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Marc 10-04-2004 02:08 PM

[Sports Central Newsletter] #117 - Montreal Says 'Merci de Rien' to Baseball
The Sports Central Newsletter
October 2004 - Issue #117

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|-- IN THIS ISSUE... --|

- Words From the Editor
- The O-Files: "A Record For the Books, Not the Ages"
- Editor's Pick: "Capital Concerns"
- Shots From the Lip: "Montreal Says 'Merci de Rien' to Baseball"


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Hello folks,

It's October, but it's not the upcoming baseball playoffs that are making the headlines. Ichiro's record-breaking season and Montreal's losing the Expos have been hot stories that Brad and Mike take a look at in this issue. In "Shots From a Lip," Mike looks at it from a Montreal perspective, but decade-long DC resident Greg Wyshynski looks at the Expos' move from a DC perspective. Is third time the charm for baseball in DC?

If you're in football mode, fear not, because we have more than enough original football content week in and week out. Every Tuesday, as has been the yearly tradition at SC, Brad Oremland provides you his power rankings for all 32 teams and "Five Quick Hits." A new addition to our regular football lineup this year is Jeffrey Boswell's, light-hearted, yet serious weekly NFL predictions, which appear every Thursday.

Whether it's baseball, football, or another sport, we're working hard to get it covered. And, of course, perhaps the best part is interacting with other fans on the red-hot message boards:

See you there!

- Marc James
mailto:[email protected]


|-- THE O-FILES -- |

"A Record For the Books, Not the Ages"

By Brad Oremland

On the first day of October, Ichiro Suzuki broke Major League Baseball's 84-year-old record for hits in a season. No one questions the significance of the single-season home run record, but for some reason it has been popular to attack the value of Ichiro's accomplishments this season. Actually, there are a lot of reasons.

The main knock on Ichiro is that he doesn't have power. His isolated power this season is .083, through Friday. He has only 37 home runs in a four-year MLB career. His .456 slugging percentage ranks 85th in the majors this year, behind such titans as Jack Wilson and fellow Mariner Raúl Ibañez. In Ichiro's first two seasons in North America, he was actually out-slugged by a pitcher, Colorado's Mike Hampton. In 2001, when Ichiro was named league MVP, his SLG was a modest .457, while Hampton slugged .582.

By all accounts, Ichiro is capable of sending the ball deep. He routinely clears the wall in batting practice, and team sources say he would win a home run competition against his teammates. But Ichiro chooses not to attack the outfield, and he doesn't scare pitchers. They give him pitches to hit because they know he'll get out (with a .373 batting average, you still get out 63% of the time) or hit a single (86% of his hits stop at first base). There's less than a 2% chance he'll get any better than a double.

With no one else in Seattle's lineup to drive him in, Ichiro's ability to get on base doesn't do much good. If Ichiro would diversify his game, his team would probably benefit. Babe Ruth famously said, "If I'd just tried for them dinky singles I could've batted around .600." Babe hit for power and still managed to bat .342. He got on base nearly every other time he stepped into the batter's box (.469 OBP) because pitchers were afraid of him. If Ichiro could make pitchers fear him, he might be even more effective.

The damning evidence is Ichiro's 101 runs so far in the 2004 season. Getting on base is terrific, but putting yourself in position to score is even better. Among MLB's top-10 in OBP this season, Ichiro ranks ninth in runs scored, ahead of only Travis Hafner. That despite having far more plate appearances than the other nine (Bobby Abreu, 49 behind Ichiro, is closest; Hafner, with 194 fewer, has the least).

Part of the blame, assuredly, goes to Ichiro's teammates. Seattle ranks 23rd in the big leagues in OPS. But Todd Helton (113 runs), Melvin Mora (111), and Hafner (96) play for losing teams, too. And in 2002, when the Mariners won 93 games, Ichiro had 111 runs, only 10 more than he has this year with two games to go. Maybe if he hit doubles and triples he would make it home more often.

I know a few of you are thinking about Ichiro's base-stealing. He has 36 steals this year, with 11 failed attempts. There is a 12% chance, when he reaches base, he will steal a base. An additional 4% of the time, though, he puts himself out. Those stolen bases are nice, but they don't advance runners or scare pitchers into putting you on more often.

As everyone in the world has already pointed out, Ichiro's stats don't stack up to those of other players who have hit 240 or more in a season. George Sisler and Rogers Hornsby and Ty Cobb are all Hall of Famers and had OPS upward over 1.000 in their best seasons. Ichiro's OPS this season is a career-high .871. He's had a good season, and his record is impressive under any circumstances, but this is not one of the greatest seasons a player has ever had, or even one of the best in recent history.

Finally, just to mention it, Ichiro broke Sisler's record in a 162-game season, while Sisler's record was set in 154 games. Baseball is the only sport that even discusses asterisks on its records. No one says Eric Dickerson's 2,104 rushing yards should be listed alongside O.J. Simpson's 2,003 yards in a 14-game season. Sisler had the superior season by virtually any standard, and he averaged more hits per game, but there is no disputing that Ichiro got more hits in a season than any player in history. The record is his. No ifs, ands, or buts. And preferably, no Rick Reilly.

My intent is not to disparage Ichiro or the record he set Friday night. But I want to put it in perspective. Barry Bonds could probably hit .400 if he went for singles instead of homers, but he'd be less effective. If Ichiro put a little more into his swings, his average might drop to the low .300s, but he would probably get more total bases and his OBP would probably stay about the same because pitchers would play him more carefully. Ichiro has had a great season, but it's clearer than ever that he's not playing to his full potential.


Brad welcomes your feedback: mailto:[email protected]?subject=O-Files
(Copy and paste the address if it isn't clickable.)


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Capital Concerns
By Greg Wyshynski

The Montreal Expos are now Washington, DC's third baseball franchise. SC's Greg Wyshynski looks at the DC sports landscape, fan loyalty, contraction, and why Orioles owner Peter Angelos deserves what’s coming to him ... all in this special edition of the Jester's Quart.



"Montreal Says 'Merci de Rien' to Baseball"

By Mike Round

So finally it's official: Major League Baseball is no more in Montreal. The franchise that has spent years on death row is out of appeals and will be put out of its miser following this weekend's series in New York. Bud Selig can put all the spin on this he likes, but there is no getting away from the fact that baseball has betrayed the Montreal Expos and the people of Montreal, and has been doing so for years.

The celebrations may be underway in Washington, but in Montreal there are many like Claude Raymond, a 66-year-old local man who has played, coached, watched, and scouted for the Expos. He has missed only four games since 1969. Claude watched former-Expo Carl Pavano pitch his Florida Marlins team to a 9-1 win in the final game at Stade Olympique with tears streaming down his face. He'd done an interview the previous week for British TV channel Five and had held it together. Now reality had hit home and Claude knew this was the end. He wasn't alone in shedding a tear on Wednesday night amongst the 31,395 crowd.

There's the conundrum in a nutshell -- over 31,000 for the final ever game and less than 5,000 for almost every other home game. Reason number one the team had to move, according to MLB.

As usual with Bud Selig and his cohorts, it ain't necessarily so. The Expos were a well-supported franchise, pre-1994. In 1983 they drew well over two million fans. With a competitive team on the field, there was no reason for the people of Montreal to boycott the Expos. What happened, post 1994, was that Claude Brochu, the then owner, completely neglected the team. Franchise players, like Pedro Martinez, Moises Alou, John Wetteland, and Larry Walker were traded away for cheap youngsters. The fans knew that from now on the Expos were a farm team for the likes of Boston, New York, and Los Angeles and they stayed away, never to return.

The city of Montreal is home to almost two million people and the greater metropolitan area houses 3.5 million. There is absolutely no reason why a successful baseball franchise could not be successful in Montreal. Boston supports the Red Sox yet the city of Montreal is three times the size of Boston. The sheer ignorance of team president Tony Tavares, who described the city of Montreal as "not a thriving metropolis," is staggering. This from a man employed to act on behalf of the Expos!

The franchise desperately needed investment, and not just on the field. A downtown stadium, à la Camden Yards, would have revitalized the city and its relationship with the Expos. Instead of a much-needed stadium, the Expos got Jeffrey Loria.

Loria strutted into Montreal, promising the earth. Instead, he scorched the earth, trimming the payroll to the rough equivalent of a suburban McDonald's, and letting the Stade Olympique rot. Loria was the worst type of asset stripping Wall Street suit, using the Expos as a stepping-stone to his ultimate goal -- a ready-made contender with the potential to garner revenue. Loria is such a disreputable person that his previous partners in the Expo ownership group have a racketeering suit filed against him.

Loria wanted the Red Sox, but settled for the Florida Marlins. Major League Baseball, in an act of supreme cowardice, agreed to allow Loria to trade the Expos for the Marlins. But, incredibly, it didn't end at that. Loria somehow got the spineless Selig to agree to his taking away every single item owned by the Expos, from the front office staff right down to the paper clips in the offices. The Expos farm system and front office was ripped away in one foul swoop, sending a stark message to Expo fans -- your team is doomed and there's nothing you can do about it.

With the steady decline of the Montreal franchise went a precipitous decline in attendance. What did baseball expect? Patronizing American baseball writers ridiculed the Expos crowds, yet had a team south of the border been treated so poorly by a baseball's administrators and owners, the outcry from these same "experts" would have been deafening.

The Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, and Seattle Mariners are successful franchises, yet each had periods where they drew crowds as poor as Montreal's. Cleveland, in the days of Municipal Stadium and a dismal team, drew crowds of less than a thousand, yet they stayed put and the crowds returned with success on the field and commitment from the ownership.

Even during the three years MLB has owned the team, somehow the players, Omar Minaya, and Frank Robinson managed to keep the team focused on competing, despite Selig's best efforts. Two years ago the team almost made the playoffs, scaring MLB to death in then process. But MLB had something up their sleeve to hammer another nail in the Montreal's coffin. Not only did they force the team to trade away Vlad Guerrero, Bartolo Colon, Javier Vasquez, and Orlando Cabrera, they even refused to sanction the team to expand the roster in September. During the playoff charge of 2002, there was no increase in payroll to add to the thin roster.

Major League Baseball and Jeffrey Loria shoulder much of the blame for the Expos debacle, but the politicians of Quebec should also hang their heads in shame. Refusing to put a penny into the building of a downtown stadium for the Expos was a huge nail in the coffin of baseball in Montreal. Can you imagine the fuss these same gutless politicians would make if the NHL proposed moving the Montreal Canadians south?

There's the rub -- Montreal is a city obsessed with hockey and the Habs, in particular. Baseball comes a very poor second, just as it does in Toronto, where the Blue Jays struggle to beat out the Raptors from the NBA as the city's second most important sports franchise. Baseball in Montreal was also an Anglophile pursuit and over a million English-speakers have left Quebec in recent years, feeling persecuted by the Quebecois politicians.

So baseball is done in Montreal, leaving the city as easily the biggest North American market without a baseball franchise. Will it succeed any better in DC? The omens aren't good. For starters, this will be the third time Washington has had a baseball franchise. Both previous incarnations failed dismally.

Furthermore, the population of Washington is almost uniformly from other major cities in the United States and, as such, probably has an allegiance to another team. Added to which, the Redskins of the omnipotent NFL completely dominate the sporting landscape of Washington, DC. The Wizards are one of the worst franchises in the NBA and the Capitols have hardly lit up the NHL. Sport in Washington means the Redskins -- period.

To gather momentum, the team needs to get off to a good start in 2005, which, given the state of the inherited Expos franchise, is unlikely. RFK Stadium is to be their home for three years while a new purpose-built facility is constructed. RFK is a poor fit for baseball and is not exactly modern. Any investment in the team is likely to be post-new stadium, when revenues allow. Expect the gloss of this move to wear off pretty quickly in DC.

Over in nearby Baltimore, Orioles owner Peter Angelos has spotted the weakness of Bud Selig and is determined to wring as much money from MLB as he possibly can. Despite the fact that Angelos has no legal claim to the DC area as Oriole territory, Selig has conceded that MLB will guarantee revenues for the Orioles for a minimum of the next three years.

This may appear good news for beleaguered baseball fans in Baltimore, but it's not. Angelos has put out a losing team seven years in a row and now has guaranteed money from MLB to insulate his incompetence.

I'm a certified baseball-obsessive. I watch compulsively from opening day to the final game of the World Series. I'd even tune in to the Brewers against the Rockies in the last week of the season with both teams 30 games below .500. I'll defend baseball as the best game on earth to my last breath. But I can't defend what the game has done to the Montreal Expos. Baseball should hang its head in shame.


Mike welcomes your feedback: mailto:[email protected]?subject=SFTL
(Copy and paste the address if it isn't clickable.)


(Thanks for reading! Next issue is set to come out on 11/07/04.)

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