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03/23/2004 Archived Entry: "Nos Amours Expos"
As my daughters watched me rooting for the Chicago Cubs during last
year's post-season (I lived in Illinois for six years in the 1970s and
my heart fell for those perennial losers), my 6-year old announced to
the family that her favorite baseball team was "the Cubbies." No
father would wish such a lifetime of pain on his darling baby girl.
But, some things in life are simply outside your control. She explained
her reasoning very succinctly, "My favorite color is blue, and the
Cubbies are blue. And, I really like that little bear." Who is going
to argue with that?
We have a camp on Moosehead Lake, located in Maine about forty-five
minutes from the Canadian border. We are fortunate to go to Canada, to
the French-speaking Province of Quebec, several times throughout each
year. Our family really enjoys the culture, the French language, the
best food in the world, and our awesome Canadian friends who live in
So, just last week Dad came up with a great idea for a get-a-way this
summer, if I may say so myself. "We will go to Montreal and see the
Expos play the Cubbies," I inform the family. The kids start jumping
all around with excitement. They swiftly ran to the computer and went
onto the Internet. They were ecstatic to see that Olympic Park in
Montreal also has an Olympic-sized swimming pool, AND penguins. Cool.
The next day the wife brings home AAA books with all kinds of
information on Montreal. It was very interesting to read what the Tour
Book had to say about the Expos. Its states that, in 1969, "fans came
out in droves to root for Nos Amours ('Our Beloveds')." Boy, have
times changed. It added, "The team has benefited from brilliant play
of numerous stars: Andre Dawson, who took the Rookie of the Year Award;
Tim Raines, a master of stealing bases; and Dennis 'Oil Can' Boyd, a
wizard on the mound. And fan favorite Rusty Staub, dubbed 'Le Grand
Orange' for his fiery red hair, once hit four homeruns in one
night." From such a billing, one might wonder whether the Expos
could ever lose. (The choice of mentioning "Oil Can" is somewhat
perplexing. A colorful nickname for sure, but he's not the first
pitcher I would think of listing here. In his career, he won only 16
games for the Expos.)
Being frugal (or as my wife would say, "one cheap S.O.B."), I went
to the www.homeexchange.com website (if you haven't tried it, you
should) to find someone in Montreal to trade their place in Montreal for
my camp on Moosehead Lake, for a week. I sent out messages to a few
Canadians, and explained that I hoped to catch an Expos game while I was
in Montreal. One guy responded, "WHAT? I was starting to believe
that the Expos have no fans in Montreal. It can't be that they have a
fan waaaaaaaay down your way!"
It is an understatement to say that baseball fans are on an Expos death
watch. How did they get to such a state? As a kid, I recall them
having competitive and exciting teams.
Montreal is rich in baseball history. Jackie Robinson got his start in
the minors with the Montreal Royals. Pete Rose got his 4,000 hit as an
Expo. The Expos actually got off to a great start. The team won their
very first game, beating the 1969 Miracle Mets. They beat the Mets at
Shea Stadium on April 8, 1969, in front of 44,541 fans. They jumped all
over Tom Seaver. Bob Bailey doubled home two runs in the first inning.
Both starting pitchers were ineffective that afternoon (Seaver and
Mudcat Grant). The Expos eventually won the game 11-10. The first
Expos homer came from relief pitcher Dan McGinn, who went deep on Tom
Terrific in the third inning. Other Expos homeruns were hit that day by
Rusty Staub and Coco Laboy. Maury Wills had three hits and a steal for
the Expos. In Montreal, 29,184 fans witnessed the Expos win their first
home game at Jarry Park, against the Cardinals.
It took only two weeks for the Expos to record their first no-hitter.
On April 14, 1969 Bill Stoneman pitched a gem for the Expos in
Philadelphia, winning 7-0. It took the Expos but a few months to record
the team's first triple play. On June 25, 1969, first baseman Bob
Bailey snared a linedrive off the bat of Vada Pinson, stepped on first,
then threw a strike to shortstop Bobby Wine at second base to register
the third out. Despite these highlights, the Expos finished 48 games
out of first place in 1969. But, Montreal loved their Expos.
By the late 1970s the Expos had developed into a very respectable team.
They notched their first winning record in 1979, just missing first
place by only two games. They had impressive talent in Gary Carter,
Tony Perez, Larry Parrish, Andre Dawson, Ellis Valentine, and solid
pitching came from Bill Lee and Steve Rogers. Tim Raines made his first
appearance for the Expos that season. It's hard to imagine now, but
the Expos drew more than 2 million fans that year. The following
season, the Expos again drew more than 2 million fans, as they won 90
In 1981, in the strike shortened season, the Expos made the playoffs
for the first time. The Expos handled the Phillies in the Division
Series in five games. The Expos then squared off against the Dodgers in
the NL Championship Series. After four games the two teams were locked
up, 2 games to 2 games. Then came "Blue Monday." In the deciding
Game Five, Rick Monday smacked a homerun that crushed Montreal's
dreams of a World Series. Dodgers won the game 2-1.
Over the next two seasons, the Expos again drew over 2 million fans.
In 1983, the Expos actually finished second in attendance in the
National League. Yet, as the Expos moved through the 1980s, a troubling
pattern was developing. Their best talent was moving to other
ballclubs, with regularity. Carter was traded to the Mets, Dawson went
to the Cubs, and after the 1990 season, Raines was traded to the White
Sox. Following the foregoing blockbuster player moves, the Expos would
lose Larry Walker, Moises Alou, Andres Galarrage, and Pedro Martinez.
In September of 1991, a huge cement beam collapsed at Olympic Stadium.
This caused the team to play its remaining home games on the road.
Interest in the team waned. From 1983 through 1993, the Expos would not
reach 2 million in attendance.
Then, in 1994, the Expos found themselves on top of their division,
that is, until the baseball strike wiped out the remaining six weeks of
the season, and the entire post-season. Just before the strike, the
Expos were 20-3 over the last 23 games. When the strike occurred, the
Expos had the best record in baseball (74-40). As Tim Raines has said,
"and then the strike [of 1994] . . . that was the beginning of the
end." Thereafter, the team continued to lose its best talent. The
team's mascot, Youppi!, was the only Expo that was a constant on the
team's roster. By 1998, the Expos were a mess. That season they
couldn't even draw 1 million fans. The next four seasons would end
the same way.
In November of 2001, Commissioner Bud Selig announced that Major League
Baseball would undergo a contraction of two teams, after a 28-2 vote by
the owners. Montreal was one of the two dissenting votes. In 2002, the
league voted to buy the Expos with the intent of eliminating the Expos
and the Twins. After the sale of the Expos was complete, the club was
placed in the care of the Commissioner's Office. Some subsequent
legal maneuvering allowed the two clubs to stay in the league, at least
for the time being.
In 2002, Hall of Famer and Expos Manager Frank Robinson said, "There
is no future." Raines added, "I feel for the fans more than
anything. I think the fans got fed up with having good teams and then
losing all their good players. Montreal fans were so used to winning,
with the Canadiens there. Then there was this whole series of things
that just kind of turned fans away."
A number of factors contributed to cause the Expos saga. Many people
blame poor business management. The first year the Expos finished last
in attendance in the National League was in 1991, which was the same
year the original owner Charles Bronfman sold the team to a group of
investors led by Claude Brochu. A lot of fingers have been pointed in
the direction of subsequent majority owner Jeff Loria as well. Minority
owners ended up sueing Loria and Commissioner Selig alleging fraud. In
their 44-page complaint, the minority owners alleged that "[Loria] and
his co-conspirators engaged in a scheme that had as its object the
destruction of baseball in Montreal, so that Mr. Loria and his
co-conspirators could justify relocating the franchise to the United
Baseball itself is suffering from many ailments. The numerous strikes
have served to push many baseball fans away. Players' salaries today
are simply ridiculous. The gross financial imbalance existing in the
league has disgusted many fans. The fan outcry that followed the recent
A-Rod signing was rather telling. A MLB team's roster changes more
often and more dramatically than the weather in New England. As Jerry
Seinfeld said years ago, and I'm paraphrasing, "As fans of a team in
professional baseball, and we visit our home team ballpark, we are not
routing for a team. The players for our teams change every year, if not
every day. All we are routing for are uniforms."
One of the saddest things is, despite all of its own problems which
contributed to the current state of the Expos, Major League Baseball
itself gave up on Montreal. Baseball failed to fix its major problems;
certain teams paid the price; so, the rest of the league votes to get
rid of them.
Sports teams become part of the soul of a community. When the Dodgers
left for California, it left a whole in the heart of Brooklyn. The same
thing happened to Cleveland when the Cleveland Browns left their
community. There are many other examples. Even though attendance at
Olympic Stadium has been painfully low in recent years, the death of the
Expos will undoubtedly leave scars upon Expos fans and the City of
Montreal for many years to come.
When I arrive in Montreal this summer, I look forward to speaking with
the citizens of the great City. I am really curious to hear what they
think about all of this.
I saw online that the highest priced ticket for an Expos game was only
$40 Canadian (for the VIP seats). That's like only $30 US. I've
been used to paying through the nose for tickets for Fenway Park-the
highest ticket prices in the league. It will be a blast. Montreal in
the summer. Culture and the French language. Cheap game tickets. No
lodging costs. Swimming before the game. Awesome food. Penguins.
Stephen Jordan is a lawyer, writer, and artist and has published many articles for various publications and websites, including the Sporting News. In addition, Jordan has created artwork for many periodicals, newspapers, websites, and for sports organizations, including the Boston Red Sox. Signed prints of his artwork are currently offered on eBay. To view Jordan's art, search "Fenway Art Print" at www.eBay.com, then click on "seller's other auctions" for all auctions offered by "Catfish326". For any information concerning Jordan's art feel free to e-mail him.