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Montreal has now squabbled so long with itself that even if the owners are satisfied and hand over the $1,120,000 in time, there are still great problems facing the Phantoms. San Diego, under former Dodger General Manager Buzzie Bavasi, was voted in hours after Montreal, but is already months ahead in its operation. Not one ticket has been sold in Montreal. The other 23 major league teams have gone ahead and set up their spring-training schedules without leaving room for anyone to play exhibitions against the Canadian entry. With time piddling away, the owners themselves are beginning to doubt that the Autostade can be fixed up for the start of the season.
"You know you can't even ask me that question," Bronfman replies, plaintive and honest.
It is ironic, but the chaos of the last months has all but dissipated original emotional arguments against a Montreal membership in the great American pastime. These complaints—that Montreal was too cold and was foreign—were all but specious anyway. Montreal's mean temperature is only 42� in April, but it has no lien on harsh spring weather. It is a balmy 44� in Minneapolis-St. Paul in April, and five other major league cities—"as well as Buffalo and Milwaukee—also average below 50�.
Montreal is, after all, only 30 miles from the U.S. border, and traditionalists and America-firsters might also note that it is closer to Cooperstown than all but one U.S. franchise city. Montreal has, in fact, a substantial baseball heritage, and there is hardly a player who played for the old International League Royals who was not pleased to see Montreal welcomed to the majors.
Charles Trudeau, father of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, was once an owner of the Royals, who were, in the years following World War II, the greatest minor league team in baseball. Buzzie Bavasi ran the Royals. Walt Alston managed them and most of the great Dodgers prepped there. Jackie Robinson began his career, and that of all Negroes, at Montreal in 1946. The team drew as many as 600,000 some seasons, and in 1949 showed a profit of $332,000. The French-Canadians were hardly less enthusiastic about baseball than they are about hockey. They would pile off streetcars and into old Delorimier Downs to see the Royals. Delorimier was not just a stadium. A dance hall, a tavern and a printing press were among just some of the other businesses located on the premises, and Bavasi helped team profits further by striking a bargain with the tavern owner to permit, for a cut, thirsty Royals patrons to repair to the pub between innings.
Montreal itself is not just a city. It is a confluence of human currents, of French and English, of puritan Catholic and raucous libertine, of cosmopolitan and honky-tonk. Expo and the other Drapeauvian wonders have uplifted the citizenry. Once a wide-open Prohibition retreat, which Americans escaped to for good whiskey and bad women, Montreal now is bright and burgeoning. The men talk proud, and the women—short-skirted, saucer-eyed and full-bosomed—walk pretty. The metropolitan area has a population of 2,500,000—larger than 13 U.S. major league metropolises. The ball team would also truly enjoy, as Expo did, a national rooting constituency of 20 million. Television would carry the games all over the Dominion.
The venture is apparently not yet altogether lost, though, and besides, Mayor Drapeau has been fielding hasty epitaphs and throwing them back for years now. "How can anyone dispute him anymore?" asks Red Fisher, the cryptic sports columnist on the Star. "Everytime he has a baby, it's triplets."
On, King, on you huskies, on to Cincinnati.