Maybe if Pete Rose went back to Montreal…

Rob Manfred marked his first All Star Game as MLB’s Commissioner by holding a “state of the union” type press conference prior to the big game. A few thoughts on the main topics he touched on, with my suggestions, Mr. Commish. Feel free to make them your own!

The game was held in the home of the oldest professional franchise, the Cincinnati Reds, 146 years young. It was great for the fans to see their hometown third-baseman star, Todd Frazier blast his way to the Home Run Derby championship on Monday, but the real buzz was all about their third-baseman star from four decades back- Pete Rose. Rose received a hero’s welcome when he took the field (in the stadium located on Pete Rose Way) as one of Cinci’s “Franchise Four”- their alltime four greats, as chosen by fans. It was a rare chance for baseball fans to see Rose in a Major League event given his total ban from baseball imposed by Bart Giametti back in ’89 and rigidly enforced by his successor, Bud Selig. The bending of the rules to allow Rose to show up for his fans at the Mid Summer Classic seems to suggest a softening of the position, something hinted at by Manfred. “Mr. Rose deserves an opportunity to tell me in whatever format he feels most comfortable, whatever he wants me to know about the issues.” (The issues being his gambling problem when he was a manager.)

Sounds reasonable. Few people condone betting by people involved in the game and not many people who have known him suggest that “Charlie Hustle” is a wonderful, magnanimous fellow. However, the same could be said of many of the game’s alltime greats (Ty Cobb, anybody?) Rose should be allowed back into the game, with a few reservations. First he must admit that his gambling was wrong and bad for the game. Second, there must be some sort of limitations on what role he can play in the sport. Having him be a PR person for Cincinnati or a color commentator on Fox is fine; having him be a manager is not. Perception is as good as reality, and the perception of Rose is one of a gambler; the sport can’t risk having him look like he’s in position to throw games. One can imagine the twitterverse and headlines the day after a team he was running blew a five run lead in a Game 7 whether or not Pete had actually bet even a dollar on either team.

Those criteria met, Pete Rose should have a chance to be honored in Cooperstown. It’s crazy that the all-time hits leader, a player who epitomized hard work on the field and played at a high level for over two full decades isn’t in the Hall of Fame. He should be on the ballot. The writers could then decide if his misdemeanors were forgivable just as they will have to do with Steroid-era stars like Clemens and Bonds.

If Pete Rose excited Cincinnati this week, many Canadians were excited by another comment of Manfred’s. He left the door open to baseball returning to Montreal down the road, complimenting the city, it’s ball history and noting the large crowds in the past couple of years for Blue Jays exhibition games held there. He did throw a bit of cold water on it as well, explaining that crowds of 45 000 or so for an exhibition don’t necessarily equate to a good attendance for a full season and that the city lacks a suitable MLB facility.

My thoughts on expansion (which he hinted at) and a new team in la Belle Province. MLB is enjoying good attendance, good TV ratings and could possibly expand again. Two new teams could mean two 16-team leagues, which would make for a problem with divisional reallignment but would allow for reduced interleague play, which almost no one likes. Sure, a weekend where the Mets go crosstown to Yankee Stadium or a series between the two Missouri teams is fun for fans, but few get ramped up to see Arizona roll into the Rogers Centre or the Mets go cross-country to play in Oakland. What’s more, with more and more Asian stars coming to MLB and Cuban-American relations warming (which one would imagine would make it easier for more Cespedes’ and Puigs to cross the gulf) it could be done without watering down the talent pool too much.

So, if the game decided to expand, it’s time to dust off your Expos caps, n’est pas? Not so fast. Let’s remember, baseball was tried and eventually failed in Montreal. True enough that it might have succeeded if the club was run better and the star power was allowed to stick around and develop, but still it ultimately failed. Other cities would be quick to jump at the chance and probably be better options. Charlotte and Las Vegas come to mind, so too does the idea of a third team in Texas. With 24 million people and a substantial proportion of the MLB roster, the Lone Star State could support more than two franchises. San Antonio, or maybe Austin, could be there, as could Sacremento, California.

Consider that the Charlotte area, in a baseball-loving state, has grown by over 7% this decade to about 2.4 million people. That makes it bigger than Pittsburgh, and it’s AAA team leads the International League in attendance, at about 9500 per game. It has a stadium that has Major League-ready facilities, other than a too small seating capacity of just over 10 000. However, the 72 500 seat Bank of America football stadium could probably be adapted to baseball, if only for a year or two while the Knights Stadium (AAA baseball) had new grandstands and boxes added.

Likewise, San Antonio, Las Vegas and Sacremento have all grown to over 2 million people recently, comparable to Cleveland or Kansas City, and have strong baseball fan bases. Which do you think ESPN or Fox Sports would prefer to have added in – a city in California, Texas or a “foreign” country?

The Blue Jays have enough trouble attracting free agent stars or veterans on the trading block. (This year Cole Hamels has reportedly vetoed any trade to Toronto, although to be fair, he also quashed a trade to Houston according to numerous reports.) If the Jays have trouble getting players to go north of the border to a city that’s New York-lite, how much difficulty would the “new Expos” have getting a good ol’ boy pitcher from Alabama signing on to play in a city where they speak another language?

My guess- the Expos cap will remain a cool archive and reminder of days of yore. By 2020, there could be 32 teams in baseball, but the newbies will be in North Carolina and Texas. The only way Canada might gain a new team would be for Tampa to move to Charlotte ( a good idea), Oakland moving inland to Sacremento and a new franchise going to San Antonio and Vegas not building a new stadium in the meantime.

If all those things came to pass, the Blue Jays might have to give up their sole possession of the Canadian market. To a new team in Vancouver. BC’s big city would make more sense than Montreal, with its fast growth, large number of pro players from the area and proximity to Seattle which would make for a good rivalry.

So, sorry Montreal. Guess you’ll have to keep looking for the next Stanley Cup… and cheer on the Jays in October!

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