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WHOA, CANADA
Michael Farber
March 05, 1990
The province of Quebec is rich with cultural assets and Gallic charm. So why doesn't anybody want to play for the Expos or the Nordiques?
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March 05, 1990

Whoa, Canada

The province of Quebec is rich with cultural assets and Gallic charm. So why doesn't anybody want to play for the Expos or the Nordiques?

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The Expos, like the Nordiques and the Canadiens, go out of their way to help their players adapt to their environment. The Expos help find them housing in English-speaking enclaves, offer French lessons and organize outings for the wives when the team is on the road. And four years ago Montreal hired Price Waterhouse to aid players with their taxes. "I thought my tax burden was like 10 percent, but they showed me it was really two, three, four percent," says Wallach, who has a tax-equalization clause in his contract.

Mike Bronstetter, a tax partner with Price Waterhouse in Montreal, is the man who leads the players through the labyrinth of tax codes. "It all depends on what's important to you," says Bronstetter. "If you're going to take the attitude that one extra dollar is bad news, there's nothing we can do about it. Some people would say a nickel is important. It's their nickel, and it's hard to argue with that. I know other people who would say, 'Sixty grand on a million—I won't get concerned.' It's a question of personal philosophy, the style of life you want."

"From a quality-of-living standpoint, I prefer to stay in Canada," says the Canadiens' Hayward, a native of Ontario. "My wife, Angela, is expecting our first child in March. The other day, she was in the hospital from 9 a.m. to 6:30 for tests, mostly for our own peace of mind. They just ran our medical credit card through the machine, and it didn't cost us anything. Socialized medicine. I tell you, we've used that medical card more in the past three months than any other card we have."

Credit cards and helpful accountants are all well and good, but the Expos will still open the 1990 season with an undermanned pitching staff and low expectations. What's more, the team's 1989 attendance of 1.78 million, sixth-highest in club history, ranked only 20th among the 26 major league teams. "One reason some players don't like it here," said Brooks before departing, "is that there's no promotion. At least not what it is in U.S. cities. Ride in from the airport in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Cincinnati, and depending on the season, you can see signs of the football, baseball, basketball team. You can feel their presence. That doesn't happen in Montreal."

Says Wallach, "When you're in first place for 42 days and your crowds are 25,000, it's disappointing. It was different in the early 1980s, but now we're getting used to it being this way."

Bronfman, frustrated by the Expos' lack of success both financially and on the field, has said he will listen to offers for the team, although he says he would be willing to sell only if the prospective buyers were committed to keeping the Expos in Montreal. Brochu concedes that the Expos have not developed baseball at the grass roots level in Quebec and that they can do a better selling job. However, he does not envision any long-term problems for the franchise. When asked if Montreal will have the Expos in the year 2000, he said, "Absolutely. That's not even a concern."

"The thing that would turn it around here," says Singleton, "would be for the team to win the World Series. The media, especially the American League media, would see the city, spotlight it, find out what it's like. They'd go down to Crescent Street [a hopping, club-crammed thoroughfare] and see one of the great streets in the world. It doesn't get any better than that."

Considering that French has done quite nicely in Quebec for more than 450 years and is unlikely to be abandoned, that government officials in Canada are not unduly worried about the tax woes of American relief pitchers earning $2 million a year and that even the greenhouse effect won't soon change Montreal into a San Diego, maybe a World Series is the only cosmic relief there is for the dark side of the moon.

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