The ninth Major League Baseball season since the demise of the Expos is underway, and it still feels weird that there’s no team in Montreal. Montreal is an important, international city with a storied baseball past, and Major League Baseball—which is bending over backwards to increase its international presence—is remiss if it doesn’t find a way to have a team there.
I should point out that I am not an embittered Expos fan writing this for sentimental reasons. I grew up in the Philadelphia area and am a huge Phillies fan, so the Expos were division rivals of my team. Nevertheless, here are five specific reasons why Major League Baseball should bring back the Expos:
1. Jackie Robinson
In 1946, the AAA Montreal Royals were a farm team to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier when he took the field with the Royals, and while he faced racism and hatred in other cities, he was supported enthusiastically by the baseball fans of Montreal. An article in the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail says that “Mr. Robinson described the people of Montreal as ‘warm and wonderful’ toward him and his wife.”
Jackie Robinson is the personification of one of the most important moments in baseball history, and the people of Montreal helped usher in that era with “warmth and wonderfulness” while the rest of the world was spewing vitriol. If only as a big thank you for their kindness, Montreal deserves baseball.
2. The Logo
The Expos logo is clever and weird and unique. At first glance, it might say “ELB” (Elastic Load Balancing? Electronic Log Book? Eric Lee Band?), or possibly “EJB” (conspiracy theory: EJB are initials of Elizabeth Bronfman, the daughter of former Expos owner Charles Bronfman). The official explanation is that the logo is “MEB,” for Montreal Expos Baseball. Whatever it means, you still see the Expos logo at games and around town (whatever the town), most likely as a statement of team loyalty, but possibly as a fashion statement or symbol of gang affiliation.
I bought a cheap, all-blue Expos cap when my wife and I thought about moving to Montreal in 2001, only to ruin it years later by putting it through the washing machine (rookie mistake). I was devastated, and eventually replaced it with a fitted, classic tri-color Expos cap that I still wear regularly.
Listening to a baseball game on the radio is a beautiful thing. More than any other sport, in my opinion, baseball announcers bring the game to life through passion, storytelling, and an innate sense of timing. Nothing drove home the unique experience of Montreal baseball like listening to a game broadcast in French. Simple phrases like le rectangle des frappeurs (batter’s box—literally translated as “the rectangle of hitters”), la balle papillon (knuckleball—literally “butterfly ball”), and my favorite, le sabotage (blown save), made the game seem elegant and exotic. The cadence of the language affected the feel of the game. If baseball is striving to be an international sport, having a Major League presence in the second-largest French-speaking city in the world seems like a great place to start.
4. Gary Carter et al.
The Expos of the 1980s were not just chock-full of great players, they were players who had come up together through the team’s minor league system. Teams that featured players like Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, Tim Wallach, David Palmer, Steve Rogers, Al Oliver, and, of course, Gary Carter drew packed houses to Olympic Stadium. I specifically remember Gary Carter’s rivalry with Mike Schmidt, who was always breaking the Expos’ hearts. (I was a kid in 1980 when Schmidt helped the Phillies win the NL East by hitting two game-clinching home runs in a thrilling, season-ending three-game series in Montreal. The feeling in Philadelphia at the time was that it was incredible that the Phillies escaped the frenzied atmosphere of Olympic Stadium with two wins and the division title.) It seemed that Carter and Schmidt were locked in battles for home-run champion or MVP during my entire childhood.
Expos teams in the 1990s were also well stocked and enthusiastically supported. The team trotted out a roster with players like Pedro Martinez, Larry Walker, Moises Alou, Vladimir Guerrero, Marquis Grissom, and John Wetteland, among many others. The players’ strike that ended the 1994 season devastated the Expos more than any other team. They were 34 games over .500 and had the best record in baseball when the season was suspended, never to be resumed.
I don’t bring up these teams just to list a bunch of players who wore the Expos uniform, but to point out that savvy Montreal baseball fans know and support good baseball. It’s all too easy to remember the dark, late years of the Montreal Expos, but when times were good, it was one of the most enthusiastic fan bases out there.
Artist’s rendering from the year 2000 of a proposed Labatt Park in downtown Montreal, designed by the firm Provencher Roy + Associés Architectes.
Finally, Montreal is the 15th-largest city in North America and the second-largest in Canada. (Not pertinent to baseball, but still interesting: Montreal is the second-largest French-speaking city in the world, behind only Paris.) It was the first international city to host a Major League Baseball team, and it is growing (5.2% from 2006 to 2011), diverse (17% of the population lists something other than French or English as its first language), and smart (Montreal is called “Canada’s Cultural Capital“)—and we all know that baseball is a smart person’s sport.
Before the untimely demise of baseball in Montreal, plans were afoot to build the downtown stadium pictured above. I can’t imagine anything more awesome than for this plan to be revived. I sincerely hope the movement to bring baseball to Montreal gains steam, not just because Major League Baseball would benefit from having a team in a big, important, international city with a rich baseball history, but because the baseball-loving fans in the city deserve and would support a team.
There are plans afoot, too. The Montreal Baseball Project was founded by former Expo Warren Cromartie with the goal of bringing the Expos back, and the Expos Nation Facebook page is alive and well. Vive les Expos!
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