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Orphans Exposed Over the weekend,
2002-09-10 01:44
by Mike Carminati

Orphans Exposed

Over the weekend, Rob Neyer had an interesting suggestion as far as what to do with the Expos. His idea is to make them a team with four homes in 2003, all vying for the right to call the Expos or, as Neyer suggests, Orphans their own. His cities are Portland, Las Vegas, Washington, and Charlotte. It's an interesting idea but unfortunately an impractical one and not just because it's "way too creative for Major League Baseball" as Neyer opines.

The problems are more of a practical bend. First, the three minor-league cities that he suggests have stadiums that hold under 20,000 people (Portland 19,810, Las Vegas 10,000 with an additional 2,000 standing, and Charlotte 10,002). All of these stadiums would have to be upgraded to accommodate major-league crowds unless MLB wants a repeat of the tiny Montreal crowds (at least they would be crowded in one area for the TV cameras though). It is impractical to upgrade all of those stadiums (even if it were possible to do so) in this off-season. Neyer acts as if you can just plop the team down in Las Vegas and say, "Play ball."

Secondly, even if we could upgrade these stadiums by next year, it would not be economical to do so. Portland's stadium dates back to 1926, and even though it was renovated in 1998, it is probably too old a structure to remodel as a major-league park. Las Vegas has a 20-year-old stadium, which seems ancient in the minors today. Charlotte's is no spring chicken either having been built in 1990.

Thirdly, what happens to the existing minor-league teams while each city is waiting to accommodate the roving Orphans. There would be three clubs that would either have to relocate for a year awaiting the winner of the Orphans lottery, relocate permanently, or relocate on a rotating basis like the Orphans themselves, maybe following them from town to town.

What happens if this team is in a pennant race, let's say tied for first, on the day they are set to move to a new park? How disruptive and ludicrously bush would that look? Baseball doesn't need another All-Star game-type fiasco.

Lastly, and this is trivial, the home-road statistics would be whacked.

Maybe a better solution would be to do something like the White Sox did in 1968-69. Each of those two years the Sox played nine games in Milwaukee, which helped prepare the ground for the Pilots move to the town. Baseball has featured a series in a neutral site a few times over the last few years. What if the Expos allowed prospective cities to court them for a 9- or 10-game series at a time, with their home base still in Montreal? This could be done in the minor-league cities when their teams are on the road. Of course, there still is the issue of major-league accommodations, but maybe for a short series that wouldn't be such an issue.

I still think that allowing the Expos to move to Washington over Peter Angelos' objection would make the most sense for everyone (actually, staying put is probably best, but I don't think MLB wants to pursue that scenario). If you look back at expansion/relocation history, it appears that 1969, the year ironically that the Expos were born, was the turning point. Up until then the expansions/relocations added large cities in areas not open to baseball in the past. In 1952, there were 16 teams in 10 cities, all of which were east or on the Mississippi River and North of the Mason-Dixon Line. Baseball went West and South from there and were usually greeted by bigger crowds wherever they went. In 1969, however, baseball added San Diego, a team that barely outdrew its minor-league counterpart; Seattle, a team that failed within a year and was moved to a small city (Milwaukee) that had already lost a franchise; Kansas City, again a small city that had already lost a franchise; and Montreal where some baseball people will tell you baseball never really asserted itself.

Since 1969 one team (Texas) has relocated. There have been three rounds of expansion, but 1977's expansion was necessitated by the fear of a lawsuit from Seattle. A second city was needed and Toronto, as the largest US/Canadian population without a team, was the logical choice. The 1993 expansion round was accomplished to placate the representatives in Colorado and Florida who were looking to remove MLB's antitrust exemption and force expansion on their own terms. Baseball got a taste for the exorbitant expansion fees and quickly and unwisely rushed the 1998 expansion round. The potential for a Tampa Bay lawsuit, as baseball blocked the sale of the Giants to a group there, was obviated by the expansion. Now baseball is much more concerned with discussing contraction than adding new markets through expansion or relocation.

Baseball still is weary of new places. The deplorable turnout in Montreal seems to be changing their minds but given that they are unwilling participants in this, they will probably botch the relocation of the Expos like everything else. MLB can't decide on one city for this team let alone four.

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