Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Elegy for the Expos

Montreal franchise's rocky road chronicled

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If you mention the Montreal Expos to a sports junkie in this country who is at least, say, 35 or 40 years of age, be prepared for an avalanche of emotions.

Anger. Bitterness. Sorrow. Frustration.

Don't fret. After a while, the fond, nostalgic memories of great players and teams will kick in, and it's those feelings that author Jonah Keri mines with Up, Up, & Away, a loving look back at Canada's first Major League Baseball franchise.

Keri, who writes for grantland.com and who has put baseball analysis on bestseller lists, reminds us of the 35 years of ups and downs on the field, from the early adventurous days at Jarry Park, when Rusty Staub, Le Grande Orange of the book's subtitle, energized the country's baseball fans.

A few pages later and it's the late-1970s, when Gary Carter, the Kid, Andre (Hawk) Dawson and Tim Raines took Olympic Stadium, Canada and the National League by storm.

Sadly, the franchise's abrupt demise after the nirvana of 1994 is also replayed, much to fans' chagrin.

Most of the key names are interviewed, from executives, scouts, players and even broadcaster Dave Van Horne, whose home-run call provides the title of the book.

The team's only playoff appearance, in 1981, is told in great detail. The Expos' nemesis, L.A. Dodgers' outfielder Rick Monday, provides some fascinating insight about that fateful pitch from Steve Rogers and the ramifications it had on the players, the city of Montreal and the Expos' fans.

The '94 season is put under an even stronger literary microscope, thanks to Keri's many trips to the Big Owe to see the likes of Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom, John Wetteland and manager Felipe Alou.

Keri insists this was one of baseball's greatest teams, stymied by the season-ending work stoppage and the eventual dismantling of the club when the players and owners finally came to an agreement. At this point the book shines like the team did, as Keri uses his personal insight more and leans on others' recollections less.

Keri takes great pains pointing out the Expos' questionable record of hiring managers, most of whom had difficulty relating to a new generation of stars lured by Montreal's drug scene. At a time when players like Ellis Valentine, Ron LeFlore and Rodney Scott needed support, they received mostly antagonism.

Winnipeggers will know all too well the final desperate days of the team in Montreal. Keri mentions near the end that the Expos never really had a champion with big money and big ideas at the ownership level.

The first edition of the NHL Jets had that problem, too. The second edition's success, such as it is with the likelihood of a third consecutive non-playoff season, is due to True North's savvy boardroom leadership.

Major League Baseball's return to La Belle Province will never happen until their champion is found. And with the staggering amount of money required to own a ball team in the 21st century, a new Expos will need one hell of a champion.

Meanwhile, the team's fans will need to cling to these old memories, and that's where books like Up, Up, & Away step up to the plate.

 

Alan Small is the arts and life editor of the Winnipeg Free Press, and grew up rooting for the Montreal Expos.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 29, 2014 G7

History

Updated on Saturday, March 29, 2014 at 8:05 AM CDT: Tweaks formatting.

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