Monday, March 30, 2009

Ottawa Can-Ams: The last spike

Today is not a day to lash out and make it about what's wrong with Ottawa.

The demise of the Ottawa Voyageurs was beyond everyone's control, locally. The Atlantic City Surf folded over the weekend. That was that. Once that domino toppled, it left the league with seven teams, one of which was a ward of the league. A baseball league cannot run with an odd number of teams, since everyone plays almost every day.

Today, if you're so inclined to see history as a straight line, is the end of a long slide down that probably began in the mid-'90s when Major League Baseball set out to destroy the Expos. The trickle-down was felt by the Lynx, just two hours away in Ottawa. The record should show there were people who raged against the dying of the light.

This is not directly tied to the Zipperheads' lawsuit against the City of Ottawa and Can-Am commish Miles Wolff. The league, as best is my understanding, could not afford to have two franchises under league control.

It sounds like the other Can-Am owners basically said no to a league-controlled team in Ottawa. If that's the case, it's a final irony that former MLB executive Dan Duquette, who has a stake in the American Defenders of New Hampshire, was party to driving the final nail into the coffin of pro ball in Ottawa (no matter what true believers say). Duquette was GM of the Montreal Expos when the Triple-A Lynx came into being as its top farm club in 1993.

It probably was a bit inevitable, but people like friends Carl Kiiffner and Bruce Murdock went the extra mile for this nevertheless. Their voices probably won't be heard. Save for Don Campbell at the Ottawa Citizen, whose baseball bona fides are beyond reproach, and for Chris Stevenson noting this is the loss a cheap night out for families during the summer months, the knee-jerkers in the local media probably won't have much of a heart for those who cared. It's another story about a sports team in Ottawa going under, which usually means the opportunity for drive-by journalism.

Please know this has little to do with the litany of failed franchises, pending litigation, or whatever there is in the Canadian sports psyche which makes us reject so-called American sports like a bad transplant. It was the economy, stupid.

In the long run, it speaks to not having a summer team in Ottawa as an alternative to all-hockey, all-the-time sportsgeist. It speaks to what was lost for ball fans east of Toronto once MLB put the screws to the 'Spos 15 years ago. It speaks to the changing nature of following baseball as a Canadian. The self-described dinosaur with his newspaper might have hearing this from an "Internet geek," but there have never been more Canadians playing at a high level of baseball, and following them has never been more accessible. There's a trade-off, but all it takes is a high-speed connection to keep up with Canadian ballplayers such as Jason Bay, Rich Harden, Phillippe Aumont, Brett Lawrie, Joey Votto, Russell Martin and Alex Périard as opposed to watching half-talented imports ply their dubious craft on a local diamond.

Most of all, it speaks to the economic realities that all of us are facing across North America. Hockey lost two ECHL teams this winter, it's naive to think this could not happen in minor-league baseball, especially indy ball.

Please know that Wolff and many others went all out for ball fans in Ottawa. Please know there are ball fans in Ottawa. The bat was taken out of their hands.

Voyageurs strike out? (Chris Stevenson, Sun Media)
Ball team striking out in Ottawa; Can-Am league expected to shut down Voyageurs (Derek Puddicombe, Sun Media)
Pro baseball may have struck out again in Ottawa (Krystle Chow, Ottawa Business Journal)
Atlantic City Surf ceases operations (; fist bump to Pete Toms for the link)


Ottawa Sports Guy said...

There goes my intention to spend much of the summer at the ballpark. It was always going to be losing battle to keep baseball in this city, but it still stings.

Anonymous said...

And now we will go through yet another stadium debate. What to do with the old ball park?

Tao of Stieb said...


The latticework of circumstance continues to break our baseball-loving heart.

And we were so anxious to own a Vees ballcap.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if this will impact the stadium negotiations in the city? For instance, let Landsdowne Live go ahead and convince good ole Eugene to sink some cash in Vanier....

kinger said...

That's it, I'm emigrating.

Anonymous said...

Me too. Thank you Miles Wolff, Carl Kiiffner, Bruce Murdock and others. I think we could have made it without Atlantic City going down.....

Anonymous said...

MLB didn't kill the Expos, Jeffrey Loria did. And looky now who finally has a stadium. They build that thing in downtown Montreal and we still would have BOTH our teams. Oh yeah, you forgot Erik Bedard on your list!

I'll be a baseball fan forever, no matter if we have a team or not.

sager said...

Don't turn this into shin-kicking.

When one says "such as," that means they're giving examples, removing the requirement to list everybody. Bedard is a good one too, but there's no obligation to include him every time.

MLB signed off on everything Loria did with the Expos franchise, keep that in mind. By deed, they did not want a team in Montréal anymore. They just didn't value having a team in a non-English-speaking city.

Anonymous said...

MLB gushes all over itself, and it's efforts to "grow the game" internationally. And it is. But they're pissing it away right next door. We were PASSIONATE about the game (some of us still are). MLB should be about having a team in EVERY city the size of Montreal and damn well making it work. You have to have a team in every city that size, and you have to have a AA or AAA calibre in every city the size of Ottawa. (And Can-Am is probably AA.) A sad day, but what could they do?

Montreal - Ottawa 2010........?

Bill Lumbergh said...

Actually, it has a little bit to do with the lawsuit.

If the Zip crew had run the franchise properly, rather than spending boatloads of money and losing the "$1.4 million" they claim, they would have seen enough potential in the product to make a go of it in future years, rather than closing up shop after owning the thing for 4 months.

Then, even if Atlantic City had folded, the league could have stepped in and run the Surf (or a road team) to keep it an 8-team sked, like they were doing with the Voyageurs.

sager said...

Good point, Bill. I didn't explore that since that ship has sailed and the less revisited with the Zipperheads, the better.

There's direct cause-and-effect between the lawsuit and the team being shut down. It is quite possible that if a stable owner had emerged and had stayed in the picture after that first shaky year, we might not be in this fix. You're right.

Heck, you could say that maybe it wouldn't have taken so long to get the go-ahead to have a team in 2008 if Mr. Wolff had been dealing with Bob Chiarelli instead of the current mayor of Ottawa. Chiarelli didn't seem a like a politician who treated everything like a challenge to his authority.

All of that is spilled milk, though. The bottom line is the recession is hitting low-level minor leagues hard, especially indie baseball, which doesn't have the safety net of being affiliated with MLB. It's been visited upon us in Ottawa. It's not fair, it's not right.

sager said...

Sorry, I mean there's no direct cause-and-effect. Bill is right to say there's a what-if worth exploring.

I will make that change before I submit my TPS report with the new cover sheet.

Nick said...

Baseball in Canada is still thriving in some places. Lets not forget the Winnipeg Goldeyes consistently average around 7,000 fans a game and most games are near sellouts.

It is too bad Ottawa lost their team but if they had games attended as well as Winnipeg they wouldn't be where they are now.

sager said...

Beyond the Goldeyes and out in B.C., where the UBC Thunderbirds just moved into a new facility, it's getting few and far between, alas.

Anonymous said...

There's a Western Major team in Okotoks where they built a proper stadium drawing 50,000. per season. Quebec City does well, but you're right, it's getting few and far between. And that's a real shame, baseball represents everything we should (and used to) cherish about our very, very, short summers. It's a chance to relax, enjoy a summer evening, everything hockey isn't. Winnipeg has a beautiful downtown park marketed to perfection, but that shouldn't make all the difference. There are a million people here.

kinger said...

The Edmonton Capitals (fmr. Cracker-Cats) drew more than 8,000 for a game with Calgary last year. They'd still have a AAA team if Nolan Ryan weren't a douche.

Anonymous said...

I dunno, Hughie Campbell pulled on that rug too. Calgary drew very well for the time and just wouldn't cough up a stadium like Edmonton did.

Can-Am holds the lease, and there are people still working on this for next year.

Anonymous said...

Councillor Bob Monette has suggested that the baseball stadium land could be sold for as much as $20 miilion, and that this money would go a long way toward financing the city's portion of Lansdowne Live.

Anonymous said...

Hey, they could put up another big box. Good luck. This is the problem with governments. They do not generate revenue, they only take and spend. A city of this size should have a proper ball park, it's too soon for knee-jerk "tear it down" talk. There are still 100,000+ fans (in horrible weather last season) interested in baseball, 10% of the population. I still believe the league would like the opportunity to operate here in a proper fashion.

Anonymous said...

It is true, governments seldom generate revenue, In fact most public servants do not see revenue as their mandate. Most strictly interpret their mandate as providing services, with revenue generation hardly on the radar.

The league may like the opportunity to operate here in a proper fashion, but they will not be able to do so if they can't find proper ownership. There are none on the horizon.

Finding competent owners is not easy. Poor ownership has been the downfall of the CFL in Ottawa. Hopefully they have it now in Ottawa, but look how long it took to get such owners to step forward. It does not look good for baseball here in Ottawa for many years to come.

Rob Pettapiece said...

And Can-Am is probably AA

Probably not. On a good day, it's 1.8 A. Stolen base and error rates are comparable to high-A ball. The league leader in batting average never played above low-A; the leader in slugging average was undrafted; the HR leader, overmatched his only year in AA; ERA, wasn't successful above that enough? Should I go on?

This isn't meant to be an argument against the quality of the league. All I'm saying is leagues like this don't necessarily need to be in cities like Ottawa. You can find 2000 people in Myrtle Beach or Dunedin or Stockton to watch baseball every night.

(I'm deftly avoiding the question of whether Ottawa should have a baseball team in whatever league fits it most appropriately, because I don't know the answer.)

Rob Pettapiece said...

Forgot to mention, one of the very few former major-leaguers in the Can-Am League this year was The Mike Smith Express. That's not going to be good for business.

Von Allan said...

Man, this is a shame. I really couldn't careless about the caliber of play (call it my soft spot for hard luck stories). I couldn't careless whether this has anything to do with Ottawa's sports market, the Rapidz/Zip thingy, or ghosts of the Rough Riders, either.

All I care about it is that going to the stadium to see baseball in the summertime was a lot of fun. And this year, at least, that was taken away.

It bites.