It remains a mystery. What happened to the Canadian baseball fan after the work stoppage in 1994?
I had the opportunity to speak with filmmaker Ken Burns this morning. His 18 1/2 hour opus Baseball was first broadcast in September 1994, with the expectation, he says, of being watched during the stretch drive of the various pennant races. Instead, "we were the only game in town," he says.
Burns has updated the series with The Tenth Inning,, which premieres on PBS on September 28. In it, he deals with the game since the earlier series, including the 1994 strike, and eventual cancellation of the World Series that year, a fall classic that might very well have included the Montreal Expos. When the end came that season, the Expos had the best record in the NL by far, 74-40, a .649 winning percentage.
In the AL that season, the Toronto Blue Jays were under .500, but led the league in attendance. When baseball resumed in 1995, Canadian baseball fans stayed home in droves. By 2002, Blue Jays attendance had dropped to 11th overall in the league. By 1998 the Expos were last in NL attendance, and stayed there until the end came in 2004.
I asked Burns if his new film proposes any theory as to why the Canadian baseball fan walked away from the game. "Not really," he told me. "They found something else to occupy their time for those months. It's really a tragedy, particularly in the case of the Expos who might've done something really remarkable." Expos' manager Felipe Alou is featured in the film, and he believes a championship would've led to a new stadium and a long-term future for the franchise in Montreal.
We'll never know. Obviously the Washington-area baseball fan is better off for it, but it's hard not to have empathy for those folks north-of-the-border, particularly those of us who were local fans in these parts in September 1971.
Check your local PBS station for exact broadcast times. The Tenth Inning is a two-part, four-hour film.
Oh, and Burns wishes to thank those 40,000+ fans who turned out to watch him throw out the first pitch on June 8. "I threw a slow breaking ball," he said, "but my reliever that night threw much harder." Stephen something, as I recall...