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Thursday, September 19
Updated: September 20, 3:37 PM ET
Keeping Expos in Montreal the wrong move

By Jayson Stark

So where will we find the Montreal Expos six months from now?

  • Ready to begin yet another lame-duck season in Montreal?

  • Ready to begin a new life as the Washington Nationals?

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  • Preparing for a year of playing temporary home games in a minor-league city like Buffalo while baseball sorts through its other options?

  • Preparing for a year of barnstorming from town to town, playing "home" games in locales as far-ranging as Washington, Portland, Ore., the Dominican Republic and, occasionally, their alleged home in the province of Quebec?

  • Or perhaps making their homeless-people status official, by playing games in a floating stadium in the Atlantic, or maybe aboard a new addition to the orbiting international space station?

    Well, believe it or not, according to the baseball powers that be, almost any of those options is still technically possible. Officially, nothing has been ruled out, although we don't recommend making a large wager on that space-station scenario.

    Asked if it was now clear that the Expos are doomed to return to Montreal for at least one more year, MLB's executive vice president for administration, John McHale Jr. replied, with due political correctness: "I can't say that. The position we need to take is that we're trying to assemble all the alternatives. Then we'll submit them to the commissioner, and he'll make his decision."

    With every day that passes, though, the Expos clearly draw closer to a return to the hardly open arms of Montreal and Stade Olympique. According to baseball sources, the reasons for that include these:

  • The known, as inhospitable as it may be, is better than the unknown. And after a summer of labor distractions gobbling up time which could have been used on other issues, too much about how and where the Expos would move remains unknown.

  • The commissioner and his aides want to make sure that if they do move and/or sell the Expos to a new city and new owners, they make the "right" choice.

  • While groups in Washington and Northern Virginia continue to assure baseball they're ready to roll on building a new ballpark if they're promised a team, MLB is apparently looking for the opposite. Baseball obviously wants a definite location and a definite commitment on that ballpark before it calls in the moving vans.

    And it's almost scandalous to force them to break up a team close to contention because the owners of the teams they play against have no interest in subsidizing a club that just might beat them.

  • The "Baltimore issue" still hasn't been resolved, either. Orioles owner Peter Angelos is still grumbling that a team down the beltway would destroy or, at least, seriously wound his franchise. So MLB needs to figure a way out of that situation. Of course, no one has mentioned that, in the last half-century, baseball has A) moved a team (the Browns) into Baltimore despite the presence of a Washington franchise and B) put an expansion team (the "new" Senators) in Washington despite the presence of a Baltimore franchise.

  • Finally, since no franchise has moved in more than 30 years, baseball likely would give other areas besides Washington -- most notably Las Vegas, Charlotte and Portland, Ore. -- an opportunity to, at the very least, make their case for a team.

    Add all that up, and what have you got? Well, you've got a team that's obviously going nowhere before 2004. But more importantly, you've got unhappy people in both Montreal and Washington who can't see the up side to another year of limbo.

    "I can understand where staying here is the lesser of the evils," said one Expos official. "But at the same time, they need to realize that that creates other evils."

    For the Expos, limbo doesn't mean treading water. It means regressing. To bring back the same promising group of players they have this year with a $37 million payroll would mean a $55-million to $60-million payroll next year. And if the other 29 clubs are paying the Expos' bills again, that isn't happening. Trust us.

    Plus, limbo also means uncertainty for every Expos employee, from GM Omar Minaya and manager Frank Robinson down to every scout and minor-league coach operating on a one-year contract.

    All of those folks did an astonishing job of running the Expos like a real major-league franchise for one bizarre year. But they did it short-staffed and with no assurances about their own futures. How can MLB put those people in the same tenuous position for another year, particularly when the other 29 clubs continue to grumble about pouring their own money down Montreal's bottomless pit?

    In the meantime, the folks in our capital aren't too pleased, either. If MLB has issues with the stadium or ownership-group situation, the people involved in the Washington and Northern Virginia bidding say they haven't been told of them.

    "We would welcome the opportunity to speak to anyone in baseball at any time on any subject regarding the return of major-league baseball to Washington," said Bobby Goldwater, president and executive director of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which is working to bring a team to the district. "Washington, D.C. is ready for baseball and has everything Major League Baseball would require to succeed -- including a ballpark immediately available."

    That ballpark, however, is RFK Stadium -- which is not to be confused with Camden Yards. And while Goldwater says his group is ready to present the results of its latest study of potential new-ballpark sites to MLB next month, that isn't good enough for MLB.

    If those locations aren't for sale, if neighbors and government authorities haven't signed off on them as ballpark sites, if money hasn't been allocated, the commissioner's office apparently isn't impressed.

    Goldwater understands that the people in D.C. can't control baseball's timetable. So if MLB doesn't want to move the Expos until 2004, "we'll be ready," he says. But if it wants to move sooner, "we'll be ready for that, too."

    So what do they do? Obviously, baseball doesn't think enough pieces are in place to make a move workable in time for next season. But it's more obvious that it's absurd to sentence the Expos to another season in a place they're no longer wanted.

    And it's almost scandalous to force them to break up a team close to contention because the owners of the teams they play against have no interest in subsidizing a club that just might beat them.

    Of all the goofy situations this sport has created for itself in recent years, this one, in many ways, out-goofys them all. It's time to resolve this situation, sell this team and move on -- the sooner the better.

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