That's quite a love fest Montreal has been having with its Expos this week, eh? On Monday the Expos drew 7,698. On Tuesday the tally was 5,517. Yesterday the turnstiles were flying so fast it's lucky nobody was impaled.
A total of 5,548 bottled-water-sipping, environment-loving, baseball-loathing Quebecoise came to the stadium to prove to the world that their beloved club should not move to the Washington area.
What is this, some kind of sick joke? When will baseball finally get the message? Montreal hates baseball, hates the Expos, couldn't care less if the team leaves and doesn't deserve to have a major league team. Half the time, Montreal even hates being in Canada.
Putting a team in Montreal was a M-I-S-T-A-K-E. It will always be a sump hole for baseball, just like Tampa Bay is rapidly turning out to be. Montreal will never support big league ball for 71 years like -- oh, what is the name of that town? Big marble monuments? Capital of the free world?
Washington has had box lacrosse teams, indoor soccer leagues and polo matches that drew more than the Expos have this week. We get more than 5,517 for a good volleyball game on the Mall. The Expos average 9,000 fans a contest. In Washington, we don't even cover protest marches that small.
Yet, month after month, commissioner-for-eternity Bud Selig keeps extending the deadline for Montreal to get its ownership and stadium-financing plans finalized. That's always the word -- "finalized." It didn't take this long to finalize The Crusades.
Has "prominent New York art dealer" Jeffrey Loria actually signed a contract obligating him to pay the $50 million he's supposedly "infusing" into this moribund bunch? For that matter, to gain control of the Expos has Loria even forked over a decent Degas or Manet?
"Not yet," Selig said yesterday.
What about that fabulous, but extremely cheap new Expos stadium? If the Montreal city fathers cut any more corners, there'd be no third base. How many sets of "plans" have they shown you, Mr. Commish? About 19, is it?
"That would be a good number," Selig said.
When does somebody finally pull the plug on these deadbeats? When does Montreal run out of chances? How many more seasons do the Expos get to suck millions of dollars in baseball welfare -- more than $33 million last year -- out of the sport's healthy franchises before the commissioner has the backbone to kick these freeloaders out of the lodge?
"We want to give them every chance," Selig said. "People in Washington can certainly understand that. About 28 years ago, right after the Senators left [Washington], baseball came to understand that it was good public policy to keep teams where they were."
Selig confirmed that, once again, Montreal has been excused from meeting its latest fake "deadline" to put up or shut up. No, a new ownership structure and Expos stadium plan will not be brought up next week in Cooperstown, N.Y., when baseball meets.
Why not? Nobody in Montreal is dumb enough to spend good money as long as Selig is willing to dicker and dither. Why not string baseball -- and Washington -- along another season? Thanks to baseball's profit-sharing system, the Expos made money in '98! Put that, plus corporate tax breaks, in your pipe and smoke it.
Montreal's latest plan to Save The Expos (As Long As It Doesn't Cost Much) centers on a possible $133 million downtown stadium that would be built by the trendy architects from HOK. For reference, Boston's budget for a possible new Fenway Park starts at $750 million. Washington is talking about a $330 million downtown park. What do you get for $133 million? Montreal better hope it can get a bulk discount on Legos.
What sort of attendance might this Eighth Wonder attract in Montreal? The limited partners putting together the new Expos financing plan are "projecting" average attendance of 30,000 per game. That's part of a 500 percent increase in local revenue. Who says Canadians have no sense of humor?
My "projection" is that, in a $133 million park, the only way the Expos will draw 30,000 a game is if they count nostrils, not noses.
As if Washington needed more hurdles, we have a spitting contest between the Northern Virginia and D.C. groups. The mutual disparaging has been conducted, partly, in the media. But Selig said yesterday, "I've been hearing a lot about both groups. Each one seems to talk about the other."
In the past, this area has only lacked two qualities in its prospective ownership groups: money and sustained effort. Now, we've finally got hard workers in Northern Virginia who've done years of spade work, plus another gang in downtown with so much money and upper-crust clout that even Selig says, "The Washington group is beautifully financed, I must say."
So, naturally, they can't stop tying each other's shoelaces together.
Boys, cut it out. We have Montreal, Baltimore and Charlotte against us. We have Hugh McCall and Peter G. Angelos waving their checkbooks or using their influence. We're probably Selig's last choice, too, right after Vancouver, Mexico City, Sydney and Minsk.
So, let's make nice in the sandbox. If baseball ever does have an orphan franchise up for adoption -- be it the Expos, or, in a year or two, the pathetic Twins or Royals -- let's portray ourselves as the classy big-time front-runner. Let's be the enormous untapped market that's too rich, too organized, too philanthropic, too ethnically diverse and too united to ignore. Why, of course, we have multiple groups. It's a sign of our size, wealth and diversity. Not to worry. Just give us the team and we'll work out the little details.
You think you guys can remember that? Or is it too complicated for you?
Then, if that day ever actually comes, you can gouge each other's eyes to your heart's content until somebody -- from this area -- gets the team.