May 4, 2020
We journey north of the border this week to get our first at-bats with the 35-year adventure formerly known as the Montreal Expos, with author and de facto team historian Danny Gallagher (Always Remembered: New Revelations and Old Tales About Those Fabulous Expos).
Created in expansionary haste by the National League in 1969, MLB’s first-ever Canadian franchise was named after the city’s futuristic “Expo 67” World’s Fair, and expected to be domiciled in a new domed stadium by 1972 after a temporary stint at a barely-minor-league field in the city’s Jarry Park. Chronically delayed and reshaped by preparations for the 1976 Summer Olympics, that permanent home (a cavernous, drafty and still-unfinished Olympic Stadium) didn’t formally arrive until 1977 – with its promised roof not in place until a full decade later.
The Expos’ locational challenges were only slightly overshadowed by their mediocre play on the field – which, while competitive at times (they had the best cumulative winning percentage in the NL from 1979-83, for example) – netted just one post-season appearance (in a convoluted strike-shortened 1981 season) in the team’s 35-year stay in Montreal. (The strike-abandoned season of 1994, when the team led the NL East by six games with eight weeks to play, literally and figuratively didn’t count.)
Still, the Expos had their share of talent (buttressed by a reliably prolific farm system) – boasting 11 MLB Hall of Famers (including fan favorites Gary Carter, Andre Dawson and Tim Raines) – and a panoply of memorable characters like Rusty Staub, Warren Cromartie, Steve Rogers, and Tim Wallach.
When Major League Baseball voted to contract two clubs in 2001, the Expos were targeted as one of them – beset by dwindling attendances and cellar-dwelling records during the latter half of the 1990s. A ham-handed league takeover that year led to three final lame-duck seasons – including a bizarre relocation of “home games” in 2003-04 to San Juan, Puerto Rico – before moving to Washington to become the Nationals.