awesome drafting classes started to make the team contend for the pennant again, that the team saw the attendance climb back up.  The Expos also had to deal with the Toronto Blue Jays taking a lot of their Canadian thunder away from them.  The Blue Jays had a strong following with an improving franchise and a great management team themselves led by Pat Gillick.  TSN (The Sports Network) was born and all of the Jays broadcast rates were exceeding the deals the Expos were receiving.  The Expos were playing second fiddle to the team from Ontario.

By the early 1990′s, Charles Bronfman needed other investors to help keep the franchise afloat.  Claude Brochu and a consortium of 14 owners took a stake in the team .  Other MLB teams were really starting to take off in revenues generated from TV and Radio Deals.  The Expos could never request a heavy fee for their broadcast rights because they needed both English and French deals.  Still the team was competitive.  From 1979-1994, the team only suffered 3 losing seasons.   The baseball operations had worked admirably to replenish the Minor League System.  From 1992-1994, the team saw Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom, Moises Alou all come up from the Minors.  They had also traded for John Wetteland, Ken Hill, Sean Berry, Jeff Fassero and Pedro Martinez.

In 1994 they took off.  They were cruising in the NL East with a Major League best record of 74-40 into the middle of August.  5 of their players had made the ALL-Star game.  With 29 of the last 48 games to be played at Olympic Stadium, they were sitting on a 6 game lead on the Atlanta Braves.  When the strikeout ended the season, this signaled the end of the franchise.  Not only did the team lose a chance to compete for a World Series in 1994, but they lost those 29 games of attendance at the BIG ‘O’.  If they could have brought in 30,000 fans a game plus playoff revenue, the team could have made 10-13 Million  Dollars in revenue.  Instead the club lost this cash.  The team was solely dependent on ticket sales to pay for player salaries.  When the lockout was lifted in 1995, the team would lose another 9 home dates with a 144 game season.  The ownership decided to fire sale the top players instead of paying to keep them at a short-term loss.  The Expos traded Canadian Larry Walker, Ken Hill, John Wetteland  and Marquis Grissom.  The franchise was doomed from that point forward.  The Montreal fans stopped coming to the games.  You have to wonder what would have happened if the brass had kept the team together for another season, would the financial commitment to those players be compensated back with increased revenues from another successful season?

The Montreal Expos yearly record from 1979-1994

1979 Montreal Expos 95 65 .594 2.0
1980 Montreal Expos 90 72 .556 1.0
-a 1981 Montreal Expos 30 23 .566 -
1982 Montreal Expos 86 76 .531 6.0
1983 Montreal Expos 82 80 .506 8.0
1984 Montreal Expos 78 83 .484 18.0
1985 Montreal Expos 84 77 .522 18.5
1986 Montreal Expos 78 83 .484 29.5
1987 Montreal Expos 91 71 .562 4.0
1988 Montreal Expos 81 81 .500 20.0
1989 Montreal Expos 81 81 .500 12.0
1990 Montreal Expos 85 77 .525 10.0
1991 Montreal Expos 71 90 .441 26.5
1992 Montreal Expos 87 75 .537 9.0
1993 Montreal Expos 94 68 .580 3.0
1994 y-Montreal Expos 74 40 .649 -

y= Best Record in Baseball in the 1994 strike shortened season (World Series never played)

-a =In 1981 there was a split season where the 1st half winners would play the 2nd half winners.  The Expos won the 2nd Half and beat the 1st half winning Phillies 3-2 in the divisional series before losing in 5 games in the NLCS to the LA Dodgers.

The Expos were the most consistent team from 1979-1994.  The club lost some key players in the 1980′s but still managed to only have 3 losing seasons in 15 years.  The team averaged over 2 million fans from 1978-1984 at Olympic Stadium which was well above the league averages.  Once they started losing their core players of Carter, Dawson and Raines they dropped to about 1.5 Million fans for the next 8 years.  When the team started to thrive in the 1992-1994 era, the attendance was showing a steady rise.  In the month prior to the strike, it was routine for the place to pack 30,000 fans a game.  The 1994 season should have been the year that saved the franchise.

The Franchise from 1995-2004:

The Expos continued to draft and sign players better than most clubs.  The ownership tried to convince the government and MLB, that the team could be economically viable if a downtown stadium was built.  Charles Bronfman was bought out and the consortium of owners sold all of their shares to New York art dealer Jeffrey Loria.   Soon all efforts to keep the Expos in Montreal were put to rest when MLB decided to vote on contraction after the 2001 season.  Minnesota and Montreal had been agreed to be contracted by the other 28 club owners.  While Minnesota rallied around the club, the Expos wallowed in self  misery.  Jeffrey Loria sold the Expos to MLB and bought the Florida Marlins.  In 2004, MLB decided with sagging attendance in Montreal, that the team would play some of their home games in Puerto Rico at Hiram Bithorn Stadium.  By this year, the last great player of the franchise (Vlad Guerrero) had left for greener pastures.  He had seen Pedro Martinez, Moises Alou and 2000 hit man (Mark Grudzielanek) leave before him.

Sadly, the Expos left for Washington after the 2004 season.  As of today, there is not chance of baseball coming back to Montreal.  Even with the Canadian Dollar being almost at par, there is no way that the government or private sector will ever build a new stadium downtown to attract a Major League team.  The time to do this was 10-15 years ago.  Vancouver B.C  Canada would be Canada’s best chance to attract a MLB franchise with newly renovated B.C Place. 

It is tough to tell how many fans that Montreal still has towards baseball.  A lot of them left the game forever after the 1994 season.  In a country where hockey is first and where the Montreal Canadiens have won 24 Stanley Cups, the game of baseball will never be better than 2nd place.  Let us remember that the Montreal Expos were one of the best run franchises for the time they were in existence.  Let us remember that they stockpiled a great amount of players for the rest of the MLB to enjoy.  Let us remember that when the Expos were competitive, that the fans came out in droves to support the franchise despite being in one of the most abysmal venues all time in sports.  What only might have been if the 1994 playoffs had been played out by MLB!

When Vladimir Guerrero is inducted into the Hall of Fame as the last Expo, it may officially end the last of significant news ever for the franchise.  I know I will be cheering from wherever I am watching the speech.  The memories of my dad and I hunkered in our downstairs basement and listening to a Bob Seger album(The Expos were always broadcast on a French channel), while watching the early 1980′s Expos on a black and white TV set will come back.  Our Golden Retriever dog would pester us all day to take him out for a walk.  We would finally cave in to his demand after the game was over and then we would talk about the game we had just watched. 

Thank-you for the memories Montreal!!

  l

Vladdy was an Expo from 1996-2003-and will be elected into the Hall of Fame to join Andre Dawson and Gary Carter as the Franchises only players in Cooperstown unless Tim Raines can garner the votes to be elected in too.

    ***Thank you to Douglas “Chuck” Booth, Lead Baseball Writer- for preparing today’s feature on MLB reports.  To learn more about “The Fastest 30 Ballgames” and Chuck Booth, you can follow Chuck on Twitter (@ChuckBooth3024) and you can also follow Chuck’s website for his Guinness Book of World Record Bid to see all 30 MLB Park in 23 days click here  or on the 30 MLB Parks in 23 days GWR tracker at the Reports click here. To Purchase or read about “The Fastest 30 Ballgames Book, ” please click here ***

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About chuckbooth3023

I played competitive baseball until 18 years old and had offers to play NCAA Division 1 University Baseball at Liberty University. Post-concussion symptoms from previous football and baseball head injuries forced me to retire by age 19. After two nearly made World Record Attempts in 2008, I set a New World Record by visiting all 30 MLB Parks (from 1st to last pitch) in only 24 Calendar Days in the summer 0f 2009. In April of 2012, I established yet another new GWR by visiting all 30 Parks in only 23 Calendar Days! You can see the full schedule at the page of the www.mlbreports.com/gwr-tracker

Posted on June 29, 2012, in MLB Teams: Articles and Analysis and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

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