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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins


Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Send Les Expos To Vegas, Baby!

In Ernest Lawrence Thayer's classic poem "Casey At The Bat," there's a line that goes, "'Fraud!' cried the maddened thousands, and the echo answered fraud."

I can only imagine that this was set in Montreal's Olympic Stadium, because the team only draws a few thousand for a game, so you can certainly hear an echo off the permanently closed retractable roof and plastic playing surface. How do you say "fraud" in French, anyway? Giguere?

How comical is the Expos' lack of attendance? On June 16, 3,763 fans turned out to watch the Expos lose their fifth straight game. There were so few people there that a fan sitting behind the first-base dugout farted in the sixth inning and leftfielder Carl Everett cursed him out.

Okay, I made that up. But what really did happen was that the Expos' AAA affiliate, the Edmonton Trappers, drew 3,975 fans to their home game against Tucson. That's 212 more fans. In Edmonton. At a triple-A game. Probably didn't hurt that the Trappers actually play winning baseball - they won that game, their fourth win in their last five games.

Bottom line: Les Expos need to move, and they need to do it yesterday.

Send them to Vegas.

Bud Selig and his cronies probably won't do that for two reasons, which are that Washington, DC/Northern Virginia is the frontrunner to land the 'Spos, and that gambling on baseball is legal in Las Vegas. Neither of those two reasons are compelling to me.

For starters, the DC area already has the Orioles. The Washington newspapers treat the Orioles as their home team, and the politicians all go to Orioles games. Even with two major cities to draw from, what kind of attendance are the Orioles getting this season? They're not selling out Camden Yards the way they did when the park was at the forefront of the retro stadium movement. The yard seats over 48,000, but the O's have failed to reach 20,000 on occasion this season. It doesn't sound like a situation where another team could enter the picture and thrive. Besides, DC has already had two cracks at a major league franchise, and both times its team packed up and moved west.

As for the gambling issue, certainly, it's a legitimate argument, albeit one that is vulnerable. Certainly, Major League Baseball doesn't want players to be even tempted to wager on the games. However, pro sports, including baseball, have been able to coexist with casinos in the past.

Exhibit A: The Las Vegas 51s have been existing quite well since 1983, when they began play. Since the 51s are a triple-A team, they carry players on their roster who are part of the Los Angeles Dodgers' 40-man roster. Big leaguers routinely come through Vegas on minor-league rehab assignments (Hideo Nomo did this within the past month).

Exhibit B: The Montreal Expos currently play a stone's throw from the Casino De Montreal. No, there is no sportsbook there, but the legalized gambling hasn't caused a problem in the Expos' present location.

Exhibit C: The Las Vegas Invitational, a PGA Tour event, comes to the desert every year, and there also haven't been any problems.

Other pro sports teams also have existed in Vegas (the XFL's Las Vegas Outlaws and the WCHL's Las Vegas Wranglers, for instance), and still, no big issues.

On the plus side, the population of Las Vegas grew 83.3 percent from 1990 to 2000, more than twice the growth rate of any other city in the 35 most populous cities nationwide. By 2010, if Vegas continues that rate, it will have a bigger population that that of San Diego, St. Louis, Tampa, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Kansas City, and Milwaukee - all of which have MLB franchises.

In addition to that, Las Vegas is constantly flooded with tourists. Baseball games, especially in the early evening - between the end of conventions and when people are ready to hit the casino floor - would be a popular attraction.

The possibility of removing MLB from the sportsbooks in Vegas remains a possibility in exchange for the arrival of a team. Since the action that Vegas takes on baseball games is minimal compared to other sports, the loss could potentially be offset by the revenue that a baseball team would bring, especially if it is marketed well (the 51s led all minor league teams in merchandise sales in 2001).

The only drawback is that if you go 0-for-4 in Vegas with four strikeouts, it doesn't stay in Vegas. The whole world hears about that.

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