NOT EVEN TRYING/NL EAST
Actual slogan in the Expos' we-need-a-new-ballpark campaign:
Imagine the show. Actual quote from Montreal general manager Jim
Beattie: "We're not trying to win." Imagine that.
Forget the National League East. What the Expos are trying to
capture is the public's interest, not to mention some of its
cash. If by July the club has sold close to its goal of at least
12,000 personal seat licenses for a new ballpark, Montreal
expects in 2001 to be playing in a downtown, 35,000-seat bandbox
and to have a payroll in the range of $35 million--at least
triple its meager 1998 total of $10 million. If the Expos do not
sell enough PSLs by midsummer (only 4,000 had been purchased by
mid-March) the team will be put up for sale and probably moved.
Le Parc Ideal, as the brochures promoting the stadium gush,
would cost $176 million, with $56 million coming from PSLs and
$28 million from naming rights. Government and private funds
would provide the rest. Because the stadium would be built
across from the Molson Centre, the two-year-old home of the
Montreal Canadiens, the Expos believe a rival brewery, Labatt's,
would be a natural sponsor. Then they could call the place
Labatt Rack, and could taxi relievers to the mound in a
"Montreal is a city of festivals all summer long: music, jazz,
art, theater," Beattie says. "It's a late-night city. People go
out to eat at 10 o'clock. We see baseball fitting perfectly in
that 7-to-10 window when people can walk over to the ballpark
and see the Expos."
The club has commissioned a smorgasbord of ballpark renderings
to use as sales tools--balsa architectural models,
computer-enhanced photos and artists' sketches--a campaign that
will cost $1 million-plus, more than Montreal will pay all but
two of its players, lefthander Carlos Perez and outfielder
Forgive those in uniform, however, if they can't imagine such a
rosy future. In its 30th year, this team has yet to win its
first full-season title. Dismayed by another off-season of
watching management cast off his best (read: expensive) players,
manager Felipe Alou played hard-to-get with the media all
winter, reasoning that that was better than answering the same
old questions. Shortstop Mark Grudzielanek opted for openness,
unimpressed by Beattie's claim that "we're already going down
the path to having a competitive team ready for 2001."
"I don't want to wait around for 2001 for a winning team," the
27-year-old Grudzielanek says. "The next three to five years
should be my best, and I feel I have a lot to contribute to a
championship team. I can't believe this franchise calls itself a
major league organization with a payroll of $10 million--and
we're supposed to play teams with $50 million payrolls?"
Grudzielanek is one of only 10 players from last year's Opening
Day roster still in the organization. The 36-man spring training
squad--which includes no one whose big league career predates
the Clinton Administration--has spent fewer days in the majors
(26 years, 28 days) than the Baltimore DH platoon of Harold
Baines and Joe Carter.
In what has become an annual ritual, Montreal is grooming a
group of young talents, including sensational rightfielder
Vladimir Guerrero, 22, second baseman Orlando Cabrera, 23 and
righthander Carl Pavano, 22, who was obtained in the trade that
sent National League Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez to the
Red Sox. One American League scout called Pavano "the best
pitching prospect in all the minor leagues" last season.
"When I traded Pedro, my goal was to find the best young
starting pitcher with less than one year of major league
service," Beattie says. "[Indians righthander] Jaret Wright
wasn't available. He pitched too well in the postseason."
Guerrero, Cabrera and Pavano, however, face the same uncertain
future as did every other Expos star from Larry Walker to John
Wetteland to Martinez: Where will they be after five years of
big league service? White is the only Montreal player under
contract beyond this year. Beattie intends to sign his top young
players to long-term deals--that's the early '90s Cleveland
blueprint that Milwaukee and Pittsburgh also have adopted--but
without the green light for the ballpark, "we're doing it not
quite as aggressively as the others." Uh-huh.
Grudzielanak would seem to be one of those building blocks. He
was an All-Star in 1996 and tied a league record last year for
doubles by a shortstop (54). Yet his take on committing to a
future in Montreal suggests the Expos have as much selling to do
in their own clubhouse as outside of it. Says Grudzielanek,
"It's stupid for me to say I want to be here. I want to win."