Once upon a time Canada had the Expos and the Blue Jays. Unfortunately Les Expos left Montréal after the 2004 season and moved to Washington D.C. Recently there has been talk of Montréal once again having a Major League Baseball Team (whether it would be an expansion team or an existing team would move to Montréal is unclear). Even though I grew up watching heroes like Marquis Grissom, Moises Alou and of course Larry Walker strut their stuff in those lovely powder blue uniforms, I’m not sure that Montréal would be the best home for a new Canadian MLB team.
It’s a little known fact that British Columbia (specifically the Greater Vancouver area) is Canada’s baseball hotbed. In order to represent Canada in the Little League World Series, held annually since 1947 in Williamsport Pennsylvania, teams must first win the Canadian National Championship. Before they can compete in the nationals, they must win their regional championship. The five regions are; British Columbia, The Prairies, Ontario, Québec and Atlantic. Since 1965, the first year that all regions in Canada were allowed to compete (51 years ago), B.C. has won the Canadian Championship and gone on to represent Canada at the Little League World Series 24 times, a winning percentage of 47%. Over the past 20 years, B.C. has 14 championships to it’s name. In the past 11 years alone, B.C. has won the championship 10 times. To give some perspective on these numbers, Ontario has 11 titles in 51 years (21.5%) while Québec has 8 titles in 51 years (15.7%). Ontario’s population is three times the size of B.C.’s while Québec’s is twice the size. In other words, B.C. dominates baseball in Canada. Dominates.
From 1946 to 2014, 129 Canadians played in the big leagues. What I want to know is; if a province makes up 10% of Canada’s population, does it also produce 10% of Canada’s MLB players? As shown below, B.C. has produced 26.36% of Canada’s post-war major leaguers despite the fact that it only makes up 13.10% of Canada’s total population. To try to compare this against the other provinces I’ve created a column called “Difference”. Provinces with a negative Difference are not producing the same percentage of MLBers in relation to their population, while provinces with a positive Difference are producing a higher percentage of MLBers compared to their population. B.C. is by far the highest at 13.26%.
|Province||Tot||Player Pct.||Pop. Pct.||Difference|
|Prince Edward Island||1||0.78%||0.41%||0.37%|
Given the fact that B.C. continually churns out MLB calibre talent, we can be confident that interest is high and the team will be well supported. The Seattle Mariners regularly see an additional 15,000 fans when the Jays come to town. Add that to all the Mariners fans from the Vancouver area and you’ve got a good solid fan base in waiting. While the argument could be made that these M’s and Jays fans may not be quick to change their allegiance, I’m confident that many would eventually defect. Think about it, whether you want to see the Jays in Seattle or the M’s in Seattle, you’ll only be able to catch your team a handful of times per season. My brother regularly drives from Vancouver to Seattle to watch games and even he only sees about a dozen per year (equates to about one game every two weeks). Now imagine having a MLB team playing 81 games a season right in your own backyard. In 2013 Vancouver’s single A team The Vancouver Canadians, sold out 23 straight games, won minor league organization of the year and captured their third straight Northwest League Championship. Not too shabby.
According to Forbes, the average value of an MLB team is 1.287 billion USD. Obviously, teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers skew these numbers a little and are unlikely to be sold or moved. The average value of the bottom 10 teams is 814.5 million USD. While it would be great if some multi-billionaire like Jim Pattison bought a team and moved it to Vancouver, it’s probably more realistic that an ownership group would be formed. Former Yahoo! COO Jeff Mallett is a huge baseball fan and currently owns a fair sized chunk of the San Francisco Giants. Would he be willing to sell his shares and put the money towards bringing a team to Vancouver? Todd McFarlane, known for his comic book character SPAWN, is arguably the biggest baseball fan in Calgary and routinely purchases record setting home run balls. His company is also the one responsible for those McFarlane Toys baseball figures we all used to have as kids (Eric Davis sliding into a base was my favourite – you could move his arm, and head!). Other well-to-do sports fans from the area are; Steve Nash, Francesco Aquilini and the Gaglardi family. It’s unlikely that all of these parties would be interested but, on the flip side, I’m sure others not named here would be. So in theory it would be very possible for the right group of people to put together enough scratch to purchase an existing team and move it to Vancouver.
Built in 1983, BC Place stadium has hosted numerous baseball games over the years, including a four team, weekend series that I attended with my father in 1994. Doubleheader Saturday, doubleheader Sunday – Jays, M’s, Expos and Rockies. The stadium’s capacity is listed as 54,500 and although some of these seats would need to be removed to accommodate a baseball diamond, it’s more than enough to supply a team with sufficient cash flow provided its expected attendance targets were hit. The stadium underwent an extensive renovation in 2009 and had a retractable roof installed at the end of 2010. It is now the largest cable supported retractable roof in the world. Situated across the street from the Canucks’ home, Rogers Arena, the location is perfect for Vancouverites wishing to attend a ball game. No changes or upgrades would be required with regard to transportation, infrastructure etc. It’s already all there, used regularly by Canucks fans. As a traditionalist, I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing astro-turf and the designated hitter, but the advances in artificial turf over the past few years has really made a difference in both feel and playability. The fact that Vancouver has 161 days of rain per year makes playing in a dome (or having the option of playing in a dome) essential. Precipitation levels in Vancouver are as follows:
- April 89mm
- May 65mm
- June 54mm
- July 36mm
- August 37mm
- September 51mm
- October 121mm
This one is a no-brainer. Any Vancouver team would immediately form huge rivalries with both Seattle and Toronto. They would possibly also carry over any historical rivalries which were held with the team which was purchased.
Minor League Affiliates
Obviously the new team would acquire the purchased team’s minor league affiliates. There is also the matter of the Vancouver Canadians single A team which currently plays out of Scotiabank Field at Nat Baily Stadium. Although they are currently the single A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays it would be possible to arrange some kind of a sale or swap with the new Vancouver team. The Canadians could then be moved to Victoria B.C. which at present has only a collegiate summer baseball league team – The Victoria HarbourCats. The Cats led the league in attendance in 2014 and 2015, drawing an average of 1,576 and 1,910 fans per game respectively. While a team in Victoria is unlikely to draw as many fans as the Canadians drew in 2015 (5,825 fans per game), they do have a solid, established fan base. An average of 1,700 fans attended during the lone season of the ill-fated Canadian Baseball League (2003), while the Independent League Victoria Seals drew 2,388 fans per game in 2008, 2,082 in 2009 and 2,597 per game in 2010. The Victoria team could then be converted to a triple A team (or swap rosters/leagues with whichever triple A team they acquire), thus providing nearby base for the remaining members of the 40 man roster.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are valued at 650 million USD (lowest in MLB) and averaged just 15,403 fans per game in 2015 (also the lowest in MLB). This is partially due to the inaccessibility of Tropicana Field, which they have leased until 2027. Can their ownership withstand this for another 10 years, at which time they can move to a more centrally located, fan friendly ballpark? Can they afford to? Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is a Mets season ticket holder and was once rumoured to be interested in purchasing the team. Unlike many other underachieving teams, the Rays don’t have any great history to cling to. The struggling Indians will never leave Cleveland just like the Cubs will never leave Chicago regardless of whether or not they ever win a World Series. But the Rays are only about 20 years old. They can’t even host an old-timers day for another 15 years, at least. Given the current attendance levels I’d be surprised if anyone kicked up much of a fuss if they left town.
We’ve all heard the stories about sewage in the dugouts at the Oakland Coliseum, which the A’s have been in since 1968 (that’s 49 years for those of you counting at home). But could an iconic team like the A’s actually move? Maybe Lewis Wolff and John Fisher could be enticed to move to Vancouver on their own? These guys are businessmen after all, and have been trying to nail down a new stadium for years. The Coliseum only holds 35,067 for baseball games which, even when sold out, can inhibit revenue streams. Teams like Boston, Toronto, and the Angels averaged more than 35,000 fans per game in 2015, while the A’s drew in just 21,829 fans per game. The A’s also have ties to Vancouver, with the aforementioned Canadians serving as one of Oakland’s farm teams from 2000 – 2010. Oakland legends like Jose Canseco, Ricky Henderson, Nick Swisher and Jason Giambi all played in Vancouver at some point during their minor league careers. While I’d hate to see the A’s leave Oakland (I’m an A’s fan) the Siren’s song of a newly renovated stadium could be too tempting to resist. The team could also remain in the AL West, simplifying matters for the league.
Commissioner Robert Manfred has stated that expansion to 32 teams is inevitable. While numerous articles have been written listing Vancouver as a possible location, asinine reasons are often given to make the case that Vancouver is unsuitable. When comparing Vancouver to Mexico City one writer stated “At least Mexico City has Latins who love baseball.” Is that right, eh? If we don’t love baseball why do we keep pumping out major league talent at twice the rate of any other province? Unfortunately this is a view shared by many which is why I’ve tried to give an in depth background of how ingrained baseball is in B.C.’s culture. I know my dad didn’t take me to the ballpark every weekend because he hated baseball. I’m sure the same can be said for Larry Walker’s dad, Jason Bay’s dad, Justin Morneau’s dad, Brett Lawrie’s dad, Ryan Dempster’s dad, Jeff Francis’ dad, Adam Loewen’s dad, Rich Harden’s dad (I can actually vouch for this because I grew up with Rich, his dad loves baseball and was one of the best coaches I ever had), James Paxton’s dad, Scott Richmond’s dad, Blake Hawksworth’s dad, Mike Nickeas’ dad, Michael Saunders’ dad, Aaron Myette’s dad, Jeff and Jordan Zimmerman’s dad, Paul Spoljaric’s dad, Steve Sinclair’s dad….. (Hopefully you get the idea).
Others have cited the failure of the Vancouver Grizzlies as a reason to avoid Vancouver, claiming that we’re too fickle when it comes to sports. Despite Steve Nash growing up in nearby Victoria, Vancouver is not a basketball town, it is however very much a baseball town. That’s the thing about British Columbians (and Canadians in general); we’re sports fans but we’re only fans of the sports we actually like. Just because five guys with a bouncy ball show up doesn’t mean we’ll be interested. Sure we’ll give it a try, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll fall in love with it. Now if a bunch of guys show up playing a sport we already love, that’s a different story. Example; I don’t like oysters. My mom and step-dad love them. We were out to dinner one night and after 20 minutes of incessant harassment, they eventually persuaded me to try an oyster. It felt like I was eating a shell-full of cold snot. Needless to say I have not eaten an oyster since and I have no plans to eat one ever again. “Whoa! This guy must not like eating! I mean, we gave him an oyster, he ate it but then he stopped eating them! There’s no point in asking him to go to dinner ever again!” At 5’11”, 245 pounds (with a healthy addiction to red meat), I can assure you that I love eating. I just love eating foods I actually like.
Basketball was B.C.’s oyster, Baseball is our rib-eye.