Alright, time to get back to the blogging grind. And with a title like “The Washington Dilemma”, you might think I’m writing a crime novel. I’m not.
I’m referrring to the Washington Nationals. I was – and am – a Montreal Expos fan. Yes, I’m that old. When I first starting following the international pastime, my guys were Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Tim Raines,and Al Oliver. For some reason, I was also a big fan of Doug Flynn and Terry Francona (in fact, I can still remember Francona’s career-altering knee injury, watching it on CBC). Later on, after Gary Carter was traded to the Mets, my allegiance to les Expos went with him. I was young, don’t judge me.
After Carter won his World Series championship in 1986, and his knees started to crumble, and his playing days wound down with stops in San Francisco and (the ultimate slap in the face!) Los Angeles, he ended his Hall of Fame career back in Montreal. Hello, new favorite team. Like the squad ten years earlier, this club was competitive, and stacked with young talent. My favorite (active) player became Larry Walker, and he, along with Moises Alou, Marquis Grissom, and Delino DeShields formed the core of a promising squad. Soon after, they were joined by Cliff Floyd, John Wetteland, and Ken Hill. DeShields was traded to the still-hated Dodgers for a skinny pitcher named Pedo Martinez.
In 1994, they vaulted ahead of the pack in the National League. Still young, balanced, and very talented, they surged to a 74-40 record before a work stoppage killed the season. No more games were played. No World Series championship was handed out.
And just like that, baseball was dead in Montreal.
Not technically; the Expos stayed in Quebec until 2004. But it wasn’t pretty. Just three more winning records in that ten-year span, primarily due to the fact that the Expos couldn’t retain their great players anymore. Walker, Martinez, et al became too expensive to keep, so they were traded or left via free agency. The pipepline didn’t dry up, though - they were replaced by Vladimir Guerrero, Jose Vidro, Javier Vazquez, and Orlando Cabrera, who were all All-Stars.
Unfortunately, various off-field factors conspired to push the Expos out of Montreal. Olympic Stadium was literally falling apart, but it was never going to be replaced. The miserly consortium of owners (who purchased the team from Charles Bronfman in 1991) sold the club to Jeffery Loria in 1999, and he did little to satisfy the home crowd. He only owned the team for two years, after which he purchased the Florida Marlins… taking most of the Expos’ front-office staff ,scouts, and computers with him. His legacy in Montreal will never be compared to, say, Rocket Richard. (And if you can believe it, he might be even less popular in Miami. The Marlins are a trainwreck right now.)
The Expos limped into the 2002 season owned and managed by Major League Baseball itself. The vultures were circling a once-proud franchise. Despite still having a modicum of talent on the field, they were on a bare-bones budget, and considering that they were, in essence, owned by every other owner in MLB, it was nearly impossible for the team to make transactions to get better. They were playing games in Puerto Rico, they were on the verge of contraction… their manager were allegedly prone to falling asleep on the bench… it was all rather embarrassing.
The Expos played ther last home game on September 29, 2004. They were reborn as the Washington Nationals in 2005, and were still owned by MLB until the following year.
And I hated them.
They weren’t the Expos.
But now I’ve seen the light.
Look, don’t accuse me of jumping on the bandwagon. They are a really good team, young, loaded with a great offense and great pitching, and they have an ownership group that is willing to invest in the club. All great, but they wouldn’t compel me to cheer for them; after all, I’ve cheered for other less-than-successful teams in other sports for years. (Go Raiders!)
But I’ve realized that my anger was misplaced. It was never the players’ fault that the team left Montreal. Furthermore, it wasn’t the fans’ fault they left – yes, attendance plummeted those final few years, but hell, imagine how bitter and frustrated they were. Montreal was always a great baseball city, and with the league and the national economy both faring far better than they were a decade ago, I’d like to think that it could be again. Did you know that former Expos star Warren Cromartie is leading a group exporing the viability of bringing major league baseball back to Montreal? It’s true.
The Washington Nationals are not the Montreal Expos. They will never replace the Montreal Expos in my heart and mind, nor in the hearts and minds of so many other Canadian baseball fans. But I think from now on, I’ll consider the Nationals to be my new favorite expansion franchise; just like the Expos, ten years after coming into existance, they’re hitting their stride. No sense holding that grudge any longer.