February 28, 2002

Big League Idea

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If fantasy sports never quite fulfilled your dream of owning a team of real Major League Baseball players, then this column is for you. If you’ve ever seen your favorite team butcher a front office move, then this column is for you. And if you felt tingles of jealousy when you saw the little kid become the owner of the Twins in Little Big League, then this column is for you.

Thanks to a trio of enterprising Penn students, you have a chance at becoming a part-owner of the Montreal Expos. All you have to do is pledge some money with the promise to pay if the plan to buy the team is carried out.

The idea began innocently enough in the offices of The Daily Pennsylvanian, Penn’s student newspaper. Senior sportswriter Jesse Spector and two other DP writers, Jon Shazar and Sebastian Stockman, were sitting around the DP’s office mulling the troubling state of baseball and the impending contraction, when Spector threw out the question:

“How much would you guys be willing to pay to buy the Expos?”

The three agreed it was worth $15 each to them, but a quick run around the rest of the office turned up more offers — $450 total — and by the end of the night the campaign to buy the Expos was born.

Spector went home, put the campaign up on the web space allotted to him by the university, and watched as the pledges began rolling in. Even still, a good idea like this doesn’t take off until it gets some publicity.

Enter Alan Schwarz, a former DP writer who now is a Baseball America writer with a column on ESPN.com. Schwarz found out about the pledge drive, the news appeared on the biggest sports website in the country, and interest skyrocketed.

When Schwarz wrote his column on Feb. 22, the total amount pledged was a little over $100,000. Less than a week later, the figure stands at close to $1.8 million, and interest isn’t showing any signs of slowing.

Schwarz’s column has been sent hundreds of times via email. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Philadelphia Daily News have done stories on Spector’s campaign. He’s been interviewed on national radio shows and the media — especially the Canadian media — are flooding him with more interview requests. People who he doesn’t even know are recognizing him when he goes out to dinner.

The big question, though, is how likely the plan is to work.

“I think it’s pretty realistic that we could make it to 100 million,” Spector told me.

If the pledges reach that target, he says he will move forward with his plan to buy the Expos. There will still be major obstacles, however, such as the fact that this plan is technically illegal, the money would still have to be collected, and Major League Baseball isn’t very likely to recognize a group of tens of thousands of investors.

Those investors come from as far away as Finland and Germany, and the top offer so far is $11,000. Such a wide variety of potential owners creates the problem of how the money would be collected should the project ever come to that.

“I have no idea how we’d go about that,” Spector admitted.

Spector is pretty sure that commissioner Bud Selig’s office is aware of the buzz surrounding the campaign, but he’s not waiting by the phone for Selig to call.

In the meantime, the Expos are far from carrying on business as usual. As of now, Major League Baseball is running the show in Montreal, having appointed Omar Minaya GM and Frank Robinson manager. And as disarrayed as the whole Expos front office is right now, Spector’s “group” probably wouldn’t be any more organized.

“Were we to buy the team, who knows how we would run it?” he mused.

Spector and his two other original investors would have a far from controlling interest in the team, even though they have since upped their initial pledges to $150 each.

Even if this scheme never pans out, Spector still believes it could have a positive impact. It would send a message to Selig that contraction isn’t something the fans favor.

“There’s definitely still baseball interest in Montreal,” Spector remarked.

In fact, there’s a poll on the group’s website asking people to vote on where the Expos should play if the group ends up buying the team. Although Washington, DC is leading the voting, Montreal is in second. Spector’s hometown of Brooklyn is in third.

Canadian support for the idea had Montreal in first in the poll for a while, which shows that perhaps the Expos do have a future north of the border. They could use a new stadium, because while the tower at Olympic Stadium might look cool the rest of the park is a dump. The team itself has some talent, though.

“If that young pitching holds up, they could be good,” Spector said of the Expos’ prospects this season.

You can check out the 2002 version of the Expos today. They’ll be playing their first spring training game of the season tonight against the Orioles. Maybe that will help you make up your mind as to whether or not you want to join the campaign to buy the Expos.

As for me, I read the articles and saw the website (check it out at http://buytheexpos.poptopix.com/, Spector moved it from Penn’s server because it was getting too much traffic), and I decided to plunk down my own pledge of $50. I also told Spector when I spoke with him that I’d double that to $100 if Penn beats Cornell in Saturday’s men’s basketball game.

I recommend you sign on to this plan, too. After all, if this thing ever ends up happening, I think it would be pretty damn cool to be able to say you helped buy the


After you sign up, you get a thank you note from Spector. And as the message says, “I look forward to owning a piece of a Major League Baseball franchise with you.”

Archived article by Alex Fineman