Commissioner 'not closed' to possibility of returning game to city
By Paul Hagen
NEW YORK -- Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre would like to see Major League Baseball return to his city. To that end, he met with Commissioner Rob Manfred on Thursday to begin a dialogue.
"The message I tried to send is that the [exhibition games] we've had in Montreal were not just about nostalgia -- it was clearly about our baseball DNA," Coderre said. "As the Mayor of Montreal, I wanted to show the seriousness of our city to gain back a team eventually. But we needed to open a channel. We needed to have that first meeting, face-to-face, so I can show our love for baseball."
Both Manfred and his predecessor, Commissioner Emeritus Bud Selig, have praised the response to the exhibitions that were played at Olympic Stadium each of the last two springs.
Coderre said he and Manfred have agreed to have further discussions. Thursday's 45-minute meeting was at MLB's Park Avenue headquarters.
The mayor made it clear that he would like to see regular-season games in Montreal as early as next season.
"I proposed that to [the Commissioner], and he was not closed to it at all," Coderre said. "He knows that we can fill the place, and imagine if it's regular-season games. Imagine a game in June or July. It would be amazing, of course. And he didn't close the door at all."
There is precedent. MLB has played regular-season games in Australia, Japan and Mexico, and the Expos played 22 "home" games in Puerto Rico before relocating to Washington following the 2004 season.
Quebec is primarily a French-speaking province, so the mayor answered the majority of his questions in that language. During that portion of the news conference, Coderre invoked the names of many of the great Expos of the past, including Felipe Alou, Gary Carter, Larry Walker, Andre Dawson, Randy Johnson and even Woodie Fryman.
Coderre also noted that Jackie Robinson played his final year in the Minor Leagues with the Montreal Royals before making his historic jump to the Dodgers in 1947, and he referenced Quebec native Russell Martin, a three-time All-Star catcher who now plays his home games in Toronto.
"I want to thank Mr. Manfred; he's a great guy," Coderre said. "We spoke a lot about the values of sports. We agreed that we should meet again, and I think that's the most important thing. We will work closely together. So, mission accomplished. The future Russell Martins of this world need to have the capacity, and have the opportunity, to see if [they love] the game. That's the foundation of the sport of itself. And for me, that was key."
In that, Coderre is speaking Manfred's language. The Commissioner has made it clear that he's interested both in attracting youth to baseball and spreading the game internationally, with a particular focus on Canada and Mexico.
Continued Coderre: "We spoke about [how] to get back a team -- should [we] talk about expanding or move [an existing] team? But we spoke about baseball. We spoke about the love of the sport. Because it's a bottom-up issue. Yeah, that's the cliché of 'Field of Dreams.' If you build it, they will come. But clearly, I wanted to show it's not just about to gain back a team. It's about how can we revitalize baseball in other markets.
"People love to talk about baseball. There is a buzz right now, but it's more than just a trend. People are going back to that cap from the Expos. They love to show that logo again. They feel something and they want to do it."
Manfred said at last week's Owners Meetings that while he doesn't think expansion is imminent, he wouldn't rule it out for the next five to 10 years.
Coderre expects the Blue Jays to support Montreal's bid.
"There is room for another team in Canada," he said. "There is a market. Can you imagine to have the Blue Jays or the Yankees or the Red Sox coming to Montreal? Even the Dodgers.
"I can't wait to avenge Blue Monday, but that's another story," Coderre added, referencing the infamous Expos loss to the Dodgers on a ninth-inning home run by Rick Monday in the deciding game of the 1981 National League Championship Series.
Several issues forced the Expos' move to Washington, but the biggest one was the inability to get a new stadium built. The mayor brushed that aside for the moment.
"It's a step-by-step approach," Coderre said. "First things first. It's not part of our priority right now in 2015, but I spoke about the plan and we'll see what happens.
"I'm not going to negotiate publicly, but if we put up the table, then we'll serve the menu."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.