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Following the conclusion of the 2004 baseball season, manager Frank Robinson and any of the staff that remained with the Montreal Expos packed their offices at Olympic Stadium up. In September of that year, it was announced the Expos would be moving from Montreal to Washington D.C. leaving the city without a baseball for the first time since 1969. Fans ever since have wondered if baseball would ever return to the city.
Nearly 15 years later, Major League Baseball has announced that the Tampa Bay Rays have received permission to explore a plan that would allow them to split home games between the Tampa Bay Area and Montreal. With the announcement, it marks the first time that Montreal will see regular season baseball since the move.
Following the announcement by baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, it’s sparked an interesting thought: will the Rays ultimately leave Tampa Bay for Montreal?
The main reason behind the decision was based on Tampa Bay’s revenue problems. In the last seven years, they’ve finished in 15th out of all 15 teams in the American League six times. Much of it due to poor attendance records.
The Expos faced a much similar situation prior to their move. Their attendance in the dying years of the franchise were near the bottom in the National League. It was so bad that fans adopted the tag line: “It’s not my fault, I never went to games in the first place!”
Another interesting parallel is the idea of splitting home games. Prior to their relocation in 2005, the Expos split time between Olympic Stadium and Hiram Bithorn Stadium in Puerto Rico between 2003 and 2004. While the extent isn’t fully known for Tampa Bay, the similarity is still there.
The final connection these two have is the battle over a new stadium. The Rays have called Tropicana Field their home since their inaugural season in 1998. They’ve been trying to get a new stadium since 2007, with the closest project being abandoned in 2012 due to lack of support.
After failing to secure funding for a new stadium, the Expos were purchased by the MLB. Due to lack of support from the city and fans, an effort to find a new home was started. In the time since the move, fan support has been bolstered due to nostalgia.
While a relocation to Montreal would be amazing and help expand baseball back into Canada, there are two things standing in the way.
First, the lease agreement on Tropicana Field. Their current deal with the stadium is signed through the 2027 season. While the MLB has gotten teams out of lease agreements in the past, to relocate would cost the Rays a significant amount of money, which would ultimately hurt their move.
The other thing standing in the way is owner Stuart Sternberg, who has stated he has no intention of relocating the team out of Tampa Bay. However as time has shown, words don’t always hold up.
From Stan Kroenke, who moved the St. Louis Rams to Los Angeles, to Art Modell who moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, to Mark Davis who plans to move the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas, there’s plenty of examples. All claimed they would not relocate and would fight to remain in their original city.
With Commissioner Manfred’s continuous expression to want to bring baseball back to Montreal, this could be the door to see it happen. While it may not happen in the next year or two, it’s safe to say the gears may be turning. After more than 20 years, could we be looking at the end of the Tampa Bay Rays?