Montreal Expos players yesterday rejected Major League Baseball’s proposal to split the 2004 season between Montreal and San Juan, Puerto Rico, or Monterrey, Mexico, voting to stay in Quebec in the hope of fielding a more competitive team.
This season’s schedule — the Expos played 22 games in San Juan and traveled far more than any other National League team — is viewed by the players as a key factor for their falling out of the playoff chase after a 32-18 start.
“I think the vote represents what the guys, in their gut, actually feel,” third baseman Todd Zeile said. “It just seemed like most of the guys were tired of the possibility of being manipulated when they just didn’t feel good in their heart about doing it.”
The union, through the sport’s collective bargaining agreement, must approve each year’s regular-season schedule.
Confirming a long-expected timetable, MLB officials said any attempt to settle on a permanent home for the Expos is now off the table until at least 2005. But while potential ownership groups in the District and Northern Virginia wait, the Expos’ player payroll likely will be slashed, and efforts to retain free agent-to-be Vladimir Guerrero will now occur in a much more compromised environment.
The surprising decision to play all of next season’s home games in Montreal completed several weeks of wildly alternating opinions from the union. In July, the players bitterly opposed any suggestion of a repeat of this season’s split schedule. The stance was widely seen as an aid to prompting a permanent relocation of the team.
Two weeks ago, the union changed course and said it would be open to another split schedule. But after extensive meetings and demands of additional meal money, a more lenient travel schedule and other perks for another split slate, the players changed their minds again.
“We’re prepared to play in Montreal,” MLB President Bob DuPuy told MLB.com last night. “Playing all of the games in Montreal will have a negative economic impact and will also have a negative economic impact on the operations of the team, including the makeup of the roster. This will have no impact on our deliberations or decision on relocation. We’ll wait to determine that now until next year.”
The players’ decision and MLB’s response also counters commissioner Bud Selig, who said Wednesday that it could be a number of weeks before the Expos’ 2004 fate was determined.
MLB executives have demanded but failed to see full stadium financing plans, complete with heavy public sector contributions, from any of the permanent relocation candidates. Portland, Ore., has gone the farthest, last month approving $150million in state funds toward a stadium.
But bids from both the District and Northern Virginia have come with demands of conditional awards of the Expos before completing site and financing work, a position only hardened by MLB continuing to miss self-imposed timetables for moving the Expos permanently.
Monterrey, which had been seen in recent weeks as a strong contender to be the companion piece to the Expos’ schedule next year, will now seek to gain the team permanently.
Mexican businessman Carlos Bremer, leader of the Monterrey bid, placed a bid to buy the Expos in June. The offer was contingent on moving the club, similar to offers made last year by the District’s Fred Malek and Northern Virginia businessman William Collins. And like those local offers, the bid was rejected.
“You have not heard the last of Monterrey,” said Eric Stern, spokesman for Bremer. “You haven’t heard the last from us about this, and I don’t think you heard the last from baseball on Monterrey either. There’s too much of an opportunity there and too much money at stake — that cannot be the final word.”
This article based in part on wire service reports.