September 29, 2004
Au Revoir, Mes Amours
Saying Goodbye to the ExposBy now you've probably heard that the Montreal Expos are moving to Washington, D.C. for 2005.
At least that's what they tell us. Of course there is still the outstanding issue of the Expos' former owners and their RICO suit against Major League Baseball, as well as gaining the approval of the notoriously flaky Washington, D.C. city council. Placating Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos is a barrier, though if Jayson Stark's report on the matter is accurate, the Orioles could pull some serious shenanigans under the terms of their settlement with MLB. There's also the matter of precedent: Montreal and Washington baseball fans alike have been jerked around every year for what seems like forever.
Given all those factors and more, I'll refrain from making predictions on the team's future. Given the strong signs that do suggest the team will play its final game in Montreal tonight, however, it seemed appropriate to say some goodbyes.
For those of you who've never had the ummm...pleasure of hearing me rant about the Expos in a fit of rose-colored glee, know that I'm an unabashed 'Spos fan. Have been my whole life, through all the team's countless hardships, plus two moves that have landed me 3,000 miles from the Big O's right-field bleachers, where I used to jump up and down, hold up giant signs, eat poutine with my nutty friends, and chat up Larry Walker during pitching changes.
Now that the Expos appear set to leave, I'm writing the article I've dreaded writing for almost a decade. Every year since then, people--friends, family members, colleagues, BP readers--have asked me the same question, over and over: What will you do when they're gone?
I won't root for them, that much I know. Washington is a great city, and I think the Expos will find a warm home there. A waterfront site revolving around a long-planned redevelopment in the promising, but still hardscrabble, Navy Yard area has major potential. Given the rabid interest in landing a team that I saw during my two years living in The District, I strongly believe the 'Spos/Sens/Nats/Feds will be a success.
As Jerry Seinfeld liked to say, rooting for a sports team is like rooting for laundry. Sure, you grow attached to certain players. But trades, free agency--all of that means your favorites may not be around long. That's not a hopeless romantic talking, but a realist. Teams don't do themselves any good by holding on to players well past their primes for the sake of familiarity. I've grown to like and root for plenty of Expos over the years, but that's not what's kept me going all this time.
Fandom, more often than not, is about the city in which the team plays. Your hometown team becomes part of your identity. When your team wins, your hometown walks a little taller--you walk a little taller. When your team loses, you're not quite right--a piece of yourself has been knocked down a peg. I was born and raised in Montreal. For as long as I can remember, an Expos victory has provided that bounce in my step; an Expos loss slumped my shoulders ever so slightly.
Tracing fandom can lead you to an even smaller place than your hometown. It goes to the ballpark where you grew up watching the games. It extends to the chesterfield (sofa, for you Yanks) where you sat, feet nowhere near touching the floor, seeing your first images of your baby-blue pajama-top wearing hometown heroes. I remember getting my first taste of Expos baseball watching games with my grandfather Max, sitting in his living room, watching a scratchy old TV, listening to him cheer Andre Dawson, rail against Rodney Scott. "Oh no, not The Woodchopper again!" he'd cry as Scott strode to the plate, his trademark ugly swing about to unleash another hopeless grounder to second on Expo Nation.
Really, that's what being a fan of a sports team is all about. Enjoying the moment, cherishing the memories.
Before I share some of those memories with you, I wanted to reiterate an argument that gets lost in all the cheap jokes and ridicule of the media and the masses: Montreal didn't let the Expos down--MLB did. As in any city, fans came out to support a winner, then dwindled in number when the team lost. As one terrible ownership group transitioned to another, Expos fans endured endless assaults on the viability of their team, their stadium, their players, their city and themselves, from Major League Baseball and their team's owners. As word spread of a possible move, fans staged rallies, voiced their opinions, showed up to cheer their team. Eventually--long past the point at which most rational people would have thrown in the towel--Montreal baseball fans decided they'd had enough of being toyed with and laughed at.
So please, if you're debating the issue online or at the water cooler, don't lower yourself to the level of the mindless columnists and dundering talking heads blasting Montreal for blowing it. If the Expos move, it'll be MLB that blew it, losing a world-class city with a baseball-rich history and a unique, vibrant culture unmatched almost anywhere in the world. The critics--from Bryn Smith's wife famously begging to leave after failing to find Doritos in the grocery store to Bud Selig trashing Montreal every chance he got--simply missed out on a great thing.
There are so many memories, but we'll focus on 1982 to 1993 here. The '82 season was the first where I have vivid memories of games at Olympic Stadium. The '93 season featured one of the most amazing comebacks I've ever seen. The Expos stormed back from 15 games out in August after having dealt away staff ace Dennis Martinez only to have him veto the trade as a 10-and-5 player. The team ended up in contention, eventually playing a showdown series with the Phillies in September that ranked as one of the most dramatic ever played by the Expos. It was also the year before the ecstasy and agony of '94, when the Expos built the best record in baseball on the backs of an all-world team, led by Marquis Grissom, Moises Alou, Ken Hill, John Wetteland, Larry Walker, and many others. The '94 season has been discussed in great detail, and the years thereafter meant fewer Big O games for me, culminating with a move in 1997.
With apologies both to the era of Jarry Park, Le Grand Orange and Coco Laboy, as well as the heyday of the incredible Pedro Martinez and the incomparable Vladimir Guerrero, let's travel back in time. (Thanks to Retrosheet, for making childhood memories at the Big O come alive through their tireless work. Support Retrosheet!)
So long, Expos. If this really is the end, know that there are many of us out there, die-hards who'll never forget the joy you brought to the great city of Montreal. You'll be missed.