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Road to nowhere

Vidro, Expos grow increasingly frustrated with treatment by MLB

Posted: Thursday June 3, 2004 11:56AM; Updated: Thursday June 3, 2004 1:00PM
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Jose Vidro
Jose Vidro has never hit below .300 in a full season.
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

This is how it goes these days for the Expos. They get a nice outing from their starter. Some good plays in the field. They work their way into a lead. And then a grounder takes a funny hop, a bloop finds a hole in the outfield, a bad pitch is hit, then another one and, finally, there's another loss.

Even when things seem to be going well for baseball's most hapless franchise, disaster is always right there, taking practice swings in the on-deck circle.

You think relief for the bedraggled Expos is just an announcement from the Commissioner's office away?

Ha. You don't know Major League Baseball. You don't know the Expos.

"You know what? The way [baseball officials] are letting this thing go, I don't think they care," said Jose Vidro, the team's second baseman and its biggest building block for a shaky future. "If they would have cared about us, I think they would have made the decision at the end of last year, when they saw what we went through."

The Expos are Bud Selig's redheaded stepchild of a franchise, busily being shuttled around among relatives. This was supposed to be the year the Expos finally found a home. The ignominy of last year -- the sale of the franchise to the other team owners, the sparsely attended games in Montreal, the games in their other "home," Puerto Rico, the unconscionably unfair travel schedule, the other owners denying them extra payroll to add players to what was a contending team, the gasping finish -- was supposed to be over.

But this year, in a lot of ways, is worse. Their first game in Montreal this season wasn't until April 23. They had only three home games that month. Six of their supposed "home" games in May were in Puerto Rico, and one of those was rained out. They go from June 25 until July 23 without a game in Montreal.

The Expos' payroll is still among the lowest in baseball (24th, at about $43 million), and it won't get any higher. They still don't have any idea where they'll be playing in 2005.

And, unlike last season when they stayed in contention through the early part of September and finished with 83 wins, the Expos are losing. At 17-35 after Wednesday's victory at Atlanta, they are the worst team in baseball. The Expos average fewer than three runs a game, worst in the bigs. Their .228 average is also the worst. So is their .630 OPS.

"It's hard. I won't lie to you. It's hard," said Vidro, who signed a four-year, $30 million contract extension last month despite the uncertainty surrounding the franchise. "We have to work a lot extra, a lot harder than other teams."

No franchise in baseball has had to put up with what the Expos have had to endure the past few seasons. Ever since Selig targeted them as worthy of contraction -- and, to be fair, before that when the fans stopped coming to games in Montreal -- the Expos have been surrounded by rumors.

Those whispers were supposed to end last year with the naming of a new home for the Expos, but that announcement has been put off until next month, at the earliest. Several areas -- including Washington D.C., northern Virginia, Las Vegas and Portland, Ore. -- are bidding for the Expos.

So Vidro and the Expos wait, endure their hellish travel schedule and go through the pains of a losing season. Tuesday night in Atlanta, for example, was an all-too typical night for them. Tony Armas Jr. turned in a fine outing in his first start off the disabled list, allowing two runs in 5 2/3 innings. Left fielder Brad Wilkerson homered. The Expos took a 6-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth. Then they reverted to form.

Atlanta's Mark DeRosa took a mighty swing but hit a weak grounder that third baseman Tony Batista failed to handle. An out later, pinch hitter Eli Marrero dumped a single into right center between three Expos, a bloop that Vidro should have handled. An out after that, rookie Nick Green tied the score with a homer off closer Rocky Biddle.

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On the next pitch, J.D. Drew won the game for the Braves with another homer off Biddle.

"I didn't even have time to say, 'Uh oh,'" Expos manager Frank Robinson said.

"That's the way things are going for us this year," said Vidro, a career .306 hitter who is batting .233. "It's tough."

The worst part is that it won't get better any time soon. There is no help coming this season. The players they have are the players they'll finish the season with, for the most part.

Even if Selig announces a new home for the Expos by the All-Star break, the franchise will not be there until next season. There still are ownership questions to be answered and stadium issues to be addressed once the decision comes. It's still a mess.

And, of course, most people don't expect baseball to meet its latest self-imposed deadline for announcing a decision on the move of the Expos. Vidro certainly doesn't.

"No. Not at all. Not a bit. I'm just expecting the All-Star break comes and they say, 'We're going to move the deadline to Dec. 31st,'" he said. "I tell you, from the bottom of my heart now, that's the truth. That's what I expect.

"I hope I'm wrong."

Vidro signed his extension with the Expos because he feels a sense of loyalty to the only franchise he has known. He is beholden to the team's general manager, Omar Minaya. The 29-year-old Vidro, now the unofficial spokesman for a team caught between cities and slowly being crushed by Major League Baseball's bungling bureaucracy, believes the Expos can become a stable franchise and morph into a contending team.

But there is an escape clause in his new contract, too, just in case those in charge continue to string along this franchise that already has been taken for too long of a ride.

"It's time to make a decision. Somebody should take the responsibility and tell us how it's going to be," Vidro said. "They just need to treat us like a big-league team. I don't understand why. Somebody should make a decision."

That's the way it is for the Expos these days. It's hard to imagine it could get any worse.

John Donovan is a senior writer for SI.com.