Expos saga remindful of how things could have gone awry

Five years ago today, the Montreal Expos officially were given the go-ahead to pack up and leave Olympic Stadium and head to Washington to become the Nationals.

By a vote of 28-1 (with Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos casting the lone dissenting vote), the Expos were allowed to leave their home of 35 years.

The Expos’ tale is very similar to that of the Twins. The two teams will always be tied together thanks to the contraction threat, which was to eliminate both teams after the 2001 season. An injunction forced the Twins to play out their Metrodome lease, saving both franchises from elimination.

Eventually, contraction would be put to rest thanks to MLB’s new agreement with the players’ union. But MLB itself purchased the Expos franchise after the 2001 season, pretty much ensuring that its days in Montreal were numbered.

What saved the Twins and ultimately doomed the Expos was a new ballpark. The Twins, after years of failed attempts, managed to get a new stadium approved in 2006. Target Field will be ready for play next season.

Montreal did not have as much luck. Their last attempt to get a stadium was in 2000, when Labatt agreed to fork over money for naming rights if the park was named Labatt Park. But the Quebec Premier said he couldn’t in good conscience allow a new stadium to be funded with public money when the area needed new hospitals.

That’s really where the difference lies. Both franchises have had their moments ranking among the league leaders in attendance, and neither franchise had ever had a stadium built for it. But the Twins were able to get Target Field, while the Expos could not.

Labatt Park proposed stadium

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