1972 Montréal Expos

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Franchise: Washington Nationals / BR 1972 Team Page

Record: 70-86, Finished 5th in NL Eastern Division (1972 NL)

Managed by Gene Mauch

Coaches: Jim Bragan, Larry Doby, Cal McLish and Jerry Zimmerman

Ballpark: Jarry Park

Awards and Honors[edit]

Season highlights[edit]

The 1972 Montreal Expos were trying to improve on a 1971 team that had managed to climb out of the National League East basement for the first time, but whose record had actually regressed by a game and a half from 1970. A few troubling cracks in the foundation had started to appear, as most of the team's most productive players were over 30, and a few had seen their production drop dramatically as a result. Team management felt that it was imperative to acquire some young talent, if the team was not to fall into complete irrelevance within a couple of years. On April 5th, they announced a stunning trade with the New York Mets: the team's best and most recognizable player, Rusty Staub, was headed to the Big Apple in return for three youngsters, none of whom had yet been a full-time regular in the majors. The team's fans were furious, but in retrospect, the trade makes a lot of sense. All three players that came in the trade, right fielder Ken Singleton, first baseman Mike Jorgensen and shortstop Tim Foli, were immediately given starting jobs and would play regularly in the majors for a decade or more. The Expos needed an infusion of young position players, and they got it. In the immediate, though, the fans were in a decidedly grumpy mood as a result of the trade and of baseball's first-ever labor strike, which delayed the start of the season by ten days.

The team overcame these tough circumstances by getting off to a very good start. It won its first five games, was in first place as late as May 9th, and playing .500 ball until May 16th. It quickly fell off the pace and into 5th place to stay after that, but that nice start made the fans forget the bad vibes and focus on the team on the field. With Staub gone, the team no longer had a genuine superstar, but a number of players made positive contributions. The first was starting pitcher Bill Stoneman who picked up where he had left off the previous year to have another fine season and make the only All-Star Game appearance of his career. While his record was only 12-14, he posted an excellent 2.98 ERA, while striking out 171 batters and completing 13 games including 4 shutouts. In his last start of the season, on October 2nd against the Mets at Jarry Park (Boxscore), he pitched the second no-hitter of his career. The team's number two starter, Steve Renko, did not fare so well however: after winning the Expos' home opener on April 18th (Boxscore) against the Mets, he reeled off 10 consecutive losses to lose his spot in the starting rotation and finish with a terrible 5.20 ERA and 67 bases on balls against 66 strikeouts. The previous year's best rookie, Ernie McAnally, saw his record fall to 6-15, 3.81, while the 1970 Rookie of the Year Award winner, Carl Morton, improved somewhat from his disastrous 1971, but still finished at 7-13, 3.92. Fortunately, two other starting pitchers picked up the slack: young veteran Mike Torrez, picked up in a minor-league trade the previous year, came out of nowhere to lead the team with an excellent 16-12, 3.33 record, while rookie Balor Moore was sensational after joining the team on June 25th. His record was only 9-9, but it included three shutouts and an amazing 161 strikeouts (against only 59 walks) in 148 innings. Only 21 years old, the lefthander with the blazing fastball seemed on the verge of a dominant career at that point.

Balor Moore had been the first first-rounder ever drafted by the Expos, and the first product of their farm system to reach the majors when he was given a cup of coffee with the team in 1970, but by 1972, others were knocking at the doors of the big leagues. The first of these was catcher Terry Humphrey, who was given the opening day catching job after a solid 1971 season at AAA Winnipeg. Unfortunately, he pulled a thigh muscle in the season's second game and was out of action until June, and then only hit for .185 with no power in 215 at bats. Another youngster was left-handed relief pitcher Joe Gilbert, who had barely turned 20 and had pitched all of one game above Class A when he was called up to the major leagues on April 28th. Gilbert had a horrendous 8.45 ERA over 33 innings with the team, but for some mysterious reason kept his job all season long. The will to go with home grown players was there, but it may have been a bit premature given the talent available.

The team's bullpen in 1971 had been aging and inefficient behind closer Mike Marshall. Marshall took a big step forward in 1972, earning the team's Player of the Year Award with the first of three consecutive absolutely amazing seasons that would culminate in his winning the 1974 National League Cy Young Award with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 1972, he maintained an ERA of 1.78 in 116 innings in relief, along with a 14-8 record and 18 saves. The Expos had brought two veterans to spring training to help him out, Ron Taylor and Denny Lemaster. Taylor never made the team, and Lemaster was released on June 25th after posting an ERA of 7.65 in 13 appearances. Instead, help came from Rule V draftee Tom Walker, who had an ERA of 2.88 in 75 innings, and 1970 Rule V draftee John Strohmayer, who contributed a 3.51 ERA in 77 innings.

On the offensive side of the ledger, no player really stood out. Ron Fairly, who moved from first base to left field with Jorgensen's arrival, had the team's highest batting average at .278, and led the team in home runs with 17 and runs batted in with 68, which goes a long way to explain why many of the Expos' starting pitchers had poor records in spite of respectable ERAs. Of the three players acquired from the Mets, Singleton was the best hitter, with a .274 average, 70 walks and 14 home runs; Jorgensen hit .231 with 13 home runs while missing three weeks to military service. Foli was solely a contributor on defense at that point, slugging an anemic .281 in 540 at bats. With center fielder Boots Day's and third baseman Bob Bailey's batting averages both falling to .233, and little contribution from the bats of catchers John Boccabella (.227) and Tim McCarver (.251), it was no wonder that the Expos continually found themselves on the wrong end of low-scoring games, to Manager Gene Mauch's frustration. Thanks to the Philadelphia Phillies' wreck of a season, the Expos stayed out of the basement for a second consecutive year, but ended the year with one win fewer than in 1971, even if their winning percentage was a few points higher due to the games lost to the early-season strike.

Further Reading[edit]