"This place was the loudest park in baseball," said Tim Raines, a star player for the Expos in the 1980s and now a coach. "The fans turned out, and they cheered hard."
But fan backlash was swift in Montreal after the strike, exacerbated by the team's inability to keep its own players. The 1997 season marked the last time the team drew 1 million fans to Montreal.
For years, a new stadium was supposed to save baseball in Montreal. Built for the 1976 Summer Games, Olympic Stadium was a futuristic structure of steel and concrete on the outskirts of town that never seemed right for baseball. Its retractable roof was meant to allow for enjoyment of Montreal's gorgeous summers, but it never worked properly and has been permanently sealed for years, creating a drab and dreary atmosphere for baseball.
"If they could have gotten a stadium built, [Montreal] would have been like Seattle, or Cleveland," said former Expos shortstop Orlando Cabrera, naming two cities where new stadiums led to years of franchise prosperity. "There is tons of money [in Montreal]. But the fever of baseball was not there anymore, because the people have been hurt so much. But with a new stadium, baseball would have worked there."
In 1997, Brochu and the Expos unveiled plans for a $250 million downtown stadium that would be partially subsidized by tax money, but there was never much support from local politicians. Frustrated, Brochu eventually sold the franchise to Loria, a New York art dealer, in 1999.
Loria, too, began looking for a way out once his own attempts at procuring a new stadium failed. In 2001, Selig engineered a complex deal in which Loria shifted his ownership from the Expos to the Florida Marlins, while baseball's other 29 teams took over the ownership and operation of the Expos, with the intention of contracting -- or folding -- the franchise at the end of the season.
From there, it was a short trip -- conceptually speaking -- to the disappearance of the Expos from Montreal's sports scene. But in reality, it was a three-year journey that ended Wednesday -- not with elimination, but with relocation and a new start in Washington.
As for the proposed stadium, which was to have been called Labatt Park, the chosen plot of land is now built high with condominiums.