By Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
There is a new sheriff in town in Montreal and Valérie Plante's stunning election win raises questions about whether Major League Baseball will return to Montreal.
In a municipal election held Sunday, relative unknown Plante upset incumbent Denis Coderre, who had been very enthusiastic about bringing a team back to replace the Expos, who were transferred to Washington, D.C. following the 2004 season.
There has been a lot of doom and gloom since the weekend, prompting many fans to turn thumbs down on Plante.
"What slim chances there were for resurrection of baseball here are now officially dead,'' Expos fan Kristian Gravenor said in a Facebook message.
Pretty dire thoughts. But it's way too early to be gloomy about baseball's non-return to Montreal and it's too early to be commenting on Plante, who decidedly isn't as open about baseball as Coderre. Plante said she would hold a referendum to see how citizens would react to city funding for a new stadium downtown.
Coderre had no intentions of holding a referendum. Instead, he was just going to rely on support from fellow council members to proceed with the park plans. Plante wants voters to go to the polls and decide. The other issue is what private funds would be used to help support a new park.
"She was talking about a referendum and that the public will see the cost and not everything we have done. It comes down to this IMO,'' said Chris Chartier, another fan. "If there is no passion for baseball from the mayor's office, I don't see the city giving the green light. Right now, I feel we have taken a big step backward.''
Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has said he considers Montreal an ideal city for relocation of a team or as an expansion club but has maintained that Montreal first needs to make a commitment toward a new ballpark.
Montreal is the No. 1 candidate for expansion or relocation of a team because it already has an usable stadium in the Big O that can be utilized for several years until a new park is built. Through the expansion route, Montreal would be team No. 31 in the majors but what city would be No. 32?
Portland, Ore., Austin, Tex., San Antonio, Tex., or Charlotte, N.C.? Portland is believed to be the largest city in the U.S. without a major-league baseball franchise. It has been home to the NBA's Trailblazers for decades but could it support a second major sports franchise?
"In the Greater Portland Area, we have about 2.5-million people,'' Michael Cox, a spokesman for the mayor's office in Portland, told me this writer. "We are a bigger market than Pittsburgh and we are comparable in size to Cincinnati.''
Ironically, Portland pushed and shoved hard as a candidate to take on the Expos before Washington won out. Then Portland mayor Vera Katz actively pursued the Expos' file. Just recently, former Trailblazers broadcaster Mike Barrett said he was part of a group interested in bringing the MLB brand to Portland.
A stadium there would be partially funded by a $150-million grant approved by the state of Oregon. This money is still available and has been kicking around in mothballs since Portland tried to get the Expos almost 15 years ago. The plan was in place to use a portion of player salaries for the $150-million in funding.
"There is a current effort to bring MLB to Portland but the mayor's office is not part of the campaign,'' Cox said. "Obviously, Portland is a desirable market for MLB but the idea of this team comes from the media. The mayor's position on it is similar to the position on the recent move by Amazon to find a second city. It would be great to call Portland home for Amazon but we're not making a public push for it.''
And just like Plante must be thinking of public monies for a park, Cox mentioned the same issue in Portland.
"We're very mindful of the situations in Miami with the Marlins' park and in Atlanta with the Braves' park. In Miami, they have so much debt around that stadium,'' Cox said. "We also have various issues in Portland to deal with: mental health, addictions, housing and so on.''
In Atlanta, the Braves abruptly left their downtown digs of many years to move to SunTrust Park in the suburbs on Battery Ave.The Cobb County Commission approved the Braves' plans without any public debate or any open meetings. So you can see why Plante and Cox have some concern about the monies that would be used to build a park.
“The dream is still there,'' Coderre said in a speech after he lost the election. "I think that Montreal is a city of multi sports and baseball is one of them. If we really want to bring back the Expos, the mayor will have to get involved. It’s not just to say we will have a referendum and that’s it. And she said that she loves ‘Nos Amours.’ OK, we need to show it. Of course, I’m going to be there to get involved, too. I’m not going to sit on my hands.”
So how about if we step back and take a little breather? Most of us are all in on a new team in Montreal. We're skeptical about what Plante wants to do but have you ever heard of fiscal responsibility? Now that the disappointment and dismay has subsidized a little in the wake of Coderre's defeat, let there be sunshine and hope and faith on the part of Montreal fans.