By Jim Caple
Page 2

His final game with the Expos finished, Youppi! removed his sweat-soaked, size-34½ shoes and tossed them into his locker.

"Whoever tries replacing me in Washington, D.C. has some awfully big shoes to fill,'' he said.

Youppi
Youppi! led a rally in Montreal with all seven season ticket holders.

It was difficult to tell whether Youppi! was laughing or crying with that remark. Of course, with Youppi! and that ridiculous grin permanently fixed on his enormous head, it's always difficult to tell what he really feels inside.

"I haven't heard a damn thing about whether I'm going to Washington or not with the team,'' he complained. "And I don't know what the hell I'll do if they cut me loose. It's not as if there are a lot of job openings for seven-foot, orange-furred mascots who walk around wildly waving their arms as if they're whacked out of their minds.''

There are in D.C., I said.

"Maybe,'' said Youppi!, reaching into his locker, pulling out a pack of cigarettes and lighting up six at once. "Of course, I'm still not convinced the Expos are moving to Washington.''

That's a serious case of denial, I said. Bud Selig just announced the Expos are definitely moving to D.C. He had a press conference and everything.

"Except the city hasn't approved the financing for the stadium; and if the stadium falls through, the whole deal falls through,'' Youppi! said, cracking open a six-pack of beer and finishing it off in one swallow. "Not that baseball has a backup plan. When Selig was asked what they would do if the city refused to pay for a stadium, he just said he would cross that bridge when he comes to it. With an approach like that, is there any question why the Expos have been in this situation the past five years?''

C'mon, I said. What else could baseball do with the attendance problems in Montreal? You drew less than 4,000 fans Monday night. You're barely averaging 9,000 a game for the season.

"Gee, I wonder why?'' Youppi! said, leafing through an old issue of Hustler magazine. "Could it have anything to do with when that incompetent Jeffrey Loria owned the team and he refused to put our games on radio in English? Could it be that MLB moved a quarter of our home games to Puerto Rico, which is closer to Venezuela than Montreal? Could it be that MLB has told fans repeatedly for the past four years that the team wasn't going to exist the next season? Do you think that maybe all that might have had an effect on attendance?''

Granted, the team has been jerked around lately. But that doesn't change the fact that there isn't any support for baseball in Montreal anymore, I told him.

"Who's fault is that? Baseball. For working so hard to destroy enthusiasm for baseball here,'' Youppi! said, passing some incredibly smelly wind. "Instead of going to all the expense and effort to move us to Washington -- they're going to appease Peter Angelos by guaranteeing minimum revenues? -- maybe they should have just built a stadium for us here. It would have been easier and probably cheaper.''

Do you really think that would work?

"Why not?'' Youppi! said, hacking up and spitting onto the floor. "We're one of the largest markets in North America, and we supported baseball here. We drew almost 40,000 for the game just before the 1994 strike. Until baseball started monkeying us around, we reached the two million mark in attendance more often than the Brewers did. We outdrew the Mets one year.

Youppi. Halle Berry
Montreal might forget the Expos, but not Youppi's torrid love affair with Halle Berry.

"Cleveland was one of the worst markets around, and then they turned things around overnight. Same with Seattle. We could turn things around here, too, if only baseball would gave us a real chance.

"But no. We've got to move to Washington, where they've already lost two teams and where I don't get the sense there is an enormous clamoring for us from the general population. You mark my words -- if the Expos really do move, they're going to have problems in D.C. within five years, too.

"Cripes, they would be better off moving us to Baghdad. And at this point, I wouldn't rule that out.''

Do you, I asked him, see anything good at all coming out of the move?

"Well, I'll admit it is a bit of a relief after all the crap that's gone on the past couple years,'' Youppi! said, scratching between his butt cheeks. "Performing in front of an empty house night after night the past couple years hasn't been that fun. I've had about all the smoked meat sandwiches a guy can handle. And all this fur gets pretty damn hot during the summer.''

Yeah, I said. I bet that costume got a little uncomfortable from time to time.

'What do you mean 'costume'?''

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com




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YOUPPI! UNMASKED