1982 Montréal Expos
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Managed by Jim Fanning
Awards and Honors
- All-Stars : Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Al Oliver, Tim Raines and Steve Rogers
- Player of the Year: Al Oliver
- Best Rookie: Terry Francona
- NL Gold Glove: Gary Carter (C) and Andre Dawson (OF)
- NL Silver Slugger Award: Gary Carter (C) and Al Oliver (1B)
- Players of the Month:
- Minor League Player of the Year: Roy Johnson Wichita (AAA)
- Minor League Pitcher of the Year: Darren Dilks Wichita (AAA)
The 1982 Montreal Expos probably constitute the greatest disappointment in the team's history. The Expos had been on a steady upward curve since moving into Stade Olympique in 1977, improving their position in the standings the first two years, then missing out on a division championship by 2 and 1 games respectively in 1979 and 1980, and finally making the playoffs for the first time thanks to the 1981 split season schedule. Coming into 1982, the Expos were considered by many to be the next great team in the National League, with a core of young stars that was the envy of all of baseball. 1982 was supposed to be the year they would put it all together.
In fact, the year turned out to be a succession of missed opportunities and endless frustration, that would see the team finish in third place, six games back of the division-winning St. Louis Cardinals, with a record of 86-76. Indications that all was not well began early, as the team was quite unsettled in spring training. General Manager John McHale had made few moves over the winter, only signing free agent catcher Tim Blackwell from the Chicago Cubs to serve as a back-up to Gary Carter and sending minor-league relief pitcher Steve Ratzer to the New York Mets for shortstop Frank Taveras. Blackwell would hit .190 in 42 at bats (but would cost the Expos' their first-round pick in the 1982 amateur draft - a terrible trade-off), while Taveras would hit an even paltrier .161 in 87 at bats. Yet, the 1981 team had not been free of weaknesses, and a number of issues had to be resolved before the season started: first, the Expos' middle infield of Chris Speier and Rodney Scott had hit a combined .215 in 1981, and one of them would have to make way for a better bat; second, the Expos' line-up featured only right-handed hitters in the power spots, an imbalance that could give opponents a huge tactical edge; and finally the team's bullpen and bench were showing worrying signs of age. Manager Jim Fanning resolved the first issue by anointing rookie Wallace Johnson, a hero of the previous year's pennant race as a pinch hitter, as the team's new second baseman, replacing Scott, while McHale pulled a blockbuster trade on March 31st, sending third baseman Larry Parrish and rookie first baseman Dave Hostetler to the Texas Rangers for designated hitter Al Oliver, who was handed the Expos' first base job. As for the bullpen, the Expos released veterans Elias Sosa and Stan Bahnsen as spring training came to an end, but the only new blood was former first round draft pick Bob James, who was only kept on the roster because he was out of minor league options, and was hardly used by Fanning before earning his release on June 9th.
Al Oliver would go on to have a brilliant season at the plate, winning the National League batting title with a .331 average, leading the league in runs batted in with 109, and adding 43 doubles and 22 home runs to the mix. He was named to the 1982 All-Star Game, which was played at Stade Olympique that year and garnered the Expos' Player of the Year honor when the season was over. However, his fielding at first base was atrocious, as he committed 19 errors and displayed such as weak throwing arm that baserunners quickly learned that, if they were picked off at first base, they just had to head for second as Oliver did not stand a chance of throwing them out. This defensive weakness could have been hidden if the rest of the team was strong in that department, but Speier's range at shortstop had declined significantly, left fielder Tim Raines was still learning how to play the outfield, and right fielder Warren Cromartie, never a strong defensive player, was really stretched in his new role. Thus, even with two Gold Glove winners up the middle in Andre Dawson and Carter, the Expos were actually a weak defensive team. And then there's the saga of second base...
Recalling the succession of characters who were annointed as the Expos' starting second baseman in 1982 is akin to trying to list the succession of Presidents in a particularly coup-prone Central American country. As indicated earlier, Wallace Johnson was given the job in spring training, but only lasted until April 30th, when he was sent down to the AAA Wichita Aeros, hitting .184 with 2 runs batted in. Frank Taveras then was slotted into the job for a week when he went 2 for 27 as the team's number two hitter. On May 8th, the top brass decided on a radical shake-up: first, they burned one bridge by releasing Rodney Scott, who would at that point have been the logical contender to get his old job back, and moving Tim Raines from left field to the position he had played during his minor league apprenticeship. Things got even weirder that day when veteran lefthanded relief pitcher Bill Lee staged a walk-out to protest Scott's release, and was released himself the next day for insubordination. Then, on May 17th, after Jerry White and Dan Norman had failed to claim the outfield spot opened up by Raines' displacement, rookie Terry Francona was inserted into the line-up as the Expos' left fielder and second-place hitter. A team that had been sputtering in fourth place with a 15-17 record suddenly caught fire. With Francona hitting .327 from that point on, and Raines reaching base consistently in front of him, the Expos became unbeatable. Over the next month, they compiled a 17-9 record to move into second place and then fate struck a very unkind blow. On June 16th in St. Louis, Francona caught a spike in the warning track and tore ligaments in his right knee, knocking him out for the season.
At this point, the Expos were faced with a difficult choice about what to do. They decided to move Raines back to left field, over concerns about his defense (although his stats were actually passable, and better than those of Johnson or Taveras). Rookie Mike Gates was recalled from AAA to play second base and bat second, a lot of weight to put on the shoulders of a player who had one game of Major League experience and had never really been considered more than a potential utility infielder. Gates started off hot, getting a hit in 10 of his first 11 games, but then went into a deep offensive slump, hitting a powerless .200 in July while displaying limited range in the field. During that time, the Expos has started losing ground in the standings, tumbling back to fourth place, and the pressure was on to make a move. On July 28th, another rookie, shortstop Bryan Little, got the call from AAA to play second base. This turned out to have been a decoy however, as on August 3rd, the Expos got the man they really wanted, former Gold Glove winner Doug Flynn, purchased from the Rangers.
The Expos acted at that point like they had pulled another coup comparable to their acquisition of Oliver, but in fact, they were probably sealing their own fate. Flynn was one of the least productive hitters in Major League Baseball at that point of his career, and his defense was very over-rated. Given a chance to play regularly, he undermined the team's offense by hitting a walkless, powerless .244 over the season's last two months. If only the Expos had not traded away Tony Bernazard and Tony Phillips over the previous two years, they would have had on hand two second basemen who could actually play the position, hit with a bit of pop, and draw a walk. But alas, it wasn't to be... The Expos made another well-publicized acquisition the next day, August 4th, when they traded reliever Tom Gorman to the New York Mets for outfielder Joel Youngblood; fresh from hitting a single in Wrigley Field that afternoon, Youngblood rushed to catch an plane to Philadelphia to join his new team, and made it in time to be used as a pinch hitter, singling against Steve Carlton in the 7th inning. He is the only player ever to get a base hit for two different teams in two different cities on the same day, but that was the highlight of a brief stay with the Expos in which he only hit .200 in 90 at bats.
Similar stories could be told about the pitching: starter Ray Burris posted a solid 3.12 ERA in April, but ended up with an 0-4 record due to a total lack of offensive support. After that, he stopped pitching well, ending the year with a dismal record of 4-14, 4.73, with an appalling mark of 0-11 as a starter. David Palmer made a remarkable come-back from arm surgery, after not pitching a single inning in the National League the year before: making his first start on May 25th, he compiled a solid 6-4 record with a 3.18 ERA over the next two months and a half and then felt something give out in his elbow on August 13th, putting him out of action until 1984. To fill the void, the team acquired veteran lefthander Randy Lerch from the Milwaukee Brewers, but he was barely used, even though he put up a 2-0 record with a 3.42 ERA in limited action.
In spite of all these difficulties and inability to make good decisions on player personnel, the Expos did manage to move back to within two games of the lead on September 14th. Two days later, they started a five-game losing streak (including the first four at home) and were effectively out of the race. They had wasted excellent seasons by Oliver, third baseman Tim Wallach, who hit .268 with 28 home runs and 97 runs batted in in his first year as a regular, Carter who hit .293 with 29 home runs and 97 RBIs, Dawson (.301, 23 home runs and 107 runs scored) and even Speier who drove in 60 runs from the seventh and eighth slots of the line-up. On the mound, Steve Rogers was the best right-handed pitcher in baseball, with a 19-8 record, a 2.40 ERA and 179 strikeouts, while starting and winning the All-Star Game, and Charlie Lea came back from arm trouble to post a 12-10 record with a 3.24 ERA. Relief ace Jeff Reardon posted a 7-4 record with a 2.06 ERA and saved 26 games, yet with all that talent, the Expos could never get going.
If there is one season in Expos' history that fans would like to see re-played from scratch, it is 1982. What if Felipe Alou, who had all the right qualifications, had been named manager instead of Jim Fanning? What if the team could have identified a competent second baseman early on? What if Ray Burris had received some offensive support in April - would he have kept pitching at his normal level of performance rather than drag down the team as he did? What if Tim Raines had not tried cocaine (he realized he had a problem after he missed the start of a game on August 1st while hung over; he sought help to whip the problem after the season but his performance was clearly affected by his unhealthy lifestyle, as he hit some 20 points below his career average and never showed the spark of his rookie year, or of his outstanding subsequent seasons). And especially what if Francona and Palmer had not been lost to injury while they were at the top of their game... One cannot help but think that this was one of the most underperforming team of the past three decades, and that they should have easily blown away a weak field in the National League.
- Danny Gallagher: "Lee never played again after strike", in Remembering the Montreal Expos, Scoop Press, Toronto, ON, 2005, pp. 85-88.
- Danny Gallagher: "Youngblood had an historic day", in Remembering the Montreal Expos, Scoop Press, Toronto, ON, 2005, pp. 90-91.