The noise coming from the North is the sound of old – and new – Montreal Expos fans. On Saturday, about 1,000 baseball-hungry fans from Montreal were waving flags, drinking cold beverages and shouting from the outfield seats at Rogers Centre during the Tampa Bay Rays-Toronto Blue Jays game.
The trip was organized by Matthew Ross who owns ExposNation.com. “Our goal is to celebrate the history of the Expos and show that there is still a viable market for it,” he told the Associated Press.
I’m not buying it. Major League Baseball packed up and left Montreal after the 2004 season. The Expos relocated to Washington and are now the Nationals. That happened for a reason: fans didn’t support baseball in Montreal, despite Keith Olbermann’s claims that the market did.
The last seven years in Montreal the team ranked last in the league in attendance, including 642,745 in 2001 – or 7,935 per home game. On September 20, 2001, the Expos hosted the Florida Marlins. Attendance: 2,887. If you stripped away the Opening Day crowd of 45,000, the Expos average game attendance was 7,471 per game. Remember, Olympic Stadium could hold 66,000+, so 7, 500 or so fans filled about one-tenth of the stadium.
It wasn’t for a lack of talent. The Expos had All-Stars and a handful of future Hall of Famers including Pedro Martinez, Moises Alou, Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Larry Walker, Randy Johnson, Vladimir Guerrero, Dennis Martinez, Warren Cromartie, Steve Rogers, Andres Galarraga, Rusty Staub, Tim Raines, Marquis Grissom, Tim Wallach, Bill Gullickson, Cliff Floyd and Ellis Valentine.
As attendance waned, the Expos could not afford to hold onto talent, so they traded Pedro, Carter, Raines and Johnson while others – Dawson, Alou and Walker -- pursued more money on the open market.
The Montreal Expos best year of fan support came in 1981. The team drew 1.5 million to Olympic Stadium over the course of the strike-shortened home schedule. It was the organization’s best year on the field and in the stands. The Expos made their only post-season appearance, beating the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Divisional Series before losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS.
Warren Cromartie knows what Montreal, Quebec, Canada -- population: 3,824,221 – is capable of supporting when it comes to baseball. He, too, is making a push to bring the game back to the North through the Montreal Baseball Project, a consortium of interested parties studies the economic viability for MLB in Montreal in the 21st Century.
As a boy, and later as a college student, I attended games in Montreal, first at Jarry Park and later at Olympic Stadium. Two parks, two totally different baseball teams and the same result: poor attendance. It was summer time, so leave the hockey discussion out of the debate.
Montreal is a great city and a great place to watch a baseball game but, in my opinion, history reveals baseball in Montreal is irrelevant. In every decade, through success and failure on the field, despite talent and time of the year, Major League Baseball and Montreal were – and are still – not meant to be.