1984 Montréal Expos
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- All-Stars: Gary Carter, Charlie Lea, Tim Raines and Tim Wallach
- Player of the Year: Gary Carter
- Best Rookie: Joe Hesketh
- NL Gold Glove : Andre Dawson (OF)
- NL Silver Slugger Award: Gary Carter (C)
- Players of the month:
- Minor League Player of the Year: Andres Galarraga, Jacksonville (AA)
- Minor League Pitcher of the Year: Joe Hesketh, Indianapolis (AAA)
The 1984 Montreal Expos were the last edition of the team for a number of years that would be considered among the best teams in the National League heading into a season. Even though the Expos were coming off two seasons of underachievement in 1982 and 1983, they still benefitted from the aura of the very good young teams of the three seasons prior to those. However, the natives were getting restless in Montreal with the team's repeated failure to reach the World Series in spite of the presence of a number of stars in the line-up. The failures of the previous two seasons were repeatedly mulled over during the off-season, and team management came up with the explanation that their principal cause was because of a lack of leadership. Now, if they had identified the leadership problem as stemming from the manager, and acknowledged that the performance of Jim Fanning in 1982 and Bill Virdon in 1983 had been inadequate, it would have been a step forward. However, they assigned the lack of leadership to the players themselves. But, as Bill James demonstrated quite clearly in the 1984 Baseball Abstract, the Expos' problem was not that they lacked leadership or intangibles, but that their second-line talent was seriously lacking and was in fact undermining the positive contributions made by the team's stars.
What General Manager John McHale decided to do was to sign 42-year-old free agent Pete Rose to a contract. Rose had the reputation of being baseball's biggest "gamer", a man who would never stop hustling and who did not tolerate defeat: exactly the attributes which senior management thought were lacking. While Rose's later unsavory reputation for gambling and tax evasion was not yet public at the time, the fact that he had been a completely ineffective player on the field for the past two seasons should have been apparent from a glance at his statistics. McHale should also have paid attention to the fact that Philadelphia Phillies manager Paul Owens had benched Rose in favor of the unheralded Len Matuszek for the previous season's pennant drive, and that the Phillies had surged forward with Rose out of the line-up. Rose was the most visible acquisition of the off-season, but not the only one. Starting pitcher Scott Sanderson was sent to the Chicago Cubs in a three-team trade that brought the Expos left-handed reliever Gary Lucas, while pitcher Ray Burris was basically given away to the Oakland Athletics and RF Warren Cromartie and 2B Manny Trillo were allowed to leave as free agents. In return, the Expos signed veteran OFs Derrel Thomas and Miguel Dilone to strengthen a bench that had been almost useless the previous season.
Things continued to move in spring training. First, manager Virdon announced that Gold Glove center fielder Andre Dawson would move to right field, and that Tim Raines would slide over from left field to take over center. Then, on February 27th, 1B Al Oliver was sent to the San Francisco Giants for starting pitcher Fred Breining. This was actually a good move on paper, since Oliver was greatly overrated given that his high batting average was no longer matched by adequate on-base or slugging percentages, or defense for that matter. The problem was that Breining was immediately diagnosed with a shoulder injury and would only pitch 6 2/3 innings that season, the last he would pitch in the major leagues. While the Expos and Giants haggled over further compensation for the damaged goods, another starting pitcher went down with a shoulder problem, ace Steve Rogers. By the time OF Max Venable and P Andy McGaffigan came over to complete the Oliver trade shortly before opening day, the Expos' starting rotation had been decimated.
The Expos opened the season on April 3rd at the Astrodome with a completely re-vamped line-up (Boxscore). Rose was leading off and playing left field, Bryan Little, 1983's opening day shortstop was at second base, Raines was hitting third followed by Dawson, catcher Gary Carter and 3B Tim Wallach, then Terry Francona taking over at 1B for Oliver after proving in September 1983 that he was over the gruesome knee injury that had ended his 1982 season. At shortstop was rookie Argenis Salazar, who was considered a "can't miss" prospect by the Expos' brass, in spite of the fact that he had played only one season above A ball, and that his .302 average achieved in the hitter's paradise of Wichita was a complete anomaly in a minor league hitting record that combined low averages, lack of walks or power, and no speed. On the mound was Charlie Lea, coming off an excellent 1983 season, replacing the injured Rogers who missed the opening day assignment for the first time since 1975. The Expos won that day, behind Lea's excellent pitching, and even gave the illusion of still being a contender over the season's first few weeks, reaching three games over .500 on April 23rd. They would not return to that level until August 24th, when they were 64-61 but already well out of contention, and eventually ended the season in 5th place in the National League East, with a 78-83 record, 18 games behind the division-winning Chicago Cubs. They had not been a factor in the race after the end of April.
What went wrong should not have come as a surprise to anyone. First, Rose proved unable to either play the outfield, or make a contribution at the plate, hitting .259 with a .295 slugging percentage in 95 games before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds on August 16th, so that he could take over as their manager. The return to his hometown revitalized Rose, but only brought the Expos the forgettable Tom Lawless in return. Bryan Little also slugged under .300, in 85 games, playing himself out of a job by mid-season. It did not take even that long for Argenis Salazar to show he was in way over his head: he was sent down to AAA on May 22nd, at which point he was hitting .143 (he would finish the year at .155 in 80 games, with all other statistics just as awful, one of the worst performances ever by an Expos player). This left a huge hole in the middle infield. Doug Flynn and his .281 slugging percentage stepped in at second base, while Derrel Thomas filled in at shortstop where he hit .255 with no power and terrible defense; the two replacements proved to be almost as bad as those they had replaced. Those poor performances could have been expected but the shock was that Andre Dawson had the worst season of his career. Bothered by bad knees, he only hit .248 with 17 home runs as the team's clean-up hitter.
Not everything was going wrong however. Tim Raines played adequately in center field and eventually returned to the lead-off spot, hitting .309 with 87 walks, scored 106 runs and stole 75 bases to earn the team's Player of the Year award for the second consecutive year (he had shared it with Dawson in 1983). Gary Carter led the National League with 106 RBI while hitting a career-high .294 with 27 home runs, earning the second All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award of his career in the process. Tim Wallach was outstanding on defense and started the year red hot, hitting .326 with 5 home runs and 20 RBI in April, before cooling off to .246, 18, 72. The most pleasant surprise was 1B Terry Francona, who was hitting .346 with a league-leading 19 doubles when he twisted his knee on June 14th while trying to avoid a tag from the Pittsburgh Pirates' John Tudor. For the second time in three years, his season had been ended in June by a major leg injury while he was hitting over .325. His career would never recover.
When Francona went down, Bill Virdon had little choice but to give rookie Mike Stenhouse some playing time. Stenhouse had been the team's Minor League Player of the Year in 1983 but he only hit .183 with 4 home runs in 80 games, thereby slamming the door shut on his only opportunity to play regularly in the major leagues. Virdon then turned to veteran back-up outfielder Jim Wohlford, who did not blow his opportunity: he hit .300 and slugged .450 while playing regularly in LF over the season's second half, a nice contribution, but rather irrelevant in the context of a team which should have been trying to figure out which of its young players could have been useful in the longer run. With Stenhouse out of the picture and Rose unproductive, Virdon lobbied for a new first baseman, and McHale obliged on July 26th by snatching Dan Driessen from the Reds in a trade for Andy McGaffigan, who had posted an excellent 2.54 ERA in limited use. Driessen hit fairly well - .254 with a .479 slugging percentage in 51 games - but his acquisition was pointless for a team hopelessly out of the pennant race. McHale finally realized this on August 30th, when he fired Virdon with the team in 5th place and 2 games below .500. He was replaced by his predecessor, Jim Fanning, who was given the mandate of completing the season. Five days later, McHale was fired upstairs, and young Murray Cook, only 44 at the time, became the team's new general manager.
While all this was going on, the Expos' pitching was actually fairly good. The key man was Charlie Lea who was 13-4 at the All-Star break. He started and won the 1984 All-Star Game, but then became the victim of the Expos' sputtering offense, compiling a 2-6 record after the break in spite of a 2.86 ERA before being shut down in early September. The problem was originally diagnosed as a muscle strain in the back but was in fact a serious shoulder injury that would make him miss most of the next three seasons. The second starter, Bill Gullickson was almost as good, posting a record of 12-9, 3.61, while walking only 37 men in 227 innings. Bryn Smith was also solid, with a 12-13, 3.32 season, but Rogers was only a shadow of his former self when he came back to the team, having lost his fastball and his control and finishing up at 6-15, 4.31 with 78 walks against only 64 strikeouts. Dan Schatzeder was pressed into the fifth starter spot by Breining's injury and did very well, with a 7-7 record and a 2.71 ERA, while David Palmer was brought along slowly after missing all but three months of the previous three seasons, ending up with a 7-3 record in 19 starts, including a rain-shortened five-inning perfect game on April 21 against the St. Louis Cardinals (Boxscore). The bullpen was also quite solid, led by closer Jeff Reardon who saved 23 games with a 2.90 ERA. Bob James was 6-6 with 10 saves and a 3.66 ERA, while Gary Lucas was only 0-3, but with 8 saves and a 2.72 ERA as the team's top left-handed reliever. In fact, the bullpen was so solid that Virdon could not find any work for Greg Harris in spite of his sparkling 2.04 ERA in 15 games in the early season and let him go to the San Diego Padres for almost no return. In the season's last few weeks, two more young pitchers would join the team and do very well, Rick Grapenthin who had a 3.52 ERA in 23 innings, and Joe Hesketh, whose ERA was 1.80 over 45 innings. Hesketh was in fact the rookie who made the biggest positive contribution to the team, given Salazar and Stenhouse's abysmal performances.
When the 1984 season ended, it was clear that the Expos had some serious retooling to do. The pitching had been outstanding (although Rogers and Lea's injuries were cause for serious concern), but the line-up included some huge holes to be filled, while no young player had been added to the line-up since Wallach in 1981. New General Manager Murray Cook would chose to address the issue in a very unexpected way.
- Bill Schneider: "Pete Rose Gets His 4000th Major League Hit; April 13, 1984: Montreal Expos 5, Philadelphia Phillies 1 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. 74-75. ISBN 978-1-943816-15-6