Youppi, Come Home
Hold that eulogy! The Montreal Expos, it turns out, have more lives than Jesse Orosco, or even Buffy Summers. Just when it looked as if Vlad and friends were set to shed their tricolor M’s for the last time next Sunday (in a “home” game to be played, appropriately enough, in San Juan, Puerto Rico), now it looks as if Montreal fans may get a reprieve, at least for one more season.
The savior here is the same driving force that started the Great Expos Roulette Wheel spinning in the first place: greed. In 2001, tired of the meager box office receipts they raked in when visiting Olympic Stadium (and what was that on the dollar coin, anyway, some kind of duck?), MLB capo Bud Selig and his cronies set out to hold the greatest auction in sports history: You build us a stadium, you get one (slightly used) baseball team, no questions asked. Washington, Portland, Las Vegas, everybody line up. We don’t care how small your burg is, so long as you bring money and plenty of it. The kind without ducks on it, we mean.
It would have worked like a charm—10 years earlier. Unfortunately for Selig, his timing was typically awful. By the time of the Expo sell-athon, cities had grown wary of throwing money at baseball stadiums—and, perhaps more importantly, no longer had any money to throw, as the Bush recession sapped treasuries from Skowhegan to Snoqualmie. As a result, the only bidder for the services of Frank Robinson‘s finest was Portland, where state legislators passed a bill to fund half the costs of a stadium—then promptly declared they had no interest in hosting the Expos for 2004, but maybe we can pencil you in for later in the decade.
So instead, the Expos will likely play out at least one more year north of the border, possibly leavened by another quarter-season in San Juan, or perhaps Monterrey, Mexico. (Is Ken Caminiti available for pharmaceutical-shopping tips?) Selig, in a typically mumble-mouthed moment, declared last week that “We’ll make that determination in the coming weeks, or how long it takes.” Or as they might say on Rue St. Laurent: “Attendez l’année prochaine!” —Neil deMause
19th Nervous Breakdown . . . And Counting
The Giants’ 24-21 OT win in Washington on Sunday boosted them to 2-1 and saved their season. For now. They’re hardly a championship-caliber team—and not just because they blew a 21-3 halftime lead. Big Blue coach Jim Fassel told reporters afterward that his team “showed a lot of guts” in answering the Redskins’ second-half comeback. Notice he didn’t mention anything about brains.
How could he, after his team committed 12 second-half penalties? Or after Brian Mitchell‘s late-game brain farts? A 14-year veteran should know, among other things, not to run out of bounds and stop the clock with 2:30 left in regulation and your team in the lead. Fassel, meanwhile, once again showed his shortcomings as a sideline strategist. After the Giants ran with success in the first half, Fassel opted for three straight pass-plays when the Giants got the ball at the Washington 38 following a Will Allen interception in the third quarter. The result? Three incompletions and then a punt; the Redskins scored their first TD on the ensuing drive. The coach also called two pass-plays when New York should have tried to eat clock late in the fourth quarter. Fassel can’t try to pin this bad decision making on special-teams coach Bruce Read, a buck-passing maneuver he attempted following his team’s crushing loss to Dallas the previous week. —Brian P. Dunleavy
Piniella’s Using His Bean
Despite engaging in mutual beanball shenanigans with the Yankees last weekend, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays haven’t lost all their marbles yet. We confess to doubting manager Lou Piniella‘s sink-or-swim approach back in April, when his relentless harrying of a clueless young crew seemed surer to produce 25 nervous breakdowns than good results. But players and pundits alike now credit him with turning the team around, from Aubrey Huff, Rocco Baldelli, and Carl Crawford (an outfield that collectively led the league in hits as of September 20) to semi-improved backstop Toby Hall.
Though conventional wisdom says that Sweet Lou doesn’t know from pitching—and his starters have bounced to the bullpen or Triple-A and back so many times it’s a wonder they still remember where the major-league dugout is—the rotation is starting to show promise. Rookie Doug Waechter (3-1 with a 2.45 ERA in the three weeks since his debut) and Jorge Sosa fired consecutive, complete-game shutouts against Seattle, while Victor Zambrano (the team’s Ol’ Reliable at 11-9, 4.26) recently blanked Boston for seven innings.
They’re not exactly the A’s Big Three, but then the front office isn’t Oakland-caliber either. Tampa general manager Chuck LaMar gave this year’s No. 1 draft pick—beefy high school slugger Delmon Young—a $3.7 million signing bonus, a considerable commitment given the club’s MLB-lowest $19 million payroll. That is so not Moneyball. Has LaMar forgotten that the minors are full of prospects whose teenage batting averages withered against more sophisticated pitching? Or that he had to eat $9.25 million of big bopper/flopper Greg Vaughn‘s salary when the team released him in March? —J.Y. Yeh