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1969 Montréal Expos
From BR Bullpen
- Player of the Year: Rusty Staub
- Best Rookie: Coco Laboy
- All Star Representative: Rusty Staub
- Players of the month:
- Minor League Player of the Year: Garry Jestadt (West Palm Beach Expos A and Vancouver Mounties AAA)
- Minor League Pitcher of the Year: Balor Moore (GCL Expos Rk and West Palm Beach Expos A)
 Season Highlights
1969 was the first season in the National League for the Montreal Expos, created a few months earlier by the Expansion of 1969. In the Expansion Draft, held on October 14, 1968, they had decided to stock up on veteran players in the early rounds, complemented by a few very raw prospects chosen in the later rounds. While Manny Mota had been their first choice, veteran shortstop Maury Wills and former 20-game winner Jim "Mudcat" Grant were the most recognizable names from this original group of players. On January 22, 1969, however, they pulled a blockbuster trade with the Houston Astros, obtaining young outfielder Rusty Staub in exchange for veterans Jesus Alou and Donn Clendenon. The Expos suddenly had their first genuine star player on their hands, and Staub would not disappoint them, quickly earning the adulation of Montreal's fans and the nickname "le Grand Orange". Clendenon threw a spanner in the works however when he refused to report to Houston, opting to retire instead. Realizing how important this trade was for the new franchise, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn - who also owed Expos President John McHale a favor - refused to void the deal, urging instead the two teams to come to an agreement. This finally happened on April 3, when the Expos agreed to send two young pitchers to the Astros, Jack Billingham and Skip Guinn, to complete the deal. They then convinced Clendenon to come out of retirement and play for them, and Houston sweetened the pot by selling Montreal three pitchers who failed to make their opening day roster, Steve Shea, Howie Reed and Leo Marentette, completing one of the most covoluted trades in major league history. GM Jim Fanning was quite busy during that period, as he also had to negotiate with the Philadelphia Phillies for compensation for veteran pitcher Larry Jackson, who elected to retire rather than join the team which had picked him in the expansion draft. Fanning extracted defensive whiz shortstop Bobby Wine from the Phils just before the start of the season.
The Expos played their first game ever on April 8 (Boxscore), against the New York Mets at Shea Stadium in front of 44,451 fans and a live television audience across Canada. Wills was the first Expo batter, first baseman Bob Bailey got the team's first base hit, a two-run double in the first inning, and lefthanded relief pitcher Dan McGinn hit their first home run, a solo shot against Tom Seaver in the 4th inning. The Expos won that first game 11 to 10, after the Mets scored four runs and put two men on in the 9th inning before Carroll Sembera struck out Rod Gaspar to end the game. Don Shaw was credited with the win.
The Expos played their first home game on April 14 (Boxscore) against the St. Louis Cardinals while construction was still ongoing at Jarry Park; this was the first Major League baseball game ever played outside the United States. The Expos won that game as well, despite giving up seven runs in the fourth inning, with a grand slam by light-hitting shortstop Dal Maxvill the highlight of that outburst. The Expos broke the 7-7 tie in the 7th inning when McGinn singled in rookie third baseman Coco Laboy with two outs to earn the win. Left fielder Mack Jones drove in five runs for the Expos in that game, making himself the instant hero of the denizens of the left field bleachers, which were thereafter known as Jonesville.
The third major highlight of that first month took place on April 17 (Boxscore) in Philadelphia when Bill Stoneman pitched a 7-0 no-hitter against the Phillies. With such incredible beginnings, it was no surprise that fans immediately adopted their new team, and that they became known to everyone as Nos z'Amours (our beloved ones), after the headline chosen by journalist Jean-Paul Sarrault in his article describing their inaugural game in New York. They would quickly hit rough times however, including an epic 20 game losing streak from May 13 to June 7 that shattered any illusion that the team would be competitive that first year.
The Expos' achilles heel in their inaugural season was their pitching, as the two veteran starting pitchers on whom the team was counting, Jim Grant and Larry Jaster, were a combined 2-12, leaving the burden on the mound to a group of rookies and youngsters who were taking their knocks while learning on the job. Rookies Mike Wegener and Jerry Robertson had records of 5-14 and 5-16 respectively, while Stoneman was at times brilliant, pitching five shutouts, but wildly inconsistent, losing 19 games with a 4.39 ERA and a league-leading 123 walks. McGinn and 41-year old Roy Face were the mainstays of a very weak bullpen, picking up 11 of the team's 21 saves between them. Fanning had to scramble to find some arms, with veterans Face, Reed, Dick Radatz and Claude Raymond being brought in to shore up the bullpen after the season started. The only ray of light came from rookie Steve Renko, who posted a creditable 6-7 record with a decent ERA of 4.02 after coming over from the Mets in a trade for the disgruntled Clendenon. That trade was part of a veritable house-cleaning in early June in the wake of the 20-game losing skid: Grant was sent packing to St. Louis in return for pitcher Gary Waslewski; Clendenon brought back Renko and infielder Kevin Collins; Mota and Wills were sent to Los Angeles for 1B/OF Ron Fairly and infielder Paul Popovich, who was immediately flipped to the Cubs for centerfielder Adolfo Phillips.
The Expos' hitting was much more solid than the pitching however, led by an outstanding season from right fielder Staub, who posted a .302 average, with 29 home runs and 110 bases on balls. First baseman Bailey had the first productive season of what had been a remarkably disappointing career until then, hitting .265 and driving in 53 runs despite losing a large chunk of the season to injury. The greatest surprise was minor-league veteran Laboy, who had a tremendous rookie season, leading the team with 79 runs batted in, to go along with 29 doubles, 18 home runs and a .258 average, numbers which he would never match again. Mack Jones also contributed on offense, as did Fairly. On the down side, the double-play combination of SS Wine and 2B Gary Sutherland, while very solid with the glove, hit for a combined .223 with an anemic slugging average of .288! Catchers John Bateman and Ron Brand both sported slugging averages under .330 as well, so the Expos' 110 losses were not a fluke. Another huge disappointment was Wills, who was counted on as a team leader, but instead slumped badly after starting with a bang on Opening Day, and then advised Fanning on June 3rd that he was retiring from baseball. His objective was to force a trade back to the Dodgers, and he was successful, but he was booed every time he showed up in a visitor's uniform in Montreal after pulling that stunt. But it did not matter, Major League Baseball had been successfully launched in Canada, with the team drawing 1.2 million enthusiastic fans to its makeshift stadium.
 Further Reading
- Jacques Doucet and Marc Robitaille: "Coup de foudre (1969)" in Il était une fois les Expos. Tome 1: les années 1969-1984, Hurtubise, Montreal, QC, 2009, pp. 65-103.
- Marc Robitaille: Un été sans point ni coup sûr, Les 400 Coups, Montréal, 2004, 143 pp.