There are many mischaracterizations of Montreal as a Major League Baseball market. Of the many misnomers said about Canada’s most cultured and attractive city, is the notion that it doesn’t have baseball in its roots, nor the fan base to support baseball. After all, the lasting impression the uninformed U.S. media and baseball fans have of Montreal is an empty stadium during home games.
The problem is it wasn’t always that way. The problem is that people don’t see the collective factors that lead to this dwindling fan support. Remember Atlanta and Cleveland in the 80’s? Remember when they too were getting 2,000 fans a game? Here are the facts about Montreal and all of the factors that slowly destroyed the fan base.
Facts about Montreal
– Before Jackie Robinson ever heard of Montreal, and well before he played for the Montreal Royals in 1946, the city was home to North America’s largest minor ballpark. The Montreal Royals attracted crowds of 20,000 for AAA baseball before anyone had ever heard of Jackie Robinson
– Babe Ruth actually played exhibition games in Montreal
– The New York Highlanders (earlier name for the Yankees) actually owned part of the Montreal Royals
– In the early 80’s, Montreal was one of the top National League teams in attendance
– In 1993 and 1994, as the action heated up, Montreal was drawing crowds well north of 30,000, and sometimes even 40,000
The real reasons that fans stopped going to Expos games
– In a climate where it’s winter for six months a year, fans don’t want to spend time indoors in the summer, nor travel to an undesirable part of town with no night life or entertainment. This is a major reason why fans began to stay away in droves from Expos games in the east end of town
– In 1991, a chunk of concrete falls of the Olympic Stadium, forcing the Expos to play the rest of their games on the road. This scared away a small portion of the fan base
– In 1994, a strike occurred, cancelling the rest of the season. The Expos had the best record in baseball at the time. As a result, local ownership decided they couldn’t afford the top players and they didn’t bring back their cleanup hitter, their centrefielder, their top starting pitcher and their closer. It is estimated that anywhere from 15-25 percent of the base never came back
– Following the 1996 season, the Expos deemed fan favourite Moises Alou too expensive and shipped him out. More fans stop showing up
– After Pedro Martinez wins the Cy Young Award in 1997, the first such award for the franchise, the Expos shipped him out. Many diehards become jaded and see the writing on the wall
– In the late 90’s, the Expos tried to get a new stadium with help from all levels of government. During the campaign, the team tells the media that Olympic Stadium is no longer viable. The fans receive the message and stop showing up. The stadium deal never happened
– For the 2000 season, new owner Jeffrey Loria didn’t like the media rights landscape and pulled the Expos from English radio. Dave Van Horne finished out his broadcasting tenure with the team on Internet radio only, alienating more fans
– In late 2001, Major League Baseball purchased the team and attempted to contract them, before eventually operating them the final three years. Signalling the end being near, fans found supporting the team to be painful and pointless
– In 2003, the Expos somehow competed for a wildcard spot and Major League Baseball doesn’t allow them to call up additional players in September, combined with the team playing some home games in Puerto Rico. By 2004, the final season, Expos fans had had enough.
If these conditions happened in any other small-to-medium Major League Baseball market, they too might have lost their team. Under reasonable conditions, playing in a new downtown stadium, Montreal IS a MLB city. Period.