Remembering The Expos

I’m at the point where I’m tired of writing about how disappointing this 2009 Met season is. So for a change of pace today I would like to take a walk down memory lane and remember the Montreal Expos. The team the Washington Nationals were, before they became the Washington Nationals.

When Major League Baseball decided to expand in 1969, the cities of San Diego and Montreal were awarded the newest franchises. The Expos name actually comes from Expo 67, which took place in Montreal in 1967. I think an Expo was something similar to a World’s Fair. The Expos were owned by Charles Bronfman, who also owned Seagrams. Their home park was Jarry Park.

When the Expos and Padres joined the league, MLB began its divisional format. Two divisions in each league were created. The National League East was the Expos, Mets, Cards, Cubs, Phillies and Pirates. The NL West were the Braves, Dodgers, Giants, Astros, Reds and Padres. How Atlanta wound up in the wild west is a mystery (and perhaps another blog entry). The first manager of the Expos was the legendary Gene Mauch.

The Expos won their first ever game back in 1969, their opponents: the Mets. The final score was 11-10 at Shea. Who would’ve thought, after losing to the expansion Expos, in the franchises’ first ever game, the Mets would go on to become World Champs?

In 1977 the Expos moved to Olympic Stadium (the Big O). The Big O hosted the 1976 Olympics, and while it was a good venue for the Olympics, it was a horrible venue for baseball. It was a domed stadium, and if my memory serves me, it had an orange ceiling.

In 1979 and 1980 the Expos finished in second place in the NL East. There best finish at that point in time.

Baseball strikes would play a key part in Expo history. In 1981, the Expos went non to win the 2nd half of the season NL Eastern Division crown. A strike had disrupted the season, the season was split into two parts, with a playoff series between the first half (pre-strike) winner, and the second half (post strike winner).

In 1994, under manager Felipe Alou, the Expos were leading the NL East, and were in fact 34 games over the .500 mark, when a baseball strike ended the season in August. To me this was the beginning of the end for baseball in Montreal. Fans didn’t come back to the Expos after the strike. The Big O was outdated. There was no way the Expos would compete with the American teams.

On February 1, 2002, Major League Baseball approved the sale of the Florida Marlins to then Expo owner Jeffery Loria. MLB then took on a custodial roll with Expos until a new owner could be found. Omar Minaya was the GM, Frank Robinson was the manager. Those Expo teams played competitive baseball, but they were hamstrung by a small payroll.

The Expos left Montreal at the end of the 2004 season.

The amount of great players to play for Expos is incredible. Here’s a small sample: Gary Carter, Rusty Staub, Vlad Guerrero, Andre Dawson, Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez, Dennis Martinez, Warren Cromartie, Tim Raines, Andres Galarragam Ken Singleton and Moises Alou. What Met fan could ever forget the p.a. annoucer at Jarry Park saying John Bocca…..bella?

This entry just scratches the surface of the sad history of the Expos. Whether it was poor management, greed or fan apathy, it was just a sad time for baseball when MLB owned the Expos.