In 2001, the Arizona Diamondbacks won the World Series and became the fastest expansion franchise to win a championship in their respective league. With the Vegas Golden Knights taking the NHL by storm, it’s raised some questions about whether the MLB should add another team, or even multiple teams. It also asks the questions of where and how they will do this.
Locations such as Mexico City, Mexico, and San Juan, Puerto Rico, have been bounced around as potential expansion locations, but we may have to stick to the mainland North America for immediate possibilities. Three cities immediately jump out at me as suitable to sustain an MLB franchise: Montreal, Quebec; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Portland, Oregon.
Established in 1969, the Montreal Expos’ postseason success was limited to just one division title (1981) and the team never made it further than the National League Championship Series. The aftermath of the 1994 MLB strike forced the team to sell many of their top players, and as a result, attendance and interest declined over the next decade. The team relocated to Washington, D.C. in 2004.
After a pair of exhibition games between the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox in Montreal in 2016, an interest of returning baseball to Montreal has been on the rise. According to a report from the Toronto Star in March 2017, a group of Montreal investors met the conditions laid out by Major League Baseball to get a team back in the city. Those conditions include support from two levels of government and various potential locations and designs for a new stadium.
The problems that come with getting a team back in Montreal include the stadium and competition from other cities. Olympic Stadium, the Expos’ previous venue, is out of the question, especially since the team already had ideas for a new stadium in the early 1990’s. Another report in Global News from September 2017 states that designs for a stadium have been created which shows that work is “being done behind closed doors.”
Another issue for Montreal is the competition from other cities. Major cities without sports teams include Austin, Texas, Louisville and Birmingham, Alabama, among others. While many towns have minor league or semi-professional sports teams, a town with just a major league team could be beneficial to the city.
As the only team in Canada, the Toronto Blue Jays may not be open to letting a competitor in the door. When the Expos moved to D.C., the team was forced to give financial concessions from broadcasting to the Baltimore Orioles, and there could be a similar situation if baseball is reinstated in Montreal.
As a fan of the game, I’d love to see the return of the Expos. I think it would be good for the culture of the game and growing a young fanbase in the kids of Quebec.
Charlotte, North Carolina
The Charlotte Knights are currently the triple-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, but MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said last year that Charlotte is in the realm of possible expansion cities for the MLB. The Knights built a new ballpark in 2014 and cannot be retrofitted to accommodate major league specifications. The Knights have also been near the top of the minor league attendance chart for a few years, and the Knights would like to continue that tradition.
According to a report in the Charlotte Observer, issues with a major league franchise in Charlotte include the stadium, competing markets in the NBA and NASCAR and traffic. With 81 home games in an MLB season, many of which are on weekdays, fans may have trouble getting to the ballpark on a normal day.
The city is also working on giving a Major League Soccer franchise a home in Charlotte. This may elucidate some of the problems MLB would have if they chose to expand here. For now, Charlotte doesn’t look like an immediate possibility, but one that could be 15-20 years down the road if MLB is looking to add another franchise.
The only major franchise that Portland features is the Trail Blazers of the NBA. They also have the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League (WHL), the Portland Timbers of the MLS and the Portland Thorn FC in the National Women’s Soccer League. In October 2017, Baseball America reported that Portland has a “legitimate ownership group” which has financing to build a stadium for a potential team.
If MLB were to expand to Montreal or Charlotte, it would make sense to also expand on the west coast. Each league currently has 15 teams, but even one expansion team would lead to dramatic realignments in scheduling and divisions. One proposal is to realign the leagues geographically to have four eight-team divisions. However, this is contingent on Montreal or another east coast team joining the league as well.
Portland is only about three hours from Seattle, a city that has not had an MLB postseason berth since 2001. Would fans who are fed up with Seattle’s lack of postseason representation pay to see the new kids on the block just three hours south?
Montreal seems to be the furthest along in getting a team to their city, but there are still a lot of details to be worked out. One issue with expansion, in general, could be the realignment of leagues, divisions and schedules as a collective, but it seems as though it’s a “when,” not “if,” for the newest installment of the Montreal Expos.
Photo by Steve Marowski