1977 Montréal Expos
Managed by Dick Williams
- All-Star: Ellis Valentine
- Player of the Year: Gary Carter
- Best Rookie: Andre Dawson
- NL Rookie of the Year Award: Andre Dawson
- Topps All-Star Rookie Team: Andre Dawson
- Players of the month:
- Minor League Player of the Year: Frank Ortenzio (Denver AAA)
- Minor League Pitcher of the Year: Larry Horn (West Palm Beach A and Quebec AA)
The 1977 Montreal Expos took a giant step forward. Coming off a horrendous 1976 season, the team went into 1977 with a whole slew of changes. First, there was a new ballpark: after eight years in makeshift Jarry Park, the Expos opened the season in spacious, or more exactly cavernous, Stade Olympique, the stadium custom-built for the 1976 Olympic Games. While architect Roger Taillibert's ambitious design called for a retractable roof, the building was still incomplete at that time, with the mast still limited to a triangular concrete base that rose no higher than the rim of the bowl, and the roof was still years away from completion. The stadium itself was ill-suited for baseball - not surprising since the French architect had no inkling of what baseball was -, with terrible acoustics and a poor view of the field, but at that time it did not matter. The building screamed "modernity", and its mere existence attracted large crowds that first year. In fact, 1,433,757 spectators made their way to the stadium in 1977, the highest seasonal attendance yet for the Expos, but only a hint of what was to come over the next few years. The team's home opener, on April 15th against the Philadelphia Phillies (Boxscore) drew a crowd of 57,592, shattering the old Jarry Park record; this crowd would eventually end up the fourth highest in the history of the team.
Aside from a new stadium, the 1977 Expos had a whole new management team, led by General Manager Charlie Fox and Manager Dick Williams. Fox had kept very busy over the winter, engineering three major trades and the Expos' first-ever free agent signing. The first of the trades, completed on November 6th with the St. Louis Cardinals, involved six players, none of them regulars, only two of whom would see significant playing time for their new teams: leaving Montreal were pitcher Steve Dunning, third baseman Pat Scanlon and outfielder Tony Scott, and in their place came pitchers Bill Greif and Angel Torres and outfielder Sam Mejias. Mejias would play two years as a defensive substitute for the Expos, while Scott would eventually win the Cardinals' regular center field job, but the total impact of the trade was fairly limited. The second trade, on December 10th with the Cleveland Indians, would prove very much in favor of the Indians, as they acquired slugger Andre Thornton in return for 33-year old pitcher Jackie Brown. The third trade was the real blockbuster: on December 16th, the Expos sent their best starter and their best reliever from the previous season, Woodie Fryman and Dale Murray, to the World Champion Cincinnati Reds in return for superstar first baseman Tony Perez and left-handed reliever Will McEnaney. On top of that, the Expos signed much sought-after free agent second baseman Dave Cash, an All-Star the previous three seasons, from the Phillies. The days of the Expos as a laughingstock were over.
In spring training, new Manager Williams made a bold personnel decision, moving the previous year's star rookie, Ellis Valentine, from center field to right field, and putting rookie Andre Dawson in center with another rookie, Warren Cromartie, in left field. This worked better than anyone could have anticipated: Valentine hit .293 with 25 home runs and 76 runs batted in and made the All-Star team; Dawson hit .282 with 19 home runs and 65 RBI and stole 21 bases to win the 1977 National League Rookie of the Year Award; for his part, Cromartie hit .282 with 41 doubles. The two new acquisitions also did very well: future Hall of Famer Perez hit .283 with 32 doubles, 19 home runs and 91 runs batted in from the clean-up spot, while lead-off hitter Cash hit .289 with 42 doubles, stole 21 bases and scored 91 runs. Young catcher Gary Carter, who had slumped badly in 1976, righted himself: he won the team's Player of the Year award after hitting a then-team record 31 home runs, scoring 86 runs and driving 84 while playing stellar defense behind the plate. Only shortstop remained a problem on offense, as incumbent Tim Foli started the year hitting .175 in April with his usual lack of power and walks; on April 26th, Charlie Fox sent him to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for one of his former charges, Chris Speier, who hit .235, but drew 67 walks and at least had a slugging average 100 points over his batting average. In a back-up role, outfielder-first baseman Del Unser had himself a very nice season, hitting .273 with 14 doubles and 12 home runs in 289 at bats, while spelling Perez, Cromartie and Valentine. With all of those changes, the Expos suddenly had a very respectable offense.
The pitching staff was a different story though. When training camp broke, the starting rotation consisted of Steve Rogers, Don Stanhouse, and left-handers Dan Warthen and rookie Gerry Hannahs. Rogers was outstanding, pitching a team-record 302 innings over 40 starts with a 3.10 ERA and 206 strikeouts, for a 17-16 record. Stanhouse was mediocre in 16 starts until Williams decided to make him his bullpen closer: he excelled in his new role, as he would over the next few years, and ended the year with a 10-10 record with 10 saves and 3.42 ERA in 158 innings. Warthen could not recapture the magic of 1975, however, and was 2-3 with a 7.97 ERA before losing his job. Hannahs was coming off a 20-win season with the AA Quebec Metros in 1976, but the jump to the major leagues was too steep: he was 1-5, 4.86 in seven starts before being sent down to the AAA Denver Bears for more seasoning. To patch the holes in the rotation, Williams moved Jackie Brown from the bullpen, and Fox traded for three veteran starters within a one-month span from mid-May to mid-June: Santo Alcala from the Reds, Stan Bahnsen from the Oakland Athletics and Wayne Twitchell from the Phillies. None of the four was outstanding, as their ERAs were respectively 4.50, 4.72, 4.82 and 4.21, and only Twitchell had a winning record at 6-5, but at least they swallowed innings and kept the team in the game.
The bullpen lacked stars, but was actually fairly effective: second-year player Joe Kerrigan emerged as the ace in the early going, posting a 3.24 ERA in 89 innings with a 3-5 record and 11 saves, before Stanhouse took control of the late innings in the season's second half. The supporting cast of rookie Bill Atkinson (7-2, 3.36, and 7 saves in 83 innings) and left-hander McEnaney (3-5, 3.93 in 87 innings) was also decent, while Fred Holdsworth posted a respectable 3.21 ERA over 42 innings as a swing-man over the season's second half.
When all was said and done, the Expos had a 75-87 record, an improvement of 20 games over 1976, and had leaped over the slumping New York Mets to finish 5th in the National League East. More importantly, there was a whiff of optimism surrounding the team, given that it now boasted a nice group of home-grown players whose best years were still to come. The pitching staff, however, would still need some serious work to reach championship quality.
- Alan Cohen: "Parrish Goes 5-for-5, Hits Three Consecutive Homers; May 29, 1977: Montreal Expos 14, St. Louis Cardinals 4 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. 28-30. ISBN 978-1-943816-15-6