1983 Montréal Expos
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Managed by Bill Virdon
Awards and Honors
- All-Stars: Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Al Oliver, Tim Raines and Steve Rogers
- Player of the Year: Andre Dawson and Tim Raines
- Best Rookie: Bryan Little
- NL Gold Glove: Andre Dawson (OF)
- NL Silver Slugger Award: Andre Dawson (OF)
- Players of the month:
- Minor League Player of the Year: Mike Stenhouse Wichita (AAA)
- Minor League Pitcher of the Year: John Dopson West Palm Beach (A)
The 1983 Montreal Expos straddled the fence between still being a young team on the brink of accomplishing great things, and a team that would always come up short of the prize. After a disappointing season in 1982, when the team fell six games short of the National League Eastern Division title while it was beset by indecision about who should play where, there was a sense coming into 1983 that this was the year when things had to fall in place. A lot of the blame for the sputtering in 1982 was put on manager Jim Fanning, who had come to the job in September 1981 with no major league managerial experience. He was relieved of his duties after the season and replaced by Bill Virdon, who had won division titles in Pittsburgh and Houston, and a Manager of the Year Award with the 1974 New York Yankees and again with Houston in 1980. The conventional wisdom was that Virdon "knew how to win" and would provide much-needed direction for his young charges. It turned out that Virdon was perhaps too much a man of the old school, and that a number of his decisions would be highly questionable.
Virdon was appointed manager on October 12, 1982, but kept all of Jim Fanning's coaches on staff, except for Steve Boros, who left to take over as manager of the Oakland Athletics. He did bring in bullpen coach Mel Wright, who had been with him in Houston, but Wright was a cancer survivor who suffered a relapse during spring training, had to be hospitalized as the season started and, after having been hurriedly replaced by minor league pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, died on May 16th. This left Virdon shaken, and deprived of his sole friend and confidant on the team, a situation that was aggravated by the fact the team's roster was basically the same as the previous season's, the only changes being the acquisition of back-up outfielder Jim Wohlford via trade and the return of third-string catcher Bobby Ramos after one season spent in the Yankees' organization.
The Expos nonetheless started the season on an excellent note. On opening day, played April 6th against the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field (Boxscore), Steve Rogers pitched a six-hit shutout while Al Oliver hit two home runs and drove in all three runs in a 3-0 win. The Expos then won their next three games, and while they slowed down a bit over the next few days, they were in first place on April 29th with a 10-6 record. They then began slipping in the standings, and by May 18th, they were at .500, and in 3rd place, 3 1/2 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals. In spite of all their talent on paper, a few problems had emerged: after his great opening day performance, Al Oliver did not hit another home run until May 20th, and then immediately went on another month-long drought. This was not a good thing for a clean-up hitter, and in fact, as Bill James pointed out in the 1984 Baseball Abstract, Oliver's season was relatively unproductive in spite of a flashy .300 batting average and his league-leading 38 doubles: he only walked 44 times (in over 650 plate appearances), stole one base, hit 8 home runs all year, and played subpar defense at first base. Second baseman Doug Flynn was another source of trouble: because of his reputation as a superior fielder - which was not backed up by numbers at that point of his career - he managed to keep a regular job until late August, while hitting a paltry .237 with no secondary skills. Rookie shortstop Bryan Little had displaced veteran Chris Speier in spring training, even claiming the second spot in the batting order, but after a few good games, quickly saw his average dip below .250, while his defense was only passable. It took a 10 for 16 spurt in his last four games, after the Expos had been eliminated from contention, to give his season numbers a veneer of respectability; by that time, Speier had long reclaimed his old job, but his years as a regular were over.
However, the Expos still had enough talent to be a force to be reckoned with in what was a weak and compressed division, and by mid-June they began to play better, climbing back into first place on June 19th and remaining there through the All-Star break. They finished the season's first half by sweeping a doubleheader at Wrigley Field on July 4th, to bring their record to 41-36, 1 1/2 games in front of the Philadelphia Phillies. Unfortunately, in the second game of that doubleheader, pitcher Scott Sanderson tore a ligament in his right thumb in a collision at first base, putting him out of action until September. The Expos went on a 1-8 streak after the All-Star break and fell all the way to fourth place by July 16th. They would sputter there for the next month and a half, until going on a hot streak in late August: from August 28th to September 7th, they were 10-3 to climb back into first place. This came about shortly after the acquisition of All-Star second baseman Manny Trillo from the Cleveland Indians on August 17th, which finally relegated Flynn to the bench; Trillo was hitting .346 for his new team at that point, but would soon cool down. The Expos stayed in and out of first place for a week, and went into a crucial doubleheader at Philadelphia on September 14th with a half game lead on the Phillies and a one-game lead on the Pittsburgh Pirates. They were beaten by Steve Carlton in the first game, and then shut out by Marty Bystrom in the second and never recovered. By September 24th, they were trailing the Phillies by six games, and two days later, the Cardinals' Bob Forsch no-hit them (Boxscore) to put the final nail in their coffin. They finished the year with an 82-80 record, in third place, seven games behind the Phillies.
The Expos' major problem that year was that, while their front-line players were very good, those had little or no support. On the pitching staff, the top three starters, Steve Rogers (17-12, 3.23), Bill Gullickson (17-12, 3.75) and Charlie Lea (16-11, 3.12) were excellent, but after that, they might as well have prayed for rain, especially after Sanderson went down in early July. Ray Burris was 4-7, Bryn Smith 5-7 as a starter (with a great 2.26 ERA, though) and Sanderson 6-7. As a result, the big three were badly overworked and all three would miss time because of arm trouble in 1984. In the bullpen, Jeff Reardon only had a middling season, saving 21 games with 7-9 record and 3.03 ERA, while Woodie Fryman's left elbow finally gave out, not before he had been charged with three losses in six games and a 21.00 ERA. Dan Schatzeder pitched well in middle relief, compiling a 5-2, 3.21 record in 87 innings, while Bob James was outstanding after being claimed off the scrap heap in July, posting a 2.88 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 50 innings.
On the hitting side, the bright spots were center fielder Andre Dawson, who led the National League with 189 hits, slugged a then-team record 32 home runs and drove in 113 runs, and leadoff hitter left fielder Tim Raines who overcame a cocaine addiction in the off-season and batted .298, walked 97 times, and scored an incredible 133 runs; much was also made of the fact that he topped the 70 mark in both stolen bases (90) and RBI (71), something that had not been done since Ty Cobb in 1915. Those two players shared the Expos Player of the Year award. Catcher Gary Carter contributed 37 doubles, 17 home runs and 79 RBI to the offense, while third baseman Tim Wallach pitched in with 33 doubles, 19 home runs and 70 RBI. On the down side were Oliver, Flynn, Speier and Little, as well as right fielder Warren Cromartie who hit .278, but slugged below .400 with only three home runs. The bench was hardly used, as only Wohlford and Terry Francona, received more than 100 at bats. Francona was hitting .217 without a home run on September 1st, and was struggling to recover his groove after a terrible knee injury the previous June. He hit .333 and slugged over .550 in September while Cromartie was benched, but by then he was one of the few players on the team not showing obvious signs of fatigue. Just like he had done with his top starting pitchers, Virdon had run his regular players into the ground, and they had nothing left to give when a final push was needed in the second half of September.
One last thing to note: the Expos had one of the most productive farm systems in the majors in those years. Yet, in 1983, only one rookie, Little, received significant playing time. The bench and back end of the pitching staff were laden by over-the-hill players like Terry Crowley, Tim Blackwell, Mike Vail, Jerry White, Randy Lerch, Tom Dixon or Chris Welsh. The youngsters who did get called up were hardly used.
1983 Opening Day Lineup
Tim Raines, lf
Bryan Little, ss
Andre Dawson, cf
Al Oliver, 1b
Gary Carter, c
Tim Wallach, 3b
Warren Cromartie, rf
Doug Flynn, 2b
Steve Rogers, p