Monday, April 4, 2016

Island of Lost Teams (Part IV--The Montreal Expos)

Pro baseball was being played in Montreal as early as 1890 with entries in the International Association. The Montreal Royals of the Eastern League lasted for twenty seasons and were later revived as a Dodger farm club in 1939. The team was sold and relocated in 1960, prompting city officials to rally for a major league franchise. A bid was placed at the 1967 winter meetings. Dodger owner Walter O'Malley, who was chairman of the expansion committee, endorsed the proposal and convinced his peers to do the same. In May of '68, it was officially announced that teams would be added in San Diego and Montreal for the '69 campaign. The Expos' team name was derived from the Expo 67 World's Fair, which had been held in Montreal. Under pressure from league officials, club owners settled on Jarry Park as a home. The 30,000 seat venue would remain the site of home games until 1977, when the club moved into Olympic Stadium.

The Expos finished below .500 in each of their first ten seasons. Fan interest reached an all time low in 1976, when the club ended up 46 games behind the Phillies and averaged less than 8,000 paying customers per game. Things began to turn around in the late-'70s with the addition of several future Hall of Famers--outfielder Andre Dawson, catcher Gary Carter and first baseman Tony Perez. Tim Raines--a borderline Hall of Famer--made his debut in 1980 as the Expos finished among the top three teams in the division for five straight years.

In 1981, a players strike caused the season to be split into halves. Montreal won the NL East in the second half, earning the first postseason berth in franchise history. They faced the Dodgers in the NLCS and held a 2 games to 1 advantage before losing the last two meetings. Game 5 was decided on a two-out ninth inning homer by Rick Monday. The Expos never made it back to the postseason though they came close. In 1994, they had the best record in the majors at 74-40 when another strike wiped out the rest of the campaign.

Over the years, the Expos developed a reputation for being unable to hang onto their best playersAmong the prominent stars to depart were Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Andres Galarraga (to name just a few). The '94 players strike angered fans in Montreal and attendance slumped mightily. When Jeffrey Loria took over as managing general partner, he made an earnest attempt to revitalize the club, even going so far as to lay plans for a new stadium. As Loria increased his share of the revenue, the other minority owners failed to follow suit. Despite Loria's efforts, the Expos posted the lowest attendance figures in decades during the 2001 slate. Major League baseball sought to oust the Twins and Expos after the season was over and owners voted 28-2 in favor of the move. But both teams survived through legal means.

The Expos played their last season in 2004. With the loss of fan favorite Vladimir Guerrero to free agency, there were few stars left on the roster. The club got off to a horrific 5-19 start then never got back on track, finishing at 67-95. In late-September, MLB officials announced that the club would be moving to Washington in 2005. The last home game was played on September 29 and resulted in a humbling 9-1 loss. The club ended its tenure in Montreal with a sub-.500 record. 

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