Franchise Record: 2,755-2,943-4 (1969 to 2004)
Playoff Record: 5-5
World Series Titles: 0
National League Pennants: 1 (1994)
Playoffs: 1 (1981)
The Montréal Expos were an expansion team that began play in 1969. They were the first Major League Baseball team based outside the United States. Montreal had a long association with professional baseball however, especially through the Montreal Royals of the International League, who were the top farm club of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Los Angeles Dodgers until their demise in 1960.
The Montreal baseball club, as yet unnamed, was born on May 27, 1968. At a press conference held in Chicago's Excelsior Hotel, National League President Warren Giles announced that the circuit's owners had chosen two cities for expansion in 1969: Montreal and San Diego, CA. The announcement was coming a few months after the American League, its hand forced by the relocation of the Kansas City Athletics to Oakland, CA, had awarded new franchises for 1969 to Kansas City, MO and Seattle, WA. The National League, which had been planning to expand in 1970 or 1971, moved its date forward and formed an expansion committee composed of Walter O'Malley, owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Roy Hofheinz of the Houston Astros, and John Galbreath from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Five cities were in the running for franchises: San Diego, Montreal, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Milwaukee, WI and Buffalo, NY. Montreal was clearly the underdog among the group, because it lacked, among other things, a viable ballpark and a local owner.
However, when the expansion franchise was awarded, Montreal was coming off hosting the highly-successful 1967 World Exposition and was still considered the most dynamic city in Canada, a title it was soon to lose to Toronto. The city's mayor, the effervescent Jean Drapeau, the man behind the 1967 Exposition, the building of the metro and - a few months after securing a baseball team for his city - obtaining the Olympic Games, put his considerable charisma in the effort to sell Montreal to National League owners. His point man in the effort was Gerry Snyder, vice-president of the city's executive committee and a former semi-pro pitcher and sporting goods dealer. Together, they managed to convinced a group of ten local business leaders to pledge $ 1 million each towards the $ 10 million franchise fee. Snyder paid calls on the three members of the expansion committee and convinced each to support Montreal. O'Malley needed little convincing: he remembered very well the success of the Montreal Royals and liked the idea of Major League Baseball expanding into a brand new geographic area. Hofheinz had visited Expo '67 and been very impressed with the city, while Galbreath liked Montreal's low-key approach (which contrasted with Milwaukee, which had sued MLB following the departure of the Braves for Atlanta in 1966). Thus, when the owners met in Chicago, the three most influential persons in the room were already supportive of Montreal, which was by far the largest city in the running in terms of population. However, the mayor had not done such a good selling job in Montreal itself: no one thought the city stood a chance and only two reporters, both from La Presse, made the trip to Chicago to hear the stunning announcement.
The team's original owners wanted to name the franchise the Royals, but the new American League expansion franchise in Kansas City had beaten them to the punch. They fell back to celebrating the 1967 Exhibition, with a name that sounded good in both English and French: the Expos/les Expos. The name was originally coined by New York journalist Dick Young, out drinking with Gerry Snyder following the announcement of the new franchise, although it would not be officially announced until September. Soon, they would unveil an innovative logo, combining a capital "M" (for Montreal), a lower-case cursive "e" (for Expos) and a lower-case "b" (for baseball), in the team's three colors, red, white and blue. The team's cap was also ground-breaking, with a crown divided in the three team colors and the logo on a white field in front. Enthusiasm for the new franchise would build very quickly.
The team still had significant problems to solve off the field before it played its first game. First, the ten original owners had only promised to provide the franchise fee, and many of them were taken aback when Drapeau was actually successful in securing the franchise and backed out; setting up working capital was another matter. With no lead owner coming forward, it seemed the team would collapse for lack of funds. With the National League threatening to take away the newly-awarded franchise if an initial payment was not made by August 15, Snyder came to the fore again, convincing Charles Bronfman, owner the multinational Seagram's Corporation, to up his share in the investment in order to provide working capital and become the ownership group's principal. Bronfman accepted out of a sense of civic duty and a need to pilot a project that he could call his own - Seagram was his father Sam Bronfman's creation - and his presence at the forefront of the organization reassured MLB. The franchise was maintained and Bronfman would remain at the helm until 1991.
The ballpark problem was just as complicated. Delorimier Downs, which had been the home of the Royals, was dilapidated and destined for the wrecking ball. Built in a residential area of the city's east end, it had no room for expansion or parking. Drapeau had promised the expansion committee that the team could use the Autostade, built two years earlier for the Canadian Football League's Montreal Alouettes, for its first few seasons until a permanent stadium with a retractable roof could be built in time for the 1972 season. Engineering studies showed that it would cost a small fortune to adapt the Autostade for a few years of baseball. A last-minute solution was found in Jarry Park a 3000-seat municipally-owned facility used by amateur teams, which had room for temporary expansion and was near a metro station. With construction crews working throughout the winter, the cozy ballpark was spruced up and (almost) ready by Opening Day of the 1969 season. Of course, Drapeau's successful bid for the 1976 Olympics a few months later threw off his plans for a baseball-only stadium and Jarry Park would be used until the end of the 1976 season, to be replaced by Stade Olympique, built for the 1976 games.
The Expos now existed on paper, but they had less than a year to become a team. One of Bronfman's first moves was to hire John McHale, assistant to Commissioner William Eckert and a former General Manager of the Detroit Tigers and Milwaukee Braves, as team president. This gave the new franchise a well-respected baseball man at the helm. McHale in turn hired Jim Fanning, one of his former employees with the Braves and at the time head of the Major League Scouting Bureau, as GM. Fanning then convinced Gene Mauch, former manager of the Philadelphia Phillies to join the group as the team's first manager, and hired a few scouts to prepare the expansion draft. The team actually had a few players already under contract, as they had been allowed to take part in the 1968 amateur draft starting in the 20th round, relying on the advice of Fanning and the scouting bureau to make selections. The real beginning of the team took shape on October 14, 1968, with the expansion draft. The Expos' brothers in expansion, the San Diego Padres, had the first selection overall and used it to select outfielder Ollie Brown. The Expos followed by taking outfielder Manny Mota from the Pittsburgh Pirates. They selected 30 players in all, concentrating on veterans while the Padres focussed on youth. Recognizable names included Mudcat Grant, Maury Wills, John Bateman, Donn Clendenon, Jesus Alou, Larry Jackson and Mack Jones, all veterans with a track record of major league success. In the following weeks, the team added Bob Bailey and Don Bosch, two former top prospects who had failed to fulfill expectations. Then at the Winter Meetings, the Houston Astros made them an offer they couldn't refuse: they would send 24-year-old budding superstar Rusty Staub, with whom they had trouble reaching contract terms, in return for two of the veterans taken in the expansion draft, Alou and Clendenon. When the deal was announced on January 22, 1969, the Expos had the star player around whom to build the franchise.
But first, there would be a bit of melodrama. Clendenon was not happy with the deal and announced his retirement a few weeks later. Under the rules of the time, the trade should have been cancelled. But the Expos had already started all their marketing campaign around Staub and had no wish to return him to Houston. Something else had changed since November, which was that Commissioner Eckert had been dismissed by the owners at the winter meetings. McHale was the logical successor, but he did not want to abandon his new team so soon after having been hired. Instead, he stepped aside and left the field open for a dark horse candidate, his good friend, the legal advisor to the commissioner's office, Wall Street lawyer Bowie Kuhn. Kuhn got the coveted job, but owed McHale a big favor. He intervened in the Staub affair, saying the trade would not be cancelled and that the two teams would have to agree to compensation for Clendenon. The Astros were livid, but Kuhn held his ground, and just before the 1969 season started, the two teams completed the deal, with pitchers Jack Billingham and Skip Guinn joining Alou in Houston and the Expos convincing Clendenon to call off his retirement; a significant salary raise helped to change his mind.
The Early Years
The Expos got off to a successful launch in 1969, even though they finished the year with an awful record of 52-110. They won their very first game, on April 8 against the New York Mets at Shea Stadium, holding on for a wild 11-10 win. Gary Sutherland scored the first run in team history, driven in by Bob Bailey who got the first hit. Relief pitcher Dan McGinn hit the team's first ever home run off future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, and Don Shaw got credit for the win. They also won their home opener on April 14, 8-7 against the St. Louis Cardinals in the first regular season MLB game to be played outside the United States, with Mack Jones driving 5 runs and becoming an instant favorite with the denizens of sold-out Jarry Park's left-field bleachers. Then on April 17, Bill Stoneman pitched a no-hitter against the Phillies in Philadelphia, PA, giving the new team three unforgettable moments in its first two weeks of play. The Expos would go through some rough times that first year, including a 20-game losing streak in May and early June that surely reminded manager Mauch of his time at the helm of the Phillies when they went through a record 23-game skein in 1960. Shortly after that, GM Fanning traded away a number of the veterans picked up in the expansion draft - Grant, Clendenon, Mota and Wills. The Expos may not have won many games that first season, but they were undeniably a hit at the gate, drawing over 1.2 million enthusiastic fans - the most among the four expansion teams that year - and became known as Nos z'amours (our beloved ones) while their star player Staub achieved a level of popularity heretofore reserved for hockey players. The hitting was fine that first year, with Staub, Jones, Bailey, rookie Coco Laboy, and Ron Fairly, acquired in one of the June trades, leading the way. The pitching was more of a problem, however. Stoneman, in spite of flashes of brilliance, lost 19 games and led the league in walks. Other starters such as Grant, Larry Jaster, Mike Wegener and Jerry Robertson, posted awful winning percentages. The bullpen was shaky all season except for McGinn, and Fanning had to bring in a slew of veterans on their last legs to patch it up. The team gave up a record 702 walks and lost every extra-inning game it played.
In 1973, the Expos were involved in an unlikely four-team pennant race in the National League East, achieving a virtual tie for first place on September 17 before losing 9 of their next 10 games and finishing the season in fourth place, 3½ games behind the New York Mets. Gene Mauch, who had managed the team from its inception in 1969 until 1975, was voted the National League's Manager of the Year after the season. This relative success was only achieved through a lot of smoke and mirrors and some veteran ball players nearing the end of the line, and by 1975, the team was headed back to the bottom of the standings.
The Expos achieved their first winning season in 1979 and remained competitive in the National League East until the mid 1980s. They missed the playoffs on the last week-end of the season, losing out to the eventual World Champions both in 1979 and 1980. Led by catcher Gary Carter and outfielders Andre Dawson and Tim Raines, they made their lone playoff appearance in 1981, losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series. Their fortunes dipped in the late 1980s, but by the early 1990s, under the leadership of manager Felipe Alou, the Expos were again competitive. In 1994, they had the best record in baseball in and appeared to be headed to the playoffs again. They were led by a pitching staff that included Ken Hill, who won 16 games, and a young Pedro Martinez. Outfielder Moises Alou hit .339 with 22 home runs. However, the Expos playoff aspirations were ended by the 1994 strike which shortened the season and caused the postseason to be cancelled. Following the 1994 season, the Expos struggled with poor attendance and either traded or let many of their star players leave. Despite the presence of stars such as Vladimir Guerrero, Orlando Cabrera and Jose Vidro, ownership woes led to a club decline in the later 1990s, and the team struggled with poor attendance. There was talk that Major League Baseball would eliminate the club, along with the Minnesota Twins, but the other MLB owners purchased the team until it could be moved. In 2005 the Expos were moved to Washington, DC becoming the Washington Nationals.
- Daniel Caza and Denis Brodeur: Les Expos: Du Parc Jarry au Stade Olympique, Les Éditions de l'Homme, Montréal, QC, 1996.
- Marc de Foy: Baseball PQ: Une histoire illustrée, Les Éditions du Journal, Montréal, QC, 2019. ISBN 978-2-89761-087-6
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- Jacques Doucet and Marc Robitaille: Il était une fois les Expos. Tome 2: Les années 1985-2004, Hurtubise, Montreal, QC, 2011. ISBN 978-2-89647-517-9
- Danny Gallagher: De Jackie Robinson à Felipe Alou: Souvenirs de Montréal, de baseball et des Expos, Les Éditions Mille-Iles, Laval, QC, 1998.
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- Danny Gallagher and Bill Young: Ecstasy to Agony: The 1994 Montreal Expos: How the Best Team in Baseball Ended up in Washington 10 Years Later, Scoop Press, Toronto, ON, 2013. ISBN 9780968185957
- Jonah Keri: Up, Up, and Away: The Kid, the Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, le Grand Orange, Youppi!, the Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos, Random House Canada, Toronto, ON, 2014. ISBN 978-0307361356
- Norm King, ed.: Au jeu/Play Ball: The 50 Greatest Games in the History of the Montreal Expos, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2016. ISBN 978-1-943816-15-6
- David Luchuk: Blue Jays 1, Expos 0: The Urban Rivalry that Killed Major League Baseball in Montreal, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2007.
- Doug Miller: "Montreal memories on display in Expos doc: MLB Network film to air today at 9 p.m. ET", mlb.com, January 26, 2016. 
- Marc Robitaille, ed.: Une vue du champ gauche, Les 400 coups, Saint-Laurent, QC, 2003. ISBN 2-89540-089-X
- B. Glen Rotchin: Halbman Steals Home, Dundurn, Toronto, ON, 2012. ISBN 978-1459701274
- Jean-Paul Sarault: Les Expos, cinq ans après, Les Éditions de l'Homme, Montréal, QC, 1974.
- Jeff Stuart: Blue Mondays: The Long Goodbye of the Montreal Expos, PublishAmerica, Frederick, MD, 2009.
- Serge Touchette: La Fesse d'Ellis Valentine et 75 autres bonnes histoires des Expos : mes souvenirs de nos Z'amours 1969-2004, Guy Saint-Jean Éditeur, Laval, QC, 2019. ISBN 9782897587369
- Alain Usereau: L'époque glorieuse des Expos, Les Éditeurs Réunis, Sainte-Angèle-de-Monnoir, QC, 2009; translated as The Expos in Their Prime: The Short-Lived Glory of Montreal's Team, 1977-1984, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2012. ISBN 978-0786470815
- Major League Baseball Records as of (2012) John Thorn: Total Baseball, Total Sports Publishing, 1989, 1995