It may lack accolades, but Montreal's team has a history of pluck

Practically since they debuted in 1969, the Montreal Expos have barely registered with the baseball world.

They wear an incomprehensible logo, play in a city that appeals to few big-leaguers and carry a history riddled with mediocrity and out-and-out bad luck.

The Expos, named for the successful Expo '67 World's Fair, were born out of spite: National League owners, bitter that the American League had unilaterally decided to add franchises in Kansas City and Seattle, added franchises of their own in Montreal and San Diego.

The owners, as is their wont during baseball expansions, then sold off their weaker players to the new teams at gouge-worthy ($175,000 per player) prices.

In Montreal, that meant an opening-day roster that included the likes of 41-year-old reliever Elroy Face, career .215 hitter Bobby Wine and the immortal outfielder Floyd Wicker (.159 in four big-league seasons).

Then again, the Expos had a few gamers. Dodger legend Maury Wills was their first batter (he played only 49 games before returning to L.A.). Rusty Staub, 'Le Grande Orange,' became the team's first star. And, just nine days into the season, pitcher Bill Stoneman tossed a no-hitter.

Still, the road to respectability took about a decade. During that time, the team employed memorable players such as brainy reliever Mike Marshall (one of two players in the 1970s to hold a doctorate), streaky reliever Joe Sparma (known for throwing balls to the backstop during intentional walks) and blabby catcher Tim McCarver.

The Expos moved in 1976 from rickety Jarry Park, the last full-time major league stadium to hold fewer than 30,000 fans, to Olympic Stadium.

While their new digs proffered as much personality as a dungeon, Expo teams gradually became competitive toward the end of the 1970s. At one point, the young outfield of Warren Cromartie, Andre Dawson and Ellis Valentine was considered the NL's best; Steve Rogers led a gritty pitching staff, steered by future Hall-of-Famer Gary Carter.

To the playoffs

By 1981, the call-up of an exciting young leadoff man named Tim Raines ignited the team to its only playoff appearance. Canada swelled with pride as the Expos advanced to the league championship series against the Dodgers.

Ray Burris, who had shut out the Dodgers in Game 2, held them to one run over eight innings before giving way to Rogers in the ninth inning of Game 5. With the score tied, Dodger outfielder Rick Monday launched a home run that clinched the game and the series.

The homer quelled the Expos' momentum, and they began a rebuilding process that, with scattered spurts, didn't really end until 1994.

Some call Aug. 12, 1994, the blackest day in Expo history. That's when the 1994 strike began.

At the time, the Expos had the most wins in the majors. An amazing outfield fueled the team: slugger Larry Walker in right, five-tool man Marquis Grissom in center and .339 hitter Moises Alou in left. A young Pedro Martinez helped lead the pitching staff.

When baseball shut down, the Expos were the envy of the league. When baseball returned in spring 1995, economic realities forced the team to eschew re-signing its free agents and trade its existing highly paid stars to larger-market teams. The pattern that began nine years ago has continued to this day.

But, while the Expos may seem somewhat pathetic on the surface, they have traditionally employed players known for their pluck.

Second baseman Ron Hunt was hit by a pitch 50 times in 1971, easily a big-league record. Last year's team, despite the distracting talk of MLB contraction, hovered around .500 most of the season. Heck, even Pete Rose was an Expo for half of the '84 season.

Any team that's good enough for Charlie Hustle is probably good enough for Portland.

Contact Andy Giegerich at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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