Manfred: Return to Montreal ‘possible’ for MLB

Fans wear Montreal Expos uniforms as they watch the Toronto Blue Jays in a pre-season baseball game against the New York Mets Friday, March 28, 2014 in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)

Major League Baseball’s new commissioner says big league baseball could succeed in Montreal. Rob Manfred told Tyler Kepner of the New York Times that under the right circumstances MLB would look at Montreal as a potential destination for a big league franchise.

“I think Montreal helped itself as a candidate for Major League Baseball with the Toronto games that they had up there last year,” Manfred told Kepner. “It’s hard to miss how many people showed up for those exhibition games. It was a strong showing. Montreal’s a great city. I think with the right set of circumstances and the right facility, it’s possible.”

The Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets played two exhibition games in Montreal before the 2014 season, averaging nearly 50,000 fans per game. The two-game series was widely considered a success, prompting the Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds to schedule a pair of spring games in Montreal before the 2015 season.

Manfred’s predecessor, Bud Selig, said the 2014 exhibition games encouraged MLB that Montreal could once again be a viable big league city.

“They could be an excellent candidate in the future, no question about it,” Selig told reporters at the 2014 All-Star Game. “That was very impressive, very impressive.”

The Montreal Expos played their inaugural season in 1969 as MLB’s first franchise based outside of the U.S. They reached the playoffs in 1981 and were leading the NL East with a 74-40 record when MLB players went on strike in 1994. Though the Expos acquired star players like Gary Carter, Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez and Vladimir Guerrero, they struggled when the Canadian dollar lost value, attendance flagged and efforts to leave Olympic Stadium for a more modern facility failed. Finally, after years of instability, the Expos moved to D.C. in 2005 and became the Washington Nationals.

The Tampa Bay Rays have been linked to the Montreal market in recent months, though team owner Stuart Sternberg publicly insists he’s focused on making baseball work in the Tampa Bay region.

“We have not spoken to Montreal – or any other city, including Tampa – about relocation at any point,” Sternberg said in October.

However, the New York Daily News reported that Sternberg has had disucssions with Wall Street associates about moving the Rays to Montreal. At this point it’s too soon to know whether those discussions were serious or simply designed to apply pressure locally to ensure a new stadium gets built.

“The chances of me owning this team in 2023 if we don’t have a new stadium are probably nil,” Sternberg told reporters in December. “Somebody else will take it and move it. It’s not a threat, it’s just the reality.”

Baseball’s most powerful player agent is on record saying that the Rays would be better off in Montreal.

“I do wonder that,” Scott Boras said. “I’ve always thought Montreal was a tremendous major league city and I think it’s a town that if you put a ballpark there and particularly with the communications broadcasting rights and such that are there, that it would be a tremendous success and a very valued point for baseball.”

For now, Montreal’s fans must wait in the hopes that one of baseball’s owners will decide to move north. The Expos were originally an expansion franchise, but MLB isn’t about to expand beyond 30 teams any time soon.

“I don’t see it in the immediate future,” Manfred told Kepner. “At a minimum, it’s a ways down the road. I just don’t see any immediate push for it.”