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Selig says Montreal ‘an excellent candidate’ for future expansion

Montreal Expos catcher Gary Carter is mobbed by admiring fans in this 1983 photo

Bernard Brault/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig can envision Montreal making a bid to return to the major leagues.

The Expos joined the National League for the 1969 season and remained in the big leagues through 2004 before moving to Washington and becoming the Nationals.

While the Expos failed to draw one million spectators to Olympic Stadium in any of their final seven seasons, a total of 96,350 fans attended a pair of exhibition games there in March between the New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays.

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"I think they would be an excellent candidate in the future. No question about it. That was very impressive," Selig said Tuesday during a question-and-answer session with the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

"They have much work to be done," he said. "There's certainly in my case no hard or angry feeling toward Montreal. We tried to keep a team there. It's a long story now. But I thought that was marvelous."

The Expos once fielded competitive teams and were able to draw over two million fans a season to Olympic Stadium in the late 1970s and early '80s.

They reached their competitive peak in 1994, when a team featuring Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom, Pedro Martinez and John Wetteland had the Expos at 70-44, the best record in baseball, only to see the season and playoffs cancelled by a player strike.

Then came the fire sale of top players and a series of disinterested owners, and the attendence steadily dwindled. The Expos averaged less than 10,000 fans in their last season in 2004, split between Montreal and Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Montreal once again being mentioned as the site of a major league team is a relatively recent development, but the successful pre-season series, which included a tribute to the '94 Expos, and the emergence of the Montreal Baseball Project led by former Expo Warren Cromartie appears to have put the city back on baseball's radar.

Selig also indicated that disgraced former major leaguer Pete Rose could have a role in next year's All-Star game in Cincinnati despite his lifetime ban from the game.

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The career hits leader generally is not allowed in any areas of major league ballparks not open to fans. But the former Reds star was allowed to participate in baseball's All-Century team ceremony at Atlanta's Turner Field during the 1999 World Series and was permitted to be on the field at Great American Ballpark in 2010 for a ceremony commemorating the 25th anniversary of his record-setting 4,192nd hit.

He also was on the field in Cincinnati last September for the unveiling of a bronze sculpture honouring Hall of Fame teammate Joe Morgan.

"That will be up to the Cincinnati club, and they know what they can do and can't do," Selig said. "It's sort of been subjective. But they've done some things with Pete, but they've been very, very thoughtful and limited. But that's a subject that I'm sure they'll discuss in the next year."

Rose, who famously bowled over catcher Ray Fosse to win the 1970 All-Star game at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium, agreed to the lifetime ban in August 1989 following an investigation by Major League Baseball that concluded he bet on the Reds to win while managing the team. He applied for reinstatement in September 1997 and met with Selig in November 2002.

Selig, who plans to retire in January, has never ruled on Rose's application.

"It's under advisement. My standard line," Selig said. "I'm the judge and that's where it will stay. Nothing new in that statement, I understand."

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Now 73, Rose admitted in a 2004 autobiography that his previous gambling denials were false.

With files from The Canadian Press

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