Todd: Major League Baseball gives Montreal another kick in the teeth

With the mooted team-share with Tampa Bay rejected, it’s hard to see how baseball returns to Montreal.

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The news broke on a frigid January afternoon, with spring training still little more than a mirage on the horizon.

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Major League Baseball, in its infinite wisdom, had pulled the plug on the Tampa Bay Rays-Montreal Expos split-team concept. There will be no ExRays, no shared franchise, no summer baseball in Montreal while Tampa gets the spring and fall.

It was a stunning about-face for baseball, given that commissioner Rob Manfred, after all, who first gave the split-team concept his blessing in June of 2019. For baseball fans in Montreal, who have been kicked in the teeth by MLB so many times they’ve lost count.

For Stephen Bronfman , who has poured years of passion, effort and money into the attempt to revive the Expos, it was a sucker punch to the solar plexus. Bronfman was clearly gobsmacked, as was Tampa owner Stuart Sternberg.

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In a video conference Thursday afternoon, Bronfman called it a “bloody eulogy” and said “we all got slapped in the face. … I’m just tired and a little upset. We had something so good. I think a lot of people in sports would have been listening to us.”

The decision, handed to Sternberg by baseball’s eight-person executive committee, came out of left field. One moment, we were waiting for more details from Bronfman on his ballpark plan, the next moment the split-team concept was dead and the dream of bringing the Expos back to town may well have died with it.

No one knows quite what was behind the decision but baseball, once again, is mired in acrimonious negotiations with the player’s union and it’s possible the split-team proposal was collateral damage — a bone the owners could throw to the players. It’s also been suggested that the Blue Jays, having played a key role in killing the Expos and bilked Montreal fans with their annual full-price exhibitions at the Big O, were now prepared to demand compensation if the Expos return.

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In the aftermath, it’s now clear that Sternberg and Bronfman were deeply invested in the sister city concept, no matter what the skeptics thought. It’s also clear why they thought it would work.

The economics of 21st century baseball are daunting. Without a hard salary cap, the budget discrepancy between the big spenders and the small market teams is monumental. In 2021, the Dodgers had a payroll pegged between at $286 million, the Yankees $205 million, the Mets $201 million, the Astros $194 million, the Phillies and Red Sox $189 million.

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At the bottom of the spectrum were the Rays at $70 million, the Marlins at $58 million, the Pirates at $54 million, Cleveland at $50 million and the Orioles at a mere $42 million — meaning the five clubs with the lowest payrolls were shelling out less combined than the Dodgers alone.

Amazingly, the Rays and the Oakland Athletics (2021 payroll, $91 million) have been able to keep pace on the field, while the Mets and Angels have struggled to compete despite whopping payrolls.

In that context, Sternberg and Bronfman were visionaries, pointing the way to sister-city plans which could see small-market cities team up to field competitive teams that could expect healthy crowds for 40 or 41 home games a year instead of 81. However viable the plan, it won’t be here and it won’t be now.

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Forget expansion. In April of last year, Manfred estimated the cost of an expansion franchise at a staggering $2.2 billion – the current average value of a franchise. In 1998, Tampa Bay and Arizona paid expansion fees of $130 million each.

Experts have questioned the $2.2 billion figure, pointing out that only smaller markets are now available and pegging the likely expansion fee closer to $1.5 billion. Anyway, it’s a deal breaker.

If there is any remaining hope, it’s that Sternberg will be unable to get a new stadium built in Tampa Bay and will be given permission to relocate, perhaps to Montreal.

It’s hard to see anything happening without Bronfman as the driving force – and he may not have the stomach to begin anew. “This chapter’s closed,” he said. “At this point, I kind of put my hands in the air.”

A new chapter begins

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We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

Meanwhile, the Canadiens have turned the page on the carnival ride that was the Marc Bergevin era. No more wild-haired GM in a red suit smooching his star goalie after a game.

Kent Hughes has the experience, the high intelligence and quiet passion you need to succeed in an immensely difficult job but Bergevin has left him with a pungent mess: weighty contracts, disaffected veterans with little or no interest in playing for coach Dominique Ducharme and young players who haven’t developed as expected.

He will have to end the phantom captaincy of Shea Weber and to deal with Carey Price — at once the team’s biggest star and its biggest headache. We wish him luck.


HEROES: Félix Auger-Aliassime , Denis Shapovalov, Stephanie Labbé , Sam Montembeault, Cayden Primeau, Michael Pezzetta, Jeff Gorton, Kent Hughes &&&& last but not least, Stephen Bronfman – for trying.

ZEROS: Aaron Rodgers, Novak Djokovic, Joe Rogan, Lisa Ravary, Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball, Francois Legault, Claude Brochu, David Samson &&&& last but not least, Jeffrey Loria. Now and forever.

@jacktodd46

jacktodd46@yahoo.com

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