Yesterday was a tough day. Reading the media reports detailing the Expos’ planned move to Washington, D.C. and the last game at the Big O wasn’t easy to swallow.
There was one major benefit from all of it, though: The avalanche of e-mails I received, from BP readers, old friends, family, everyone who felt the pain of losing the Expos as much as I did. There were even well-wishers with no attachment to the Expos writing in with encouraging words. The letters I received made me smile, even laugh. For that, I offer my sincere thanks.
In fact, I’m going to go one better. After reading my Expos flashbacks, a slew of readers chimed in with recollections of their own, games, moments and players that left indelible marks, some from 20, 30 years ago. With their permission, I’m going to run those reminiscences here, for other readers to enjoy.
But first, a couple of quick clarifications and corrections from yesterday’s article. As several readers noted, Tommy Greene‘s no-hitter in 1991 was a day game, not a night game. This leads me to wonder how, as an 11th-grader at the time, I could have gone to that game. Uh, let’s just hope Mr. Longo’s not reading this.
Also, I wanted to quickly bring up two other games that stood out for me, among the many I didn’t mention. Several readers noted the infamous 1-0 loss to the Dodgers on Aug. 23, 1989. What made the game infamous? For one, it lasted 22 innings. The game should have ended several times during the course of the night, but kept going when umpires botched both a ball trapped off the right-field wall by Larry Walker that was instead called an out, and a terrible out call at the plate. After 21 innings of stalemate, the Dodgers tapped their 25th man, ancient backup catcher Rick Dempsey, to bat in the 22nd. Dempsey promptly jerked a ball right down the left-field line for a home run. The losing pitcher was the great Dennis Martinez, forced into an emergency relief appearance. The winning pitcher was John Wetteland who’d win Expos fans’ hearts back in spades in later years after a Dodger giveaway (Delino Deshields for Pedro Martinez wasn’t too shabby either).
My two most memorable moments from that game didn’t involve the game itself. Around the 15th inning, Tommy Lasorda blew his top, complaining to the umpires that Expos mascot Youppi! was overstepping his bounds, presumably dancing too vigorously on top of the dugout or something. The umps turned around and tossed him. Youppi!, not Lasorda. Safe to say, that’s the only time I’ve ever seen a mascot ejected.
My other memory of the game was figuring out a way to get home. I’d taken the Metro (subway, for you Yanks) to the game with my buddy Bean. Unfortunately the Metro doesn’t run all that late on Wednesday nights. By inning 17 or so, we realized we were in deep trouble. Unable to coax our parents to pick us up, with not nearly enough cash to get a cab, not yet old enough to drive and lacking a car anyway, we started to get worried. We decided to go around to every person in the stadium, to see if we knew anyone there. Games at the Big O were always a social event growing up, and you could count on seeing friends and acquaintances every time. With fewer than 500 people left by the 20th inning, we found a kid we knew from a rival school, who’d piled into a van to go to the game with seven other people. Could we bum a ride, we asked? The question didn’t even need asking. We stuck it out for five hours and 14 minutes that night, and we’d be rewarded for our persistence.
One more. Aug. 15, 1995. The Expos were on their way to a last-place finish in the NL East. But my buddies and I had traveled to Shea Stadium, wrapping up the first of what would become an annual summer baseball road trip tradition; all we wanted to do was show up, cheer as loud as we could, and maybe get a few New York fans to throw batteries at us (actually I’ve always liked Shea, and Mets fans, but as first-timers at the time, we expected the worst).
First inning, Expos put two men on against Jason Isringhausen. David Segui comes up to bat. Having been stripped of most of the stars from the 1994 team, the Expos were low on good hitters. But earlier that season, they’d managed to nab Segui from the Mets for a never-did-anything pitcher named Reid Cornelius. Segui was just a good player at the time, a .300 hitter with moderate power. But we didn’t care. We wanted to let the Mets fans have it. As they announced Segui’s name on the loudspeaker, the four of us got up, and at the top of our lungs, in the middle of the crowded first-base side box seats, belted out: “M-V-P! M-V-P!”
Segui took a couple pitches. “M-V-P! M-V-P!” Then, ahead in the count, he got a fat pitch out over the plate. Thwack. Three-run homer.
If you could have seen the looks on the Mets fans’ faces as we chanted Segui all the way around the bases…. After the game–a 3-1 Expos win, of course–four lifelong friends/Expos fans spilled out of the stadium. As the trademark song played over the loudspeakers, we sang, horribly out of tune: “…I want to be a part of it! New York, New Yooooork!”
Ah, memories. And speaking of memories, here’s the best of what you the readers had to offer. Though I also received e-mails from places like Phoenix, New York and Germany, fare thee warned that plenty of Canucks–both current and ex-pats–also wrote in. Any additional u’s left in the text are entirely intentional. Onward:
Thanks for the article. Having grown up in Ottawa in the 1970s and 1980s, the Expos were always my favourite team in any sport. I remember my parents sending me parts of the Ottawa Citizen sports pages when I was at summer camp and checking the Expos box scores. I also remember scoring 40 games in 1987. Watching that 22-inning, 1-0 loss against the Dodgers, decided on a Rick Dempsey home run off Dennis Martinez.
I was never as passionate a fan as you were, but even to this day–living in London, Ontario and only going, at most, to one game per year (most recently this past Saturday)–I’ve been a little happier whenever the team won and a little dismayed whenever they lost.
There was always terrible frustration–over the terrible stadium, over the team’s inability or unwillingness to develop patient hitters, the playoff near-misses. No great triumphs, but rather a lot of smaller ones.
Wonderful article. You said what needed to be said. Montrealers’ love and participation in baseball goes back to the Royals and Delormier Park. On a day where I’ve been communicating with old friends at McGill architecture school, your words augment the nostalgia I’m feeling today. My dad took me to my first baseball game at the Jarry Park bleachers in 1970. It wasn’t even a Double-A park and the bleachers were a simple metal grandstand that you’d find at any high school football field today. They were playing the Cardinals, and I got a close look at Lou Brock in left. But my most intense memory as a 12-year-old was seeing people shaking the structure by pounding their feet to rally the Expos.
Although I didn’t love the Big O, I did love those teams emerging in the late ’70s; Cromartie, Dawson, Carter, Ellis Valentine, Rogers, and my favorite, Larry Parrish the alligator wrestler. I saw Tim Raines‘ first major-league game at the O. He led off the game with a walk, stole second, stole third and came home on the wild throw. I think that served notice that the Expos were going to be a dangerous team.
Maybe if they didn’t bring Steve Rogers in to pitch the ninth and Rick Monday hadn’t hit that homer in 1981, (one of the saddest days of my life!) I believe the Expos would have beaten the Yankees in that World Series. Maybe then 1994 would not have had such a devastating effect. Oh well…
Thank you for reviving so many memories of Nos Expos. My history with the team goes all the way back to expansion and Parc Jarry–the underrated Coco Laboy, Beetle Bailey, Rusty Staub, Stoney, Ronnie Hunt–all these guys who taught a 10-year-old kid how to play baseball. We all mimicked Mack Jones‘ windmill warmup swings. But all the coaches taught us Rusty’s upright stance with the front arm extended across the chest.
The innocence ended with the 1981 team that Rick Monday knocked out of the playoffs (we just knew Steve Rogers would groove that pitch). Then again, that team wasn’t so innocent itself; the drug abuse infecting major-league sports was rampant in the Expos dugout.
Jarry was home to my favorite ballgame anecdote: Johnny Bench and the Big Red Machine were in town. Bench was going through an ugly divorce that was making the papers–his wife was a model named Vicki. I was sitting about four rows behind the Reds dugout and could almost reach out and touch the players as they walked down the steps to the bench. A guy one row behind me and about two seats to the left decides he’s going to ride Bench all day about Vicki. First inning, Bench is in the on-deck circle, the guy yells in a long whine: ‘Hey John-ny, how’s Vicki?’ Next time Bench comes up, same thing: ‘Hey John-ny, how’s Vicki?’ Third time Bench is up, he hears it in the on-deck circle: ‘Hey John-ny, how’s Vicki?’ Not once did Bench acknowledge the guy. Bench makes an out, trots back to the dugout. ‘Hey John-ny, how’s Vicki?’ Bench looks into the stands, fixes the guy with an ugly stare at the top of the dugout steps, loads and fires a rope of tobacco juice that covers the guy’s face. Still silent, Bench disappears into the cover of the dugout.
I have two mementos from those early Expos: I’ll swing my original Mack Jones’ Louisville Slugger bat one last time tonight, and then lay it down next to my Rawlings Rusty Staub mitt.
From one lifelong Expos fan (born in Verdun, raised in Lasalle, now living far away) to another: Thanks for the wonderful article. The Curtis Pride anecdote brought tears to my eyes.
I too was there in the right-field bleachers (no one ever believes me that it only cost a buck!). My fave memory: Gary’s first game back with the Mets in 1984–he went 3/3 and my pal and I taunted Jesse Orosco in the Met bullpen below us, calling him ‘ugly.’ He went in and promptly lost the game.
I hope someone has already talked about (1) John Boc-ca-bel-la‘s name being a highlight, at a time when there were very few on-field attractions; (2) Rusty Staub learning enough French to talk to the media, but needing immediate translation to understand the questions he would then answer; (3) Val-der-ree Val-der-rah being sung by the throngs at the Big O; (4) Al Oliver‘s perfect swing that year he won the batting and RBI titles; (5) 1994; (6) setting the attendance mark for all of major-league baseball in the early 1980s; (7) Bill Stoneman pitching a no-hitter in the ninth game in Expos history; (8) seeing Tim Raines play second base (!); (9) Ellis Valentine’s arm; (10) etc. I could go on and on. What a shame to be moved. It is a sad end to a once-glorious franchise. Will Montreal become the only ex-major league city (other than some 19th-century cities)?
Well, I join you in mourning. Our family grew to love the Big O and the ‘Pos. From the teetering tower and the faulty umbrella that covers the field to the clack-clack of those dang seats that smack when you stand up, to the echo of your own voice.
Once, I saw Tom Candiotti actually walk up into the stands, sit down and chat it up with some of the ladies. (OK, not during the game, but you know. How cool is that?) The players were always more relaxed and friendly, and it seemed you could always be close. (How about this: Did you know that Ellis Burks THINKS he knows the words to the Canadian National Anthem, but really he doesn’t?)
And Youppi! was the best of all the mascots, if only because he didn’t HAVE to pretend he was anything. He’s not a Parrot or a Chicken or a “Phanatic” or a walking baseball-head. He was an attraction unto himself. Our kids LOVED him.
So let me share with you the one most memorable moment. It was Bonds (of course) hitting a ball to right that went so high and so far it hit one of the speakers hanging from the roof. It came back down onto the turf with extreme force, spinning, smacked the turf with an audible “whack” and bounced back about 20 rows into the stands off the right-field line. I believe it was Geoff Blum that applauded as Bonds rounded the bases. Everyone else forgot to. They just watched, in awe.
I suppose it could have happened in any park. In PNC, it might have bounced into the Allegheny, and that would be neat. That wasn’t the point. The point was that there was no TV contract at the time. We rushed to the concourse to see the replay on the TVs, because they stilled taped the games with the in-house camera crew. But the shot was so improbable that the camera man completely missed it. All you saw was the ball leaving the screen, empty right-field stands, and the ball reentering the screen for a moment. As if it was some errant piece of the ex-space station, it came straight back down onto the field.
It was something only I, my family, and 4,000 of our favorite Francophiles could have witnessed.
Now I live in New Hampshire, and the FisherCats games are very nice. I considered taking out a third mortgage so I could afford to take the family to Fenway, but my wife nixed the idea. It’s still cheaper just to drive to the Big O.
I’m a big baseball fan from Germany, and although I’m a Yankees fan first, I always liked the Expos a lot. After hearing about contraction and relocation the last couple of years, I didn’t think I would be that stunned when it became official. I once had the pleasure to see an Expos game at Shea Stadium in 2001 (they won 7-1 behind a great Javier Vazquez) and I don´t think baseball has seen enough of this team.
But it’s not only this move that makes me sad, it´s the general feeling that in all U.S. sports teams are moving to Southern California, Florida or Arizona. After all those Canadian hockey teams, the Vancouver Grizzlies, the Hartford Whalers and now the Expos. Fans in these cities have the same right to have a “hometown team.” Who is next??? The Utah Jazz??? The Packers??? The Colts??? Baseball dies in Montreal and we get yet another faceless team without tradition in its new “home.” It´s a sad day for sports.
Great article. As an Expos fan from 1983 to, well, today, the whole situation makes me very sad. MLB doesn’t know it, but they lost a distinct part of their history–“le premier coussin,” “le voltigeur de gauche,” “le grand chelem“–these are all parts of MLB history that no one will ever know about ever again.
I’ve been in San Francisco for the last five years, and I’ve made sure to see the Expos at least once, if not twice when they visit each year. When I lived in Toronto, I saw the Canada Day matchup with the Jays every year. Expos fans loved their team, and no one can ever take that away from them.
Sitting here in Portland, this Saskatchewan boy’s eyes are filled with tears after reading your article. Like you, I won’t be able to cheer for a D.C. team, know for a fact that Rock is a Hall-of-Famer, and can see Curtis Pride tipping his cap. My memories go back to the promise of 1979, the great (?!?) Charlie Lea, the bleeping Mike Schmidt in the final series of 1980, Rick (double bleep) Monday, and Tim Raines’ amazing May 2 game in 1987, the first game back due to the weird free agent rules and collusion of that previous winter. What baseball (and Bud Selig) have done to the Expos and the city of Montreal is terrible.
As a lifelong Expos fan, thank you for the memories. I will also sorely miss them. I will root for the former players (some already departed, like Guerrero and Cabrera, and the soon-to-be-departed, like Vidro), but given the gutting of the organization by Florida, there isn’t really much to link the Washington franchise with the Expos of old.
I hope the Expos win (last night). But I suppose if they don’t, as I went to the game on Friday, I can say I attended their last home win, and it was a great game.
With fond memories and sad regret,
With the recent passing of my mother, I remember Mother’s Day 1981, a double-header vs. San Francisco. It was cold in May at the Big Owe and my mother was bored, neither team was hitting.
We finally left in the middle of the seventh, the second game of the double-header: Charlie Lea’s no-hitter.
That night was my first as a radio broadcaster at CKTS in Sherbrooke and I wrote and read a report on the game.
So many games that could be added to the list…
Blue Monday, which is the first game that I can still remember watching. I’m sure I saw other games in the 1981 season, but they’ve faded, and Blue Monday stands out.
Tim Raines’ return to the lineup on May 2, 1987.
Pedro Martinez going for a perfect game, hitting Reggie Sanders, and Sanders going ballistic.
I still remember that 22-inning game against the Dodgers, with Lasorda blowing a gasket and getting Youppi! ejected.
John Wetteland at the home opener, 1992. Standing O from the time he entered the game until he closed it out. First appearance in Montreal as an Expo, and the whole crowd stands. And people say Expos fans don’t know much about baseball. Bah. They were excited about 1994 from the very start.
As a former Montrealer, and a huge Expos fan, now living in Prince Edward Island, I share your sadness in what now appears to be the final departure of Nos Amours. In reading your article, I also share many of the same memories–of wild Opening Day games and crowds, and of many pennant races in which the home team fell just a bit short.
Among some of the other in-person memories: The 1982 All-Star game in Montreal, Pete Rose‘s 4,000th hit and a huge brawl featuring the giant Jeff Juden. I had the great pleasure to watch the fantastic talent of players like Tim Raines, Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Pedro Martinez, Vladimir Guerrero, and lament the unrealized potential of Ellis Valentine. I also fondly remember that Montreal housed its share of eccentric/quotable players, from Bill Lee to Oil Can Boyd to Delino Deshields and John Wetteland.
It seemed like the Expos were always faced with a talented rival that was just a bit better. I think of the ‘we are family’ Pirates (with Papa Stargell’s golden seat way off in the Olympic Stadium distance), the Phillies with Carlton and Schmidt and later the fearsome pitching staff of the Braves.
I will remember: the annoying scoreboard chicken; the Valderi, Valdera chorus; smoked meat at the Stade; $5 bleacher seats; and spying on (Expos fan) Donald Sutherland.
But mostly I will remember the baseball and the players. I will remember Eli Wallach (we shared the same birth date), the sheer force of Larry Parrish’s swing, the ageless Woodie Fryman, and Steve Rogers breaking his wrist while pinch-running. I will remember key saves from Ugie and Jeff Reardon, listening to Dave Van Horne and The Duke, and watching the Rock and the Hawk. Even when the Expos are gone, I will remember.
Good luck in Washington boys. For me, this is where I get off.