“Now there were no more doubts. Everybody knew that big league baseball was in Montreal to stay.”
Well, not exactly. The Expos of Canada were acquired by the nation’s capital in the USA (itself an ignominious two-time loser when it came to keeping its major league baseball team), and the team’s final game as the Expos was played in Montreal in 2004.
Now the newly minted Washington Nationals are in the World Series against Houston; it is the first championship match-up for the franchise in either Montreal or Washington, leaving the Seattle Pilots as the only team that has not been to the Series.
Baseball fans are looking back at the history of the Montreal Expos, and I must say that my nine-year-old self was enamored of the uniforms 50 years ago when the Expos debuted. I still love the logo. There is an effort underway to place another expansion team in Montreal or move an existing one, as both Tampa Bay and Oakland are vulnerable for so long as new stadiums don’t come to their respective cities.
Montreal is back in the running. The first time around, ballpark poutine wasn’t even a thing.
The Luckless Expos Gave Birth to the Nationals, and a Lot More, by Tyler Kepner (New York Times)
The heritage of the Expos includes a devastating end to their brilliant 1994 season, but also spectacular players who made good elsewhere while never forgetting Montreal.
… (Pedro) Martinez is one of eight Hall of Famers who played for the Expos, along with Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Vladimir Guerrero, Randy Johnson, Tony Perez, Tim Raines and Lee Smith. It is an impressive legacy for a team that reached the playoffs just once and that began with 10 losing seasons, starting at 52-110 in 1969.
And just what caused those inaugural Expos to struggle? “Any team that had a different uniform on,” Ron Fairly said with a laugh over the phone from his home in Indian Wells, Calif. Fairly, an outfielder, won three World Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but was traded to Montreal for Manny Mota and Maury Wills in June 1969. It was a culture shock.
“I remember thinking, ‘I’m coming from the beaches and warm weather and a team expected to win 100 games, and I’m going to cold weather and a team expected to lose 100 games,’” Fairly said. “They got rid of me, so they might as well send me to Siberia.”
The Expos played their first eight seasons at Parc Jarry, with a capacity below 30,000, a swimming pool beyond the right field fence (Willie Stargell and Willie McCovey dunked homers into it) and, for outfielders, a piercing glare off metal benches in the seating bowl.
After the city hosted the 1976 Summer Olympics, the Expos moved to Olympic Stadium, with a Metro station below, a malfunctioning retractable roof above, a running track as the warning track behind the plate and a peculiar vibe all over.
… (Warren) Cromartie is now the hitting coach for the Yomiuri Giants in Japan, but he has maintained close ties to Montreal, gathering an investment group to bring a team back to the city, which has staged popular spring training exhibitions and is targeting the Yankees for a visit next spring.
“We’d rather not split games, but we have to be realistic with what’s going on in M.L.B. right now,” Cromartie said on the phone from Tokyo, where he was preparing for the Japan Series. “The commissioner’s made it very clear that until the Tampa and Oakland situations are rectified, they’re trying to come up with other solutions. But M.L.B. has played in London and Mexico, and internationally is where the game is going. We are already an established franchise, and we’re ready for a team now.”
Montreal would have to show solid funding for a new ballpark, of course, but with more than 4 million people in the metropolitan area, it has obvious appeal to M.L.B. And while there are no former Expos left in the majors — Bartolo Colon was the last — some vestiges remain.
The Nationals recognize Carter, Dawson and Raines in the ring of honor at Nationals Park — with the Expos logo beside their names — and the team wore Montreal uniforms in a victory on July 6.
It was a stylish gesture, but the Nationals were just renting the look. Ancestry is one thing, but the pennant flies in Washington — and the throwback uniforms belong to Montreal.
“It was good to see them again,” Cromartie said. “I tried to compare them to all the uniforms now, and those uniforms were hot — and they’re still hot. When we eventually come back, we’re going to have some of the hottest uniforms in the game.”