- - Tuesday, July 25, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In the final few years before Major League Baseball returned to Washington in 2005, there was a ritual that took place before every All-Star Game between me and baseball commissioner Bud Selig.

Selig would meet with the baseball writers at an annual lunch before the game and take questions. And every year, I would stand up and ask Bud the same question:

“When is Major League Baseball going to return to Washington, D.C.?”

It became a source of humor — especially in 2008, when the Nationals were on their way to a 102-loss season, and I asked Bud at the luncheon, “When is Major League Baseball going to return to Washington, D.C.?”

Those questions and variations of them are for other cities now, with a new commissioner, Rob Manfred, answering them.

Baseball relocating and expanding came up again during this All-Star week in Miami, when Manfred spoke at FanFest about possible new Washington D.C.’s — cities to be exploited for new ballparks in existing cities.

“I think for us to expand we need to be resolved in Tampa and Oakland in terms of their stadium situations,” Manfred said. “As much as I hope that both Oakland and Tampa will get stadiums, I think it would be difficult to convince the owners to go forward with an expansion until those situations are resolved.

“Once they’re done, I think we have some great candidates,” he said. “I know the mayor of Montreal has been very vocal about bringing baseball back to Montreal. It was not great when the Expos left. The fact of the matter was baseball was successful in Montreal for a very long time. Charlotte is a possibility. And I would like to think that Mexico City or some place in Mexico would be another possibility.”

To hear these words from Manfred should warm the hearts of Nationals fans, because they are no longer words they have to hang on anymore.

For years, Washington was the stalking horse for teams seeking new ballparks.

Washington built ballparks in Seattle, Houston and Pittsburgh. And now it’s somebody else’s turn.

You should also sympathize with those fans in Montreal who will now be used to get ballparks built in Tampa and Oakland — the promise of the return of Major League Baseball. It will be worse for those Montreal fans than the other sites Manfred mentioned — Charlotte and Mexico City.

Charlotte has never had major league baseball, and Mexico City? Please. How ridiculous is this? According to a January report in Jane’s 360, “There are rising risks of robbery and extortion in Mexico City and security levels have worsened since 2016.”

Good luck with that.

I hope that Montreal gets major league baseball back. I spent a number of Septembers in that beautiful city waiting for the Expos move to Washington.

It’s one of the greatest cities in North America, and I suspect every baseball writer would love to see Montreal come back as a road trip.

So I feel sorry for those fans left behind who are about to be exploited for years to come for new ballparks in other cities. And I doubt that baseball will ever return to Montreal.

Despite the claims of attendance success in the Expos’ glory years, the game was always on shaky ground there, from the time they nearly folded before they started in 1969, when the initial money for expansion nearly collapsed.

The franchise survived for years thanks to Charles Bronfman, who stepped in to save it at the last minute by becoming majority owner, until he pulled out in 1990. After Bronfman’s departure, the franchise struggled with financial backing until it relocated to the District in 2005.

The corporate money was never there for baseball support. How else would you explain the opportunity to let a carpetbagger like Jeffrey Loria come in and, with a $50 million investment, become the team’s managing general partner?

The money was never there for building a new ballpark, and, at today’s cost — well over $1 billion — it is a pipe dream to believe baseball will ever return.

That won’t stop Major League Baseball officials from using the city, though, for its own purposes for a new ballpark in Tampa (a terrible baseball market from the time they expanded there over northern Virginia in 1998) and Oakland.
Charlotte? They just built a new Class AAA minor league ballpark there in 2014, and it took decades for that to happen.

The reality for baseball is there is no Washington, D.C. out there to exploit.

• Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network

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