1980 Montréal Expos
Managed by Dick Williams
- All-Star: Gary Carter
- Player of the Year: Gary Carter
- Best Rookie: Bill Gullickson
- NL Gold Glove: Gary Carter (C) and Andre Dawson (OF)
- NL Silver Slugger Award: Andre Dawson (OF)
- Players of the month:
- Minor League Player of the Year: Tim Raines (Denver AAA)
- Minor League Pitcher of the Year: Steve Ratzer (Denver AAA)
The 1980 Montreal Expos came agonizingly close to winning their first National League East title, but like their 1979 predecessors, fell short on the season's last week-end. Contrary to the previous year's team, which played outstanding baseball from the get-go and was exceptionally free of injuries, the 1980 team would have to overcome much tougher sledding to find itself at the heart of the pennant race in the dying days of the season. The race was in fact probably lost in the first month of the season, when the Expos played to a record of 6-10, losing an opportunity to make some early ground on the Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates, their main rivals for the title. As a result, the team's excellent play during the month of September, when they went 19-9, only served to bring them into a tie with the Phillies with three games left to play, when it should have nailed down the title.
After the team's excellent season in 1979, the Expos could have opted to stand pat over the winter, but circumstances dictated otherwise, as two members of the team left via free agency: first baseman and future Hall of Famer Tony Perez, who had been a steadying presence both in the middle of the line-up and at first base over the past three years, was signed by the Boston Red Sox, while left-handed pitcher Rudy May, who had had an excellent season as a swingman, went to the New York Yankees. To replace Perez, the Expos traded pitcher Dan Schatzeder to the Detroit Tigers in return for speedy lead-off hitter Ron LeFlore, while moving left-fielder Warren Cromartie to first base. May's spot on the team was taken over by free agent Fred Norman, who had spent the previous seasons with the Cincinnati Reds. The other changes that General Manager John McHale made over the winter affected the bench: unhappy back-up second baseman Dave Cash went to the San Diego Padres for infielder Bill Almon and outfielder-first baseman Dan Briggs, neither of whom would play a significant role for their new team, while free agent outfielder Rowland Office was signed from the Atlanta Braves. At the end of spring training, popular veteran Rusty Staub was sent to the Texas Rangers for two minor-league prospects, in a move that left Expo fans scratching their heads.
It took a while for the new personnel to jell. Most problematic was the starting rotation, which forced Manager Dick Williams to do some frantic scrambling. Two of the starters, Steve Rogers and Scott Sanderson, were outstanding all year, ending with identical 16-11 records and ERAs of 2.98 and 3.11 respectively. The rest of the rotation was unsettled though. Bill Lee, who had been outstanding in 1979, started the season 0-3, then went on the disabled list on June 11th, and ended the season having made only 18 starts with a 4-6, 4.96 record. Fourth starter David Palmer pitched well but also missed a month and a half of action, ending with an 8-6 record and a 2.98 ERA in 19 starts. Unfortunately, fifth starter Ross Grimsley proved that his horrendous 1979 season was no fluke by going 2-4, 6.37 in 11 games before being dumped on the Cleveland Indians at the end of June. The Expos had to look within their farm system for help, and came up with two prize catches. The first was Bill Gullickson, who was considered a top prospect ever since he had been chosen second overall in the 1977 amateur draft. Called up to Montreal on May 29th, he was excellent after a short adaptation period, compiling a 10-5 record with an ERA of 3.00 and capping his year by striking out 18 Chicago Cubs batters on September 10th (Boxscore); this was a record for a rookie at the time, although it was later eclipsed by Kerry Wood who struck out 20 opponents on May 6, 1998. The second prize newcomer was Charlie Lea, who was recalled from AA Memphis for an emergency start on June 12th (Boxscore), and did so well that he stayed with the team the whole year, compiling a solid 7-5, 3.72 record over 19 starts.
The bullpen did not have the same problems and in fact was the team's greatest strength. The previous year's three leading contributors, Elias Sosa, Woodie Fryman and Stan Bahnsen, all returned to pitch well, combining for 23 wins and 30 saves while pitching 265 innings, with Bahnsen's ERA of 3.07 the highest of the trio. Behind them, Norman pitched well as a long reliever and spot starter, with a 4-4 record and a 4.13 ERA, and while Dale Murray had an ERA of 6.21 in limited usage as the pitching staff's tenth man, he was replaced in August by John D'Acquisto, acquired from the Padres for minor league slugger Randy Bass, who posted an ERA of 2.14 in 21 innings.
With the departure of slow-footed slugger Tony Perez and his replacement in the line-up by Ron LeFlore, the balance of the Expos' offense changed markedly. They were now one of the most aggressive base-running teams of all time, with LeFlore swiping a lead-leading 97 bases and second baseman Rodney Scott adding 63. This is still a National League record for two teammates, and they accomplished this feat by having the green light on permanently. Neither of them hit for a high average, but LeFlore drew 62 walks from the lead-off spot, while second-place hitter Scott added 70, while becoming known for his uncanny ability to steal second base on the relay back from the catcher to the pitcher. Behind them, third-place hitter centerfielder Andre Dawson stole 34 bases, but that was only a small part of his offensive arsenal: he also hit .308 with 41 doubles, 7 triples and 17 home runs, scored 96 runs and drove in 87. Catcher Gary Carter drove in 101 runs thanks to 29 home runs and finished second to Philadelphia's Mike Schmidt in the MVP vote. Newly-minted first baseman Warren Cromartie hit .288 with a personal best 14 home runs, while right fielder Ellis Valentine hit .315 with a .534 slugging percentage; unfortunately, he was afflicted by a succession of injuries, limiting his playing time to 86 games, while Office and Jerry White picked up the slack in his absence. Shortstop Chris Speier had his best season in an Expo uniform, hitting .265 with 52 walks in 288 at-bats, but third baseman Larry Parrish came down markedly from his outstanding 1979 season, finishing the year at .254 with 15 home runs and 72 runs batted in.
On October 3rd, the Phillies came to Stade Olympique for the final three-game series of the season with both teams tied with a record of 89-70. The Expos lost the opening game (Boxscore) 2-1 in spite of Sanderson's good pitching, when three Phillies pitchers held them to four hits. The next game, a rain-delayed affair played on October 4th, remains one of the bitterest memories of Expo fans (Boxscore): The Expos had a 4-3 lead coming into the 9th inning, but Bob Boone hit a two-out single off Woodie Fryman to score Bake McBride from second base and tie the score at 4 all. The Expos had a runner in scoring position with one out in the 10th but failed to score, then in the 11th, Mike Schmidt took Stan Bahnsen deep for a two-run pennant-clinching home run. The Phillies would go on to win the World Series, while the Expos were left to ponder on what might have been.
- Danny Gallagher: "Schmidt outduels Bahnsen", in Remembering the Montreal Expos, Scoop Press, Toronto, ON, 2005, pp. 62-63.
- Norm King: "Triple (Play) Your Pleasure; August 12, 1980: Montreal Expos 4, St. Louis Cardinals 0 At Busch Stadium", in Norm King, ed.: Au jeu/Play Ball: The 50 Greatest Games in the History of the Montreal Expos, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2016, pp. 51-52. ISBN 978-1-943816-15-6
- Norm King: ""This Is a Dumb Man's Game"; August 24, 1980: Montreal Expos 12, St. Louis Cardinals 9 At Olympic Stadium", in Norm King, ed.: Au jeu/Play Ball: The 50 Greatest Games in the History of the Montreal Expos, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2016, pp. 53-54. ISBN 978-1-943816-15-6
- Gregory H. Wolf: "Expos Rookie Gullickson Whiffs 18; September 10, 1980: Montreal Expos 4, Chicago Cubs 0 At Olympic Stadium", in Norm King, ed.: Au jeu/Play Ball: The 50 Greatest Games in the History of the Montreal Expos, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2016, pp. 55-57. ISBN 978-1-943816-15-6