To begin tonight’s article I would like to offer my heartiest congratulations to the 2017 Major League Baseball Hall of Fame class. Jeff Bagwell, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Tim Raines have etched their immortality as players in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. In addition, executive John Scheurholz and commissioner Bud Selig were also enshrined. Congratulations again to all!
Of the five new members, the one that stands out the most to this writer is Tim Raines. He isn’t noticeable because his stats were better than that of Pudge and Bagwell, although he had more stolen bases than the other two combined. What stands out for me is the logo on Raines’ cap on his plaque.
Tim Raines’ Hall of Fame plaque will be the last one to depict a Montreal Expos cap.
Tim Raines joins Andre Dawson (class of 2010) and Gary Carter (class of 2003) as the representatives of the Montreal Expos in Cooperstown.
The Montreal Expos were one of four expansion franchises that joined the Majors in 1969. They joined the National League along with the San Diego Padres, while the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots joined the American League.
The Pilots franchise would only play the 1969 season in the Pacific Northwest. They went to Spring Training in 1970 while the franchise was up for sale. During Spring Training the team was purchased by Bud Selig. Selig, a former minority owner of the Milwaukee Braves sought to return Major League Baseball to the city when the Braves left for Atlanta . Upon closing on the sale of the Pilots, Selig, just prior to the start of the 1970 season, relocated the Pilots to Milwaukee. The franchise would open the season as the Milwaukee Brewers. They would play the schedule originally prepared for the Pilots.
Now, back to the Expos. The Expos were the first Major League Baseball team located outside of the United States. The Toronto Blue Jays would join Montreal north of the border in 1977 when they began play in the American League. The franchise would enjoy moderate success in Montreal. They called Jarry Park, which for years was the smallest venue in the Majors, home from 1969-1976.
Jarry Park, original home of the Montreal Expos. Capacity for baseball was 30,000, the smallest in Major League Baseball.
Following the 1976 Summer Olympics, which were held in Montreal, the Expos moved into Olympic Stadium. They began play there in 1977 and would call the “Big O” home until they relocated after the 2004 season.
The Expos enjoyed some success on the field and at the gate through the 1970’s and 1980’s. In the strike shortened year of 1981, the Expos made their only appearance in the post-season. Since the 1981 season was interrupted between mid June and early August by a players strike, it was split into two halves. The Philadelphia Phillies lead the National League Eastern Division at the time the players went on strike. When play resumed, the Phillies were declared first half divisional champions. The second half was a new season, with a new set of standings. The Expos would finish the second half on top in the National League East and play a best-of-five series against the Phillies to determine the divisional champion. Montreal would defeat Philadelphia in five games. Raines was part of that 1981 squad. The Expos would lose the National League Championship Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers, also in five games. The Dodgers went on to win the World Series.
Montreal Expos celebrate winning the 1981 National League Eastern Division championship after defeating the Philadelphia Phillies in a five game series set up by a strike shortened season.
Alongside the three Expos that are enshrined in the Hall of Fame, the stars that graced French Canada were many. Randy Johnson began his career in Montreal. Pedro Martinez gained notariety in French Canada. Rusty Staub continues to be a folk hero in Montreal to this day.
Major League Baseball has had two mid-season work stoppages in its history. The 1981 strike gave the Expos their only real shot at a World Championship. The other stoppage happened in 1994. The players walked out in August of that year and the season never resumed. The Expos had a record of 74-40 on August 12, 1994. They had the best record in baseball, but never got to finish the season. This strike was the beginning of the end of the Montreal Expos.
The ownership of the Expos could not keep up with its American competitors financially. Many of their stars were traded away, and as a result attendance and fan interest dwindled. The Expos finally were relocated by Major League Baseball following the 2004 season. They moved the franchise to Washington, DC, where they are now known as the Washington Nationals. To date the Nationals have yet to make an appearance in the World Series.
Raines will be the final Expos player to be enshrined in Cooperstown, this franchise’s next inductee will be sporting a Nationals cap. Truly the end of an era.