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Mike Fish Straight Shooting

No rest for the weary

Nomadic Expos choose to spend All-Star break in Atlanta

Posted: Tuesday July 13, 2004 4:38PM; Updated: Tuesday July 13, 2004 5:18PM
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  Tony Batista
Tony Batista and the Expos are happy to have their Puerto Rico trips behind them.
AP

Does Major League Baseball give a flip about a competitive playing field? Or maybe all anyone cares about is dollar signs. OK, it's easy to dismiss the Montreal Expos as an irrelevant stepchild, but it's near criminal to have the club "disappear'' -- as a front-office type put it -- from Montreal for a 28-day stretch.

Talk about a summer trip from hell. Most parents don't stash their whiny kids away at camp this long. And no right-minded owner would sign up his club for such a killer road show, but then again, MLB owns the Expos.

The Expos left Montreal on June 25 and aren't returning until July 24 (they are 7-10 on the trip so far). In between, they're booked like a tour band to play three countries -- Canada (Toronto), the United States and Puerto Rico -- and a half-dozen cities.

Most major leaguers use the All-Star break to get reacquainted with family and friends. The Expos? Nah, about half of the team is holed up in an Atlanta hotel, albeit in luxury digs in trendy Buckhead, waiting to resume the season's second half Thursday against the Braves.

This turned out to be the players' call. Rather than trek to Montreal after concluding a series Sunday in San Juan and turn around and fly to Atlanta after the break, the players voted to spend the three-day respite in the Deep South and scatter for their offseason homes, if they liked.

They wouldn't have to live out of their suitcases like this if baseball would cut a deal with someone to buy the wayward franchise. "It's very disruptive,'' manager Frank Robinson says of the Puerto Rican trips. It was bearable last year, with Latin stars Javier Vazquez and Vladimir Guerrero helping fashion a 13-9 record. The second time around the Expos just went 8-14.

The idea of playing 22 home games in San Juan was thought to be a one-time proposition last year. But when it was presented again, the players asked that the games in Puerto Rico be out of the way by the All-Star break so it wouldn't mess with their pennant drive.

Hard to believe, but the Expos fancied themselves contenders in the offseason, even as Vazquez and Guerrero were pared from an already low-budget roster. The best part is the brainiacs at the players' association, who usually know better, played a hand in negotiating the schedule.

"The players believed last year that the play of games in Puerto Rico compromised their ability to compete for the division championship,'' explained Gene Orza, the union's No. 2 official. "You remember, the Expos were in the hunt last year. So they wanted to put all those Puerto Rico games in the first half of the season. They didn't want to have the inconvenience of the travel.

"The premise was, 'Look, last year we were in the hunt. We might be in the hunt again. Let's get as many home games in the hunt period as we can.' That is what the schedule does for them.''

Well, sorry, this dog doesn't hunt. The Montreal season is history, and it has been for weeks. At the break, the Expos lug a 31-56 record -- second worst to the Diamondbacks -- to go with a 13-29 road mark.

Maybe these Expos would have been buried anyway, but the road-heavy schedule certainly did them no favors. So much for the integrity of the game.

The only solution is for baseball to quit playing hardball, stop trying to squeeze every last ounce out of prospective ownership groups and settle on a new home for the Expos. Right now, there are only two viable options, the northern Virginia suburbs and Washington, D.C. And it'll be a surprise if Washington, D.C., isn't the choice.

Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer, pledged again Monday that the Expos would move before next season, though there is still no timetable for a decision.

To hear Orza, the owners best stand by their pledge this time because the union has given its last scheduling concession on the Expos.

"I feel that the players have been battered around a little bit about this, and I have no stomach for the proposition that I am going to ask them to do this again,'' he said. "So if baseball is thinking that, they can forget it. There cannot be a third year of this. [The Expos] feel like a stepchild of sorts. I mean major league baseball's responsibility is to move this team. It is simple as that. They have to do it.''

Mike Fish is a senior writer for SI.com.

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