Sunday, May 14, 2006

Allan Huber {Bud} Selig. An Open Letter to the Commissioner of Baseball.

Dear Bud;

I am rather old baseball fan. I was a young teenager when Jackie Robinson played his first season of organized professional baseball with the Montreal Royals in 1946. The Royals, a farm team of the Brooklyn Dodgers, were in the International League. This team went on to win the Little World Series by beating the American Association Champions. Robinson was the main reason for the Royal's success.

I attended at least 20 Royals home games that year, usually coming home quite hoarse, after shouting my support for our hero, Jackie Robinson. The next year, 1947, Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers of the National League and had an illustrious career in the Majors. You Americans forget that Jackie Robinson started to play for the Royals the year before, because the vast majority of American sports writers claim that Jackie Robinson broke into organized baseball with the Dodgers in 1947. Montreal baseball fans loved Robinson and cheered him along the way. The question is, without Montreal, would Jackie Robinson have ever made it to the Major Leagues?

I was overjoyed when Charles Bronfman was successful in obtaining a National League franchise for Montreal in 1969. The Montreal Expos played their home games at an excuse for a ball park called Jarry Park. The only good thing about the park was that the stands were really close to the field and there was a happy family atmosphere. My wife refused to be a baseball widow so she became a very knowledgeable baseball fan. We took our children to the park on the Sundays when the Expos were in town and we all cheered when the Expos won, we were quite sad when they lost.

I used to attend many week day games with my friends and we always came early so that we could watch batting practice. One night the Pittsburgh Pirates were in town and the Late great Willie Stargell was taking his swings. Willie could hit the longest home runs. There was a swimmimg pool behind the right field fence of Jarry Park and Willie could hit them so that the ball soared over the fence and landed in the swimming pool. There was a stong wind blowing to right field that night and when Stargell finished his batting practice I yelled, "Willie, the wind is blowing to right field and you should be able to hit them out of here!" He just stared at me as he turned his majestic frame in my direction and replied, " When Ah hits em, Ah don't need no wind!" I nodded in agreement because I didn't dare argue with the great Willie Stargell.

My friend Bill was able to obtain tickets in the first row right behind first base. The Pirates were in town again and Davey Cash, who later played for the Expos, was the Pittsburgh second baseman. An Expo batter hit a high foul ball which was coming down in front of us. Davey came running over and was waiting for the ball which he should have caught. Bill and I, however, began to scream, "Watch the hose! Watch the Hose!" Davey looked down for the inexistant hose and dropped the ball. If looks could kill, Davey Cash's face should have killed us. We gave the Expo batter a new life but he grounded out to Davey Cash who accurately threw the ball to first base and the batter was out. Cash smiled at us as he ran to the dugout.

The Olympic Stadium was finally completed for the Montreal Olympics of 1976 and subsequently the Expos shifted their home games to this stadium. I had problems with the sight lines of this park so I always insisted of sitting behind home plate. I could clearly see the pitches and the swings of the batters and the whole field. One night, the visiting team brought in a rookie to pinch hit for the pitcher. After fouling off a few pitches he struck out on a pitch that was high and outside. A female fan who was close by yelled, "Go back to the minors!" To which the batter replied, "Shut up Lady!"

Unfortunately, Charles Bronfman lost interest in his baseball team and could have sold it to American interests for a pretty good profit, but he did not want the team moved from Montreal. He sold it to Claude Brochu and other investors for far less than he could gotten from Americans. At he beginng Brochu and his associates looked pretty good and they fielded an above average team. In 1994, we were in first place in our division when the players went on strike. You remember that Bud. You were the interim Commissioner and you negociated for the owners. The season was cancelled and the Expos were never the same.

Brochu got rid of all his stars. The Expos traded or lost outfielders Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom, Moises Alou and pitchers Ken Hill and John Wetteland. Pedro Martinez, who the Expos rescued fom the L.A. Dodgers' bullpen and enabled him to become a starting pitcher with a salary of 3 million dollars annually, decided to sign with Boston Red Sox for close to 11 Million dollars per annum. The Expo's payroll was about 9 million dollars total for 1995 and the team got worse and worse. The fans did not lose confidence in the Expos, they lost confidence in their management and stayed away in droves.

In 1999, Jeffrey H. Loria a New York art dealer bought 24% of the Montreal Expos. His only claim to fame was that he wrote 2 books; 1965 "Collecting Original Art" and 1969 "What's It All About, Charlie Brown?" These are each available for $2.95 U.S. His previous baseball venture came in 1989 when he bought a minor league team, the Oklahoma City 89ers. His stay in Montreal brought only agony to baseball fans.

He became the managing partner of the expos. He decided that Montreal Radio And television stations were not paying enough to the Expos for the broadcast rights. He cancelled all broadcasts of the team's home and away games. He finally settled with French Language Radio after a third of the season had gone by. He never settled with English radio and the only place you could listen to English Language broadcasts was on the internet. There no television of the Expos that season.

Loria then orchestrated a series of of contoversial cash calls that diluted the share of the other owners of the Expos and increased his own share to 94%. Loria and the other owners of the Expos were constantly at war after that and the team languished. Montrealers don't like to be taken for fools. Loria was totally disliked and the situation in Montreal could not improve unless Loria left.

John Henry was the owner of the Florida Marlins but he was interested in purchasing the Boston Red Sox. In an orchestrated move which involved you, John Henry and Jeffrey Loria, Henry executed a leveraged buy out of the Red Sox for some $600 million, sold the Florida Marlins to Loria for $183 million and Major league Baseball bought the Expos by paying Loria $125 million. Major league baseball was really not interested in preserving baseball in Montreal. You had previously stated that Major League Baseball should retract and Montreal was one of the cities designated to lose its team.

You had the opportunity of winning back the fans if you wanted to do so. But the fact that you allowed many home games to be played in Puerto Rico was the final nail in the coffin. Two Canadian teams, The Expos and the Blue Jays played each other in Puerto Rico on July Ist, Canada Day instead of Montreal. This was an insult to all Canadians. July 1st is as important to Canadians as July 4th is to Americans.

The following season, the players on the Montreal Expos requested that all their home games be played in Montreal. You refused and convinced them it was necessary to play some home games in Puerto Rico. Inspite of this, one million fans attended the home games of the Expos, but the dye was cast. You moved the team to Washington and changed the team name to the Nationals. You finally sold the team to Mr. Lerner for $400 million which means that Major League Baseball will be reimbursed the $125 million which it paid to Jeffrey Loria, $80 million which it claims it lost while operating the team for two years in Montreal and the remainder will be paid to the owners of the major League teams. Jeffrey Loria as owner of the Florida Marlins will receive an additional $8 million.

I expected better of you. You were a very successful used car dealer with many lots in Milwaukee. You were a strong baseball fan who became annoyed when the Milwaukee Braves moved to Atlanta. You went out and bought the bankrupt Seattle Pilots for $10.8 million and brought the team to Milwakee and named them the "Brewers". You were able to convince Milwaukee to build you a new stadium. You even managed to have the Brewers shift from American League to the National League. In spite of the fact that the Brewers were in only one World Series in 1982, there was never any thought of moving the team to another city. You were interim Commissioner of Baseball from 1992 until 1998 when you became the Commissioner and you have remained in this function right up today. You established inter-league play, the wild card, creation of 3 divisions in each league and revenue sharing between the haves and the have nots in Major League baseball. How come, a man of your ability did really nothing to save Major League baseball in a good sports town like Montreal?

Jeffrey Loria did win the World Series in Florida, but he commited the same sin that was committed by Claude Brochu in 1994. Loria sold most of his star players to other teams. Now the Florida Marlins have an average attendance of slightly over 6,200 per game. Jeffrey Loria will soon have the distinction of destroying 2 major league teams. I hope you are not going to come up with another scheme to save him. Montrealers will be watching.


At 6:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The expos were not only first in their division in 1994, they were first of all the National League teams. Some rival managers considered them the best team in baseball in 1994. This makes their diappearance from Montreal even more tragic.

At 9:40 AM, Anonymous WMB said...

One afternoon Dan McGinn beat the Cubs in a game that lasted 1 hour & 32 minutes. All Cubs games are televised in Chi. and 3 hours of air time are purchased. Leo Durocher would give a game capsul after each game. The producer asked Leo if he could talk for an hour. The Lip said no problem. He then started by saying, "We made that kid look like Walter Johnson."

At 6:45 AM, Blogger Chainz said...

Great post - I especially liked your anecdotes. I was an Expos fan before I became a Nationals fan (I currently live in DC). I had family in upstate NY near the Canadian border and went to many games at Olympic Stadium. I really liked the Expos and can remember the excitement of the 1994 season - before the Strike. I was eagerly anticipating a Yankees v. Expos World Series.

To be honest, I am not entirely sure baseball could have lasted in Montreal. I always thought of Montreal as a hockey town. The problem is that fans didn't really show up consistently unless the team was doing well, although I guess that doesn't make them too much different from other teams in MLB.

But your post rings true in that Loria and MLB never gave Montreal a chance to succeed. Forcing the team to play home games in two cities that were worlds apart (in distance and in culture) prevented the team from having any solid following and Loria never invested enough money to even compete on a short-term basis.


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