The joke in baseball circles used to be that the National Hockey League's regular season was played to decide which Canadian team was moving south of the border. Winnipeg? Quebec? Who's next?
Baseball franchises, however, had roots deeper than the stadium pillars.
Not one franchise had moved since the Washington Senators left for Texas following the 1971 season. That all changed this week. The Montreal Expos will play their final game today before heading to Washington.
"Wednesday was a sad day for baseball and a sad day for Canada," former Expos manager Jim Fanning said yesterday at the SkyDome.
"I got home about the seventh inning and I had 17 phone calls on my message machine from British Columbia to Prince Edward Island. I thought The Score did a great job with the post-game ceremonies. To see Claude Raymond addressing the fans and players hugging him, it was a great memory."
With the Expos moving, owners are looking over their shoulders in other cities.
Will the Florida Marlins pick up stakes and head for Las Vegas or Portland? Will the Oakland A's move to San Jose?
There has been movement, there will be will more.
Blue Jays fans should be worried as well.
While the Expos drew 31,395 in their Montreal finale, the Brooklyn Dodgers attracted 7,000 to their last game at Ebbet's Field on Sept. 24, 1957. Five days later, the New York Giants had 6,000 at the Polo Grounds.
Where were the Expos fans over the final four seasons?
Fanning was the on-site general manager in Milwaukee in 1965, the final year before the Braves bolted for Atlanta. Those lame-duck Braves drew 555,584 to see the likes of Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Joe Torre and Rico Carty.
"Bud Selig's father ran a car lot and gave the players cars to use for the season," Fanning remembered. "Bud formed a group. They began going to owners' meetings lobbying to bring baseball back to Milwaukee. That's what Montreal needs."
That and an investor.
"If it wasn't for John McHale's great relationship with Warren Giles (National League president), they may have pulled the plug on the Expos in 1968," Fanning said. "Investors kept backing out. John said 'be patient, someone will step forward.'"
In August of 1968, Charles Bronfman stepped forward. The Expos were financially sound.
With the Expos, Fanning was the GM, the assistant GM, the farm director -- you name it -- and the only manager to get the Expos to the post-season.
The best description we've heard while following the Expos came from a French-Canadian who was a long-time season-ticket holder.
"It's like being head-over-heels in love, despite all the heart break of the near misses," he said. "Then, you find yourself trapped in a room without air. You can't breathe. You try to open the windows, but they're stuck.
"Finally you get the window open, take a deep breath ... and your lover, the Expos, standing on the ledge slams the window on your fingers."
Now that the Expos are on the move, Bob Elliott wonders which team will follow suit
AND THE AWARDS GO TO ...
INTO THE booth we go. George W. Bush or John Kerry?
Wrong poling station. Well, we've seen enough of the New York Yankees to know that Gary Sheffield is the right choice as the most valuable player in the American League.
Here are our picks:
MVP: 1. Sheffield; 2. Vladimir Guerrero, Angels; 3. Manny Ramirez, Red Sox; 4. Miguel Tejada, Orioles; 5. Mariano Rivera, Yankees; 6. Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners; 7. David Ortiz, Red Sox; 8. Michael Young, Rangers; 9. Paul Konerko, White Sox; 10. Mark Teixeira, Rangers.
Cy Young Award: 1. Johan Santana, Twins; 2. Curt Schilling, Red Sox; 3. Rivera.
Rookie: 1. Bobby Crosby, A's; 2. Daniel Cabrera, O's; 3. Alex Rios, Jays.
Manager: 1. Buck Showalter, Rangers; 2. Ron Gardenhire, Twins; 3. Mike Scioscia, Anaheim.
MVP: 1. Barry Bonds, Giants; 2. Adrian Beltre, Dodgers; 3. Albert Pujols, Cards; 4. Lance Berkman, Astros; 5. Miguel Cabrera, Marlins; 6. J.D. Drew, Braves; 7. Scott Rolen, Cardinals; 8. Bobby Abreu, Phillies; 9. Todd Helton, Rockies; 10. Jim Edmonds, Cardinals.
Cy Young: 1. Roger Clemens, Astros; 2. Randy Johnson, Diamondbacks; 3. Carl Pavano, Marlins.
Rookie: 1. Jason Bay, Pirates; 2. Khalil Greene, Padres; 3. Charles Thomas, Braves.
Manager: 1. Bobby Cox, Braves; 2. Jim Tracy, Dodgers; 3. Phil Garner, Astros.
HUDSON HAS HIGH PRAISE FOR YANKEES' JETER
DEREK JETER has many admirers. Include Blue Jays second baseman Orlando Hudson in the group.
In April, Hudson was asked about the struggling Jeter, then in the midst of an 0-for-32 slide.
"You watch," Hudson said at the time, "by the time the season is over he'll be around .300."
Heading into today's season finale, Jeter has a .291 average, despite hitting .172 in April. Almost there. And Jeter is a Hudson fan, too.
On July 21, then-Jays manager Carlos Tosca gave Hudson two days off after a 5-for-26 (.192), seven-game skid dropped Hudson's average from .261 to .253.
His first day on the bench was July 22 at Yankee Stadium, where he bumped into Jeter in the hallway outside New York's clubhouse.
"We had a long talk, maybe half an hour,'' Hudson said. "I told him his numbers would be there at the end of the season."
Then Jeter, his average now up to .278, explained his own hitting woes.
"He told me what he tried to do was go out and get to .300 every night,'' Hudson said. "He said that didn't happen for him and it wouldn't for me."
Jeter told Hudson of baseball's every day struggles: How one game five line drives are an 0-for-5 day and how the next two bloopers fall in and a ball goes off the shortstop's glove for a hit and it's a 3-for-5 day.
"He said that I was taking too many first-pitch strikes," Hudson said. "Derek didn't want any days off when he was struggling, he said he told the manager he wanted to stay in there."
So, from a .253 average on July 21, Hudson heads into today with a .270 average after getting a pair of hits yesterday, a triple to centre and a single.
In 22 games since being moved into the lead-off position, Jeter is hitting .379 (36-for-95) with nine doubles, five homers and 17 RBI.
EX-JAY OF THE WEEK
A STARTER'S job is to give his team a chance to win.
Kelvim Escobar did precisely that yesterday, only it was a heavier mantle than normal as the American League West Division title was at stake.
Escobar worked 5 1/3 innings and left with his Anaheim Angels trailing 4-2. The Angels rallied to win 5-4 and the division.
Now, you may scoff at 5 1/3 innings as a work day, but we've seen Escobar, who left the Jays as a free agent to sign with Anaheim, fail to respond to a bad call or a clank by one of his infielders and give up four or five runs in the first inning.
He didn't do that yesterday and earns ex-Jay of the week honours.