By Matt Mirro
Since baseball’s new commissioner, Rob Manfred, took office there has been a lot talk about the possibility of further expansion. The last expansion came in 1998 when the league welcomed the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Rays into the fold. Many see expansion as a new thing, bringing further cities into the baseball scene and expanding the great pastime’s influence. Cities such as Montreal, Portland, Charleston, Oklahoma City and even cities in Mexico have been mentioned for possible landing points for a potential two new big league clubs.
However, I find it hard to justify the addition of any new teams. I’ve been quoted as saying that baseball’s talent pool has been “Diluted” by the 30 major league squads. I may be a little gloom and doom there but I do believe the amount of teams already here have spread the talent thin. I could be completely wrong which would explain why I’m the only one making such a claim. But if 30 teams haven’t truly weakened Major League Baseball adding another two very well may. That’s precisely why I have come up with an alternative to expansion and one that I believe may be more effective.
There are a few, already existing teams that are unable to succeed in their current market. If Manfred wants to reach more advanced markets in order to grow the game moving teams is a way to do it without further thinning the herd. Of course, there are obstacles here as well. Teams have agreements with their respective cities and baseball would have to wait for these leases to run out before even proposing the possibility of relocation. But here me out before condemning such a proposal. Disclaimer: Because these teams have long-term leases treat these scenarios as hypotheticals. They are meant to describe a possible alternative not completely real life possibilities.
Scenario One: The Montreal Athletics
Let’s start with the Oakland Athletics. After a series of arguments with former commissioner Bud Selig over the possibility of the team moving to San Jose (An area of influence for the rival San Francisco Giants) the A’s agreed to a 10-year extension with the city of Oakland back in July of 2014. O.co Coliseum is decrepit and downright ugly (Only being honest, people!) and we may have to wait until 2024 but the Athletics need to get out of Oakland. If they could somehow escape the lease even earlier that’d be great as well. According to ESPN.com the A’s rank 28th in attendance, averaging just 21,500 fans per game. Oakland is a working class area and people cannot afford to regularly attend games on a regular basis. The franchise is infamously one of the poorest teams in the sport and a new market may help that cause.
Enter Montreal which has the second largest economy in all of Canada after Quebec. A diverse and growing city that has industries ranging from aerospace, electronics, clothes, textiles, software to tobacco, oil, machinery and pharmaceuticals Montreal is a hot spot on the world map. It’s also the city that shunned the Expos, causing them to move to Washington and become the Nationals. But the A’s aren’t owned by Jeffrey Loria like the Expos were which means it can run completely under the leadership of maverick general manager Billy Beane. The Athletics would thrive playing in one of the world’s foremost cities, a city which is now starved for baseball.
It would be the third time in their history that the A’s have relocated. They began their history way back in 1900 in Philadelphia before moving to Kansas City in 1954. The team moved again in 1968, this time to Oakland, after eccentric owner Charles O. Finley purchased the team. The Athletics name is classic and neutral and would fit well up in Canada. The Expo name should be abandoned as it is more or less associated with failure. The entire country of Canada has just one big league team, the powerhouse Toronto Blue Jays. Moving from the crowded California market to a virtually untapped land north of the border would be a breath of fresh air. Can we get it done, ladies and gentlemen?
Scenario Two: The Portland Pilots
Denver, Colorado, the Mile High City, is the perfect location for many events. Beer festivals, vacations, skiing, and evidently dinosaur digs (Look it up!). Baseball is not one of those many things which is unfortunate for the Colorado Rockies and their fans. Unlike the Athletics, the Rockies actually draw plenty of fans. According to ESPN they draw the twelfth largest average attendance in baseball (31,577 per game). However, Coors Field is their weak link. Actually, the entire city and maybe the state is crippling the organization. The thin mountain air causes the ball to fly out of the ballpark which makes it virtually impossible to field a competitive pitching staff. Without capable pitchers the team is never going to win it all. That does not spell good news for the future of the franchise.
Onward to Portland we go! The bustling city has grown in popularity in recent years due to it’s famous music and art scene. The success of the city’s local NBA team, the Portland Trailblazers, has proven that the city can host a sustainable sports franchise. The addition of a baseball team would not only boost the city’s already skyrocketing status on the American landscape. The city’s popularity will likely draw the necessary fans to boost the team. Moving the team out of the big home run park of Coors Field will help the team bolster the lackluster pitching staff via free agency. The added profit will be nice too.
As for the name, well that’s a little tricky. The best I could think of is the Portland Pilots which I think is a very suitable name. First off, it just sounds cool. Alliteration always makes the ears happy and the brain shoot off a little dopamine. Naturally, I went through other names like the Panthers and Penguins but also considered the Rippers because of Portland’s nickname as the “Rip City”. I thought that last one had potential but ultimately felt has a negative connotation because of that one Englishman known as Jack the Ripper. Oh well!
Pilots eventually won out because once upon a time, 1969 to be exact, there was a baseball team in Seattle known as the Pilots. Baseball loves to recycle old names (The Padres and Orioles, for example, were named after minor league teams that had vanished before the new teams were founded) and reusing the Pilots would be poetic. The team only played one seas0n in the big leagues before moving to Milwaukee and becoming the Brewers. Let’s bring the Pilots back to life!
Scenario Three: The Monterey Aztecs
Viva la Mexic0! Ah at last we head to the biggest team on my list and my favorite scenario. The Tampa Bay Rays have had some really good runs starting in 2008 when they went to the World Series. The problem is that the Rays play in Tampa which means they don’t draw fans. There’s so much to do in Tampa no one wants to spend time stuck inside a baseball stadium, especially not Tropicana Field. The Rays probably have the worst stadium in baseball, probably in sports if we’re being truthful and that’s including the minor leagues. The domed ballpark and its catwalks cause mayhem for fielders and steal base hits from batters. Artificially turf creates weird hops and greatly effect the game. But it would be worth it if the team weren’t watching balls sail into empty seats. The team needs out of Florida.
The Rays want to get out of their lease with the city of Tampa which doesn’t expire until 2027. Unfortunately this isn’t easy and I am not qualified to discuss the legal, economic and somewhat political elements involved in the whole mess. But, of course, allow us to imagine a world where they are out of their lease and leaving Tampa behind for good. Where to go? How about south of the border to Monterey, Mexico, the richest city in the whole country. It’s an industrial powerhouse that produces massive amounts of steel and iron as well as extremely popular breweries. Not to mention that the gorgeous city is a major tourist hub. Not only is it the wealthiest city our neighbors to the south has to offer but it also has all the necessary elements to support a major league team.
Monterey has money, we’ve been over this, but it also has deep routes in baseball. The city has produced a team that has won the Little League World Series three times (1957, 1958 and 1997). They’ve hosted Major League games from teams in the U.S. and are home to one of the best teams in the Mexican Baseball League, the Sultanes de Monterey. Oh and the last time a team relocated, 2003, Monterey almost won the bid. The city unsuccessfully tried to buy the Montreal Expos and bring them to Mexico. It’d be fitting in Monterey and Montreal both ended up with the team. It’s also the location of the largest baseball stadium in Mexico. It also hosts multiple major telecommunications networks, spanning through radio and television. Perfect scenario for a franchise that has been robbed of such amenities.
The name is self explanatory. Mexico is located on land that once belonged to the Aztec Empire. That was before Columbus and Cortez took over. The historical empire has gained a reputation for brutality, war and culture. That means it’s a name that would be popular with young fans. I may have taken a sports marketing class once or twice if it’s not obvious. There’s a market ripe for the plucking, right here in Monterey. Who’s up for a vacation? I know I am!
These are, as I said before, all hypothetical but I believe it is a better alternative to expansion. Growing the league to 32 teams would be like watering down a 18-year old scotch. Don’t mess with the formula. Instead, fix what’s broken. These three teams are struggling, for one reason or another, where they’re currently located. There has to be a change. Were I Commissioner of Major League Baseball I’d have to look at relocation as a more viable option. It might take awhile to get the legal matters sorted out but it’ll be worth it in the end. Don’t throw away what could be a really good thing.