MONTREAL - On April 6, 1973, at Wrigley Field in Chicago, the Expos franchise's fifth opening day, Mike Torrez faced Ferguson Jenkins and the Cubs won 3-2. The score was not important. It was my first day of employment in baseball.
For the next 21 years, nine months and 25 days, the Expos were my home. To put that in a perspective of time, I have been married 22 years, eight months and 19 days. Following are some highlight and lowlight memories of those years.
LOW POINT: When Dodgers outfielder Rick Monday's home run disappeared over the fence in right-centre to win the best-of-five NLCS in 1981, nobody realized it would be the last time the Expos were a playoff team. Montreal had led the series, two games to one, returning home. With a roof not yet in place at Olympic Stadium, Sunday's game was postponed due to cold and wet. It was a blue Monday.
HIGH POINT: Warren Cromartie and the Canadian flag. Only 16 days earlier, Oct. 3 in New York, Wallace Johnson's pinch-hit triple chased home the winning runs at Shea Stadium to clinch the half-division title in the strike-shortened season of '81. The sight of Warren Cromartie, a native Floridian, racing up and down in front of the stands draped in the Canadian flag was spine-tingling. It was the same reaction, in the same park, owner Charles Bronfman had as he stood for the Canadian anthem, on opening day 1969, prior to his franchise's first game.
STANDING OVATIONS: Back in the day, the stadium could rock at the right moments. Two doubles that drew huge ovations stand out.
In Gary Carter's last game in a Montreal uniform, with 41,802 in the stands, in his one-year return to the Expos, the hall-of-fame catcher doubled in his final at-bat. As Tim Laker, the catcher of the future came out to pinch-run, the crowd roared for three minutes. A year later, as the Expos chased the Phillies down the stretch, deaf outfielder Curtis Pride doubled for his first major-league hit. The crowd of 40,000 paid tribute with a standing O that Pride said he could "feel" in his chest.
LE GRAND ORANGE RETURNS: When the Expos repatriated Rusty Staub from the Rangers in 1979, his return to Montreal came as a pinch-hitter in a July 27 double-header with the Pirates. The 59,280 in the stands roared as his name was announced, to the point he was forced to step out of the batter's box twice until they stopped.
CLUBHOUSE DUSTUPS: On July 20, 1978, GM Charlie Fox, a navy seal in World War II, was berating shortstop Chris Speier in front of his locker for his inconsistent play. Player rep Steve Rogers stepped in and asked Fox to leave the clubhouse. Fox decked him with one punch and Speier went out that night and hit for the cycle, snapping out of his slump.
In early August, 1984, Pete Rose was chastising radio talk-show host Jeff Rimer for his constant criticism of light-hitting second baseman Doug Flynn, Rose's best friend. All of a sudden chairs were flying, F-bombs were exchanged and a certain PR guy (me) was going for a ride on Rose's left arm. Shortly thereafter, Rose escaped down the back stairs of the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco to become manager of the Reds.
BOTTOM OF LIFE'S BARREL: Standing alone at the far end of the first-base dugout at Olympic Stadium with Tim Raines on his 22nd birthday, he was desolate. Wayne Parrish, formerly of the Toronto Star, had revealed in an exclusive story the extent of Raines' cocaine problems. "What a way to celebrate a birthday," a downcast and confused Raines said. It was one of the first public cases of a soon-to-be-huge problem in baseball. Raines, in the Expos dugout tonight as a September coach, did a marvellous job of straightening out his life and ended with fringe hall-of-fame stats.
"I would like to tell (the Montreal fans) thank you very much for embracing me throughout my career," Raines said Monday night.
"The way they reacted when I was on base. They gave me that push to become the player that I did."
`EL PRESIDENTE, EL PERFECTO:' That was the call by TSN's Dave Van Horne as the final out of Dennis Martinez's perfect game settled into Marquis Grissom's glove at Dodger Stadium. It's one of the great calls for a big moment, ranking with Tom Cheek's "Touch 'em all Joe." Late in the perfect game, over the top of the left-field bleachers, a parade of satellite trucks could be seen wending its way into Chavez Ravine. A strange sidelight to the story is that two days earlier, Friday night, Mark Gardner had no-hit the Dodgers through nine in a 0-0 game, losing in the 10th.
GUT-WRENCHING INJURIES: It's tough to put career-ending or career-altering injuries out of your mind. Two happened at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. The first was a right knee injury to Terry Francona in June '82. Chasing a double on to the rubber warning track in left, he turned and tore. The second was in September of '93, when Moises Alou rounded first on the then-artificial turf, slammed on the brakes and broke his shin, ankle and leg, sitting on the turf, dazed, with his foot at a 90-degree angle to his knee.
And, in the same vein, Tommy John's elbow injury at Jarry Park; Dave Dravecky's horrible injury at Olympic Stadium, leading to left-arm amputation; Ellis Valentine's jaw broken by a Roy Thomas pitch; Cliff Floyd, drawn into the baseline to take a throw, having his left wrist mangled; crazy shortstop Tim Foli spinning in the air like a rag doll after laying a hard tag on a human tank, Bob Watson (Foli ate through a straw for the next month).
DESERT STORM ... NOT! The beginning of the end for the forgettable Tom Runnells as manager came at spring training '92. Replacing the laid-back Buck Rodgers, he wanted to demonstrate his policy of discipline. The first day of camp at West Palm Beach, Fla., he rode the back of a golf cart dressed as Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf snapping off salutes to his players. Not funny. He was fired during the season, replaced by Felipe Alou.
FIRST GAME AT BIG O: After opening the '77 season on the road, the Expos paraded to Olympic Stadium from a downtown rally, opening against the Phils in front of 57,592. Steve Carlton beat the home side 7-2, but then they reeled off four straight wins. Everything was still under construction.
If tonight is indeed the last Expos game in Montreal, it will join the list, near the very top. It's a night of much tristesse.
Do you think a new stadium would of saved the expos? I mean if the fans come out..you can do a lot with 35,000 to 60,000 People in the stadium...it's crazy on opening night and I think if they put a winning product out with a nice stadium, the fans would of come.