Remembering the Montreal Expos

To complement the earlier post on the Expos’ last games, here is some material remembering the team and commenting on its departure. First, a Montreal Gazette editorial the day after the city’s last mlb game:

Depression was seeing the game come back from its 1994 strike with an economic model that made baseball not much fun anymore for small markets. Depression was seeing Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez, Vladimir Guerrero and so many other marquee players leave town because of baseball’s revenue asymmetry. For baseball is a numbers game outside the white lines, too: The payroll disparity between the Expos and New York Yankees was just $6 million U.S. in 1991, when the Yankees had a payroll of $27 million and the Expos $21 million and majority owner Charles Bronfman looked out onto the horizon of baseball’s future and decided to sell his ownership stake. This year, the payroll gap is $142 million – $183 million for the Yanks, just $41 million here.

A franchise can be stripped of its best parts only so many times before fans give up and the whole enterprise falls into inevitable terminal illness. Watching the Expos die has been like witnessing the death of an aging relative from an incurable illness – slowly, but inevitably; thus, the ability to reach the final stage of mourning, acceptance. At the end, the terminally ill barely resemble their old selves anymore. That’s the way it was with the Expos. Termel Sledge? John Patterson? Who were these guys, anyway? When Joey Eischen’s a familiar face, you know the undertakers are warming up in the bullpen.

Who or what killed the Expos? There’s ample blame to go around; it wasn’t so much the failure to build a downtown stadium as it was the failure to find a downtown owner, so to speak, a new local Bronfman-like owner with deep pockets and a willingness to lose millions. Let’s be frank. Making baseball work in Montreal was never easy from Day 1; the new economics just made things all that much more difficult. But Montreal is not unique. Other franchises are nearing the burnout stage, too.

As for the future of professional baseball in Montreal, there’s the possibility of this city hosting a Triple-A franchise one day, although not in the Big O. One complication is the lack of an obvious venue; old Jarry Park has been converted into a tennis stadium, and it’s hard to imagine public or private financial support for a Triple-A diamond. Still, one should never say never. Even a return of Major League Baseball can’t be ruled out completely, if only because the example of Washington, D.C., now regaining a franchise three decades after it lost one shows this would not be without precedent.

What a name, though. The “Expos.” “What’s an Expo?” was one of baseball’s most frequently asked questions in 1969. As we always knew here, the name was given in honour of the 1967 world’s fair in Montreal, Expo 67; it was dedicated to Montreal’s past, to a Montreal that no longer exists, as now to be echoed in the departure of the Expos to the capital city of the United States.

Footnote to history: The Expos came very close to being named the Voyageurs instead, in honour of the early French-Canadian explorers who helped chart the American heartland before U.S. independence. The homebody cousins of these voyageurs were the farmers who stayed to till the land and organize civil society; the history books refer to them as les habitants, and these early canadiens have been immortalized in the holy CH symbol of the Montreal Canadiens.

So look at it this way: Maybe there was something after all to the Expos adopting The Happy Wanderer as their theme song before their slow death began. Val-de-ree, val-de-ra! Goodbye, Expos. Adieu.

Two citizens’ letters:

This truly is a sad day, a day that only confirms the demise of Montreal as a “major-league” city.

From the pride of the Drapeau days (let alone the horrible tax burden that came with it), to the current state, this fine city of ours suffers another serious setback. People blamed this on Montreal being a hockey town. Only those from outside of Canada would say that. This is about a proud city. We don’t care for losers. You don’t win here, see ya.

This is not Boston, this is not Chicago. Once we saw that there was no hope to win, we lost interest. It would be interesting to see if, God forbid, Les Canadiens had not won a championship since 1918. Would this still be a hockey town? Unlikely.

I would like to thank Charles Bronfman for bringing to us the opportunity to have enjoyed a wonderful team. The memories will always be there. Putting our pride aside, we should all consider ourselves lucky. Good luck to Nos Amours, we really did love you.

David Pascal

Montreal

This is to apologize officially to the Expos for not attending any games this year. My passion for the game started young watching Rusty Staub home run into the swimming pool at Jarry Park. I helped irritate Mets pitchers with the rhythmic banging on the stands all summer long.

I followed the team to its new stadium even though it was cold, drafty and unfinished. I would walk to the Olympic Stadium during bus strikes to sit in the stands and cheer the team on. I helped my girlfriends learn to love baseball. I kept injured players in my fantasy ball team just because they were Expos.

I loved the Expos and my time with them.But as time went on beloved players would leave and the new ones never stayed very long. The number of column inches in the paper diminished and the radio went dead. Television coverage was limited and Expos games were often preempted.

I could have learned to love the current team but it got too painful. I wish them well wherever they go, but repeated disappointment does not make for a lasting love affair.

Cynthia Dudley

Montreal

Some quotes from former Expos:

Pedro Martinez: “I feel sad about the whole story, the way Montreal turned out. That’s the best city I ever played in and my memories of the fans are incredible.”

Rheal Cormier: “I’ve been an Expos fan since I was kid. It was great then, it’s sad to see where it is now.”

Gary Carter: “When the franchise was awarded in 1969, I think it was a novelty for the fans. It’s a hockey country, it just is. It was understood baseball took a backseat.”

Tim Raines: “You can look at it a number of ways. You can be mad … but you can also be happy about all the good times you had here.”

Andre Dawson: “I probably should have retired as an Expo. We had huge fan turnout. We knew it was tough for us to sign a marquee free agent, so we had to develop the talent on our own. The fans supported us, and made believers out of all of us.

“Mostly you hear about what transpired during the late years, the organization not being able to afford the players they developed, not being able to sign them to extensions, there not being enough people in the stands to pay them. I witnessed a few thousand fans in the stands. I guess the worst point was after 9/ 11, and you hear what everyone was saying.

“They never really talk about the early years, the years in the middle when I was there. You’re talking about a place where baseball was exciting. Except maybe the last couple of years, when they really couldn’t afford to keep their marquee players and had to trade them off when it came time for arbitration and free agency, they did a good job developing their minor-league talent and put together competitive ball clubs.

“For some reason, the game doesn’t seem to work in certain environments. Maybe the ball park isn’t fan friendly, but you win two World Series, you should develop a pretty good fan base. But it’s a fickle fan. It’s a football town, and they get on the bandwagon when it’s pretty obvious something positive is about to happen.

“As a ballplayer, you question why. A lot of people don’t realize that day in and day out, the fans energize you. They fuel you, and you’re basically there to play the game for them.

“It’s happened in a lot of instances. They feel a new ball park is going to be what gets them over the hump, gets them to that point where they want to be, but it’s not always the case. Winning will guarantee it. It might not happen right away, but when there’s something major that’s about to be won, that’s the only guarantee that (the fans) will be there.

“Still, Montreal and the Expos are going to be synonymous with baseball. I don’t think people are just going to forget about it and it’ll be gone at the drop of the hat.”

And finally, a list of top 10 Expos memories from the introduction to Anthony Buccongello’s 2,463-page Expos Encyclopedia:

10. Return of popular outfielder Rusty Staub, acquired by trade from the Detroit Tigers, July 20, 1979.

9. Pitcher Bill Gullickson strikes out 18 Chicago Cubs, a major- league rookie record, at Olympic Stadium, Sept. 10, 1980.

8. The team’s first game at Jarry Park, April 14, 1969.

7. Pitcher Bill Stoneman’s two no-hitters, 1969 and ’72.

6. The All-Star Game played in Montreal, featuring five Expos, July 13, 1982.

5. Pitcher Dennis Martinez’s perfect game, July 28, 1991.

4. Pennant race of 1980, the Expos falling one game short.

3. Expos beat the Philadelphia Phillies in a best-of-five series to advance to the National League Championship Series in strike- shortened 1981.

2. 1994 Expos, the best team in the majors with a 74-40 record before a players’ strike begins Aug. 12, 1994.

1. Blue Monday: Expos lose five-game NLCS to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Rick Monday’s two-out, ninth-inning home run off pitcher Steve Rogers at Olympic Stadium, Oct. 19, 1981.

Published in: on November 22, 2010 at 4:37 am  Leave a Comment  

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