Montreal Expos not forgotten

Author brings back truckload of memories of team and nearly won it all

The hottest team in Major League Baseball so far this new season just might be the Montreal Expos.

That’s really saying something because the ’Spos as fans call them have been dead and buried for 10 years. The late lamented National League squad which ushered Canada into the majors in 1969 officially decamped for Washington D.C. in 2004.

They have not been forgotten however.

On the final weekend of spring training this year Montrealers packed the Expos’ former home Olympic Stadium to watch the hated Toronto Blue Jays play two against the New York Mets. The party atmosphere that was a hallmark of the team in its heyday was evident once again as those in the stands chanted “go Expos” throughout the proceedings.

All this might be a happy accident for author Jonah Keri whose new book on the Expos Up Up and Away: The Kid The Hawk Rock Vladi Pedro Le Grand Orange Youppi! the Crazy Business of Baseball & The Ill-Fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos hit the stores at the end of March. If so he deserves it for this is a very fine piece of work. Just when I was beginning to forget the ’Spos Keri has brought back a truckload of memories of a team that was always interesting fun and very nearly won it all.

Keri who grew up in Montreal and has worked in the States as a sports journalist and author ( The Extra 2% ) has pulled together a history of the team that’s revealing and engaging. All the big names are here (Staub Carter Dawson Raines Martinez and Guerrero) as are some not so big ones.

There is for example reliever Bill “Spaceman” Lee who famously got in a fight with the team’s manager left the ballpark and hit a local bar in full uniform during a game. He downed a couple with some fans to calm himself down then made it back before the ninth inning.

Then there’s starter Pascal Perez who once got lost in Atlanta and managed to make two complete circuits of the city on the ring road before being told at a gas station that the team was waiting for him at the stadium and the game was about to begin.

There is lots more stuff like that in these pages but Keri has also carefully traced the events that led to the team’s demise including rampant drug use the ’94 players’ strike and the string of player fire sales in the late ’90s that stripped the roster bare. Among the pallbearers were the Blue Jays who evicted Montreal from Ontario TV screens thereby eliminating the ’Spos growth potential. This after the Expos worked hard to help Toronto land its squad in 1977.

The result is a book that is a near perfect homage to a team that surely deserved a better fate.

Up Up and Away made me remember smile and laugh out loud. But when I put it down it made me think that Montreal deserves another shot at The Show. If this book sparks the same thought in the minds of others Keri will have done much more than just produce an excellent summer read. He will have served the cause of justice too.

(Up Up and Away by Jonah Keri published by Random House Canada 416 pp.)