Capitol Punishment

There's been a lot of speculation about what will happen with the Expos next season and many columnist have weighed in with their own opinions about where the Expos best belong.  Unfortunately, many of these columnists have lost sight of the facts in the matter, so I thought now might be a good time to set the record straight.

Proposition: If the Expos build a winning team, the fans will come
Reality: nothing could be further from the truth.  From 1983 to the present, no city has done less to support it's team, winning or not, than Montreal.  Eight times the Expos have fielded winning teams, five of those have competed for a playoff berth until the final week of the season.  Only once, in 1983, did the Expos draw at least 2 million fans.  Given that Montreal is the 11th largest market in major league baseball by population, this is an absolutely criminal record.  By comparison, San Diego is smaller by nearly a million people, has had the same number of winning teams in that time period, yet has drawn 2 million fans in a season 9 times.  Last year and this year the Expos have been competitive for a playoff berth and yet Montreal has continued to rank last or next to last in attendance.

It's true that ownership has done very little in the way of marketing to encourage fans to come, but the fact is that the Expos have had some pretty good teams.  They've had winners, and still the fans have stayed away in droves.

Proposition: Portland, Oregon is the largest market that doesn't already have major league baseball
Reality: This is true if you ignore the numbers.  But the US Census Bureau happens to disagree.  Not only is the city of Portland smaller than Washington DC by more the 30,000, it's metropolitan area, even when excluding Baltimore from DC, is smaller by nearly 2 million people.  Fairfax County, one of the proposed locations of a DC team, is twice as large as the city of Portland and it's residents average over $20,000 per year more income.  The DC/Northern Virginia market is the 7th largest TV market in the country, and is nearly 3 times as large as Portland. 

Even if one ignores the fact that Washington DC has far more corporate capital -  more Fortune 500 company headquarters and billion dollar law firms - than Portland; that it has two ready ownership groups and Portland has zero; that it has supported the Bullets/Wizards better than Portland has supported the Trailblazers despite the fact the the DC team has been woeful and the Blazers have been one the NBA's winningest franchises... even if one ignores all that, one can't ignore the fact that Portland and the state of Oregon is flat broke.  They didn't even have enough money to keep their public schools open for the full year!  Will going further into debt to bring a major league team really help either Oregon or the city of Portland address critical financial needs?  Of course not.

Proposition: DC has already lost 2 teams.  It doesn't deserve another
Reality: To quote Virginians for Baseball: "Regarding the Senators, they left Washington because both times the owners of the Senators got sweetheart deals, and Washington got promises of a replacement franchise, which fell through the second time. Calvin Griffith left Washington because he got a deal from Minneapolis, who lured Griffith with much more revenue available than he could have gotten in DC, where the newly built DC Stadium was owned by the US Department of the Interior. However, though ownership and players changed, Washington didn't truly lose a team in that situation since a team named the Senators played here in 1960 and 1961. The team owner that moved the Senators to Texas was Bob Short, who had previously moved the Minneapolis Lakers to LA. Andrew Zimbalist had this note in his book "Baseball and Billions": "After driving attendance to new lows in Washington DC, Short was allowed to move after the 1971 season to Arlington, Texas, which offered him a $7 million loan (adjusted for inflation, this would be equivalent to $32 million today) and a rent-free stadium." Therefore, we have two clear cases of undesirable owners leaving simply for greener pastures with fans or DC itself not being the factor.  The team itself struggled mightily in the last 40 years of its existence, and only finished over .500 once; however, looking at the team's attendance based on the formula of fans-per-victory, the Senators were one of the best supported clubs in major league history."

What the VoB failed to include was the fact that the Homestead Grays, the Senator's Negro League contemporary in DC, consistently posted some of the highest attendance numbers in the league, often outdrawing major league teams.  They also failed to include the fact that the DC metro area now boasts 2 of the top 10 highest income counties in the US; only the entire state of California has more in the top 10.  This was not true back in the 1960's and 1970's when the DC teams were moved.  A loyal and passionate fan base with lots of money to spend... nah, no sports organization really wants that, do they?

It's pretty clear that Major League Baseball feels that using Washington DC as a bargaining chip for extortion is more profitable than actually putting a team there.  But now that 60% of the teams in baseball have stadiums that are 15 years or younger, and another 20% have irreplaceable stadiums - landmarks like Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium, etc. - that may not be a viable bargaining chip.  Most of the local MLB populations are still paying off their current stadium debt; it's unlikely they will willingly assume more. 

Perhaps what the owners are really concerned about with the possibility of the Expos in DC is that if they allow a talented and well-stocked young organization to combine with an enormous infusion of cash, they will end up with an NL version of the Yankees.  Given that the focus of the last Collective Bargaining Agreement was to reign in the profligate spending of the Yankees, having another money-driven dynasty is perhaps the last thing Bud Selig and Major League Baseball wants.  And this dog and pony show that they are putting on this summer has been the only way they've figured out how to forestall it.