These games – held last Friday and Saturday - marked the first time in almost 10 years that Major League Baseball was played in the city of Montreal.
The choice of teams to mark this occasion could not have been more fitting. The Blue Jays are Canada’s only remaining baseball team, while the Mets are not only a former division rival, but are also the team the Expos debuted against in 1969 and finished against in 2004, becoming the Washington Nationals in 2005. The Blue Jays won both games but the clear winner this weekend was the city of Montreal. It is clear to me these fans deserve to have a team again.
Montreal has a fantastic baseball history. It was the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers AAA affiliate, the Montreal Royals, and where 26-year-old Jackie Robinson made his professional debut in 1946. The Montreal Expos made their debut against the Mets on April 8th of 1969, winning 11-10 and beating Mets pitching ace Tom Seaver. It took the Expos 12 seasons to make their first and only playoff appearance. The Expos lost 3-2 in the NLCS to eventual 1981 World Series champions, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Expos were host to many excellent players including catcher Gary Carter (nicknamed The Kid for his youthful enthusiasm), infielder and all time Major League hits leader Pete Rose (just one year), star outfielders Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, Larry Walker, Moisés Alou, Vladamir Guerrero, and pitchers Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez, just to name a few of the great players in franchise history. In the 80’s the Expos were so popular they outdrew the New York Yankees for a short period.
Just this week author Jonah Keri, an ESPN baseball writer, wrote a book “Up, Up, and Away: The Kid, the Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, le Grand Orange, Youppi!, the Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos” which documents the history of the Expos. Keri was making the rounds this week, being interviewed in the New York Times, NBC Sports, and others about his book.
Before Friday’s game there was a ceremony honoring Gary Carter who died in February 2012 after a bout with brain cancer. Carter’s family wife and children were there. Carter was a fantastic player for both the Expos and the Mets. In fact, Carter was a key player in the 1986 championship season for the Mets, but he is most remembered as an Expo. In 2002 he was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame as an Expo.
Prior to the start of Saturday afternoon’s game the 1994 team was honored. It is believed by many that had the ‘94 season not ended in a strike, the Expos, who held baseball’s best record that year at 74-40, would have won the World Series. This would have cleared a path to land an outdoor stadium, something that the team had desperately wanted. Unfortunately this was not meant to be. At the time Olympic Stadium was considered an outmoded dilapidated wreck, completely unsuitable for baseball.
After the ’94 season the owner of the team Claude Brochu completely dismantled the team, letting Larry Walker leave in free agency to the Colorado Rockies, trading away outfielder Marquis Grissom and closer John Wetland to the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees. By 1998 almost all of the remaining players from that team were gone. Alou left after 1996 signing with the Florida Marlins, Martinez traded away after the ’97 season to the Red Sox. With the exception of the ’96 season the Expos had a losing season from 1995 until 2002. Because of the owner’s betrayal, fans did not support the team. When the MLB was looking to contract, the Expos team was a candidate along with the Minnesota Twins.
In 2002, Expos owner Jeffrey Loria sold the team to Major League Baseball, while buying the then Florida Marlins from John Henry (who himself had just become owner of the Boston Red Sox). With his move, Loria took all of the Expos non-player personnel, from the general manager to the scouts, with him to Miami. On September 29th 2004, it was announced the Expos would relocate to Washington, D.C., taking effect in 2005. On October 3rd, the Expos played their final game losing 8-1 against the Mets.
The Expos legacy still lives on to this day. There are currently ten players who played for the team at one point including pitcher Bartolo Colon, pitcher Bruce Chen, outfielder Endy Chavez, and reliever Luis Ayala.
This weekend’s series proved just how passionate fans in Montreal are. Friday’s game had 51,000 people attend; on Saturday 45,000 fans were in attendance. Yet this city is without a franchise while both of the Florida teams, the Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins, have difficulty even selling 15,000 seats. Montreal has proven once before they are a fantastic baseball city, and this weekend showed they are ready to prove themselves once again.
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