Expos Go out with a Whimper

BEING COAXED by a friend to travel to the Big Owe, way out in the east end, for yet another ultimate Last Major League Baseball Game in Montreal was a bit like hearing that Cat Stevens has been barred as a security risk from the U.S., or that Brigitte Bardot has just turned 70.

Expos Go out with a Whimper

BEING COAXED by a friend to travel to the Big Owe, way out in the east end, for yet another ultimate Last Major League Baseball Game in Montreal was a bit like hearing that Cat Stevens has been barred as a security risk from the U.S., or that Brigitte Bardot has just turned 70. Like, haven't these guys been long dead already?

For me, the EXPOS have been dead for a while, in fact since I stopped going to the ballpark five or six years ago. I had a 10-game share in a season ticket. Used to take my daughter there: basking in the glare and the noise, bonding over bad food, pretzels, no carrots, beer for me. Loved to take European visitors there, too, show them Montreal is also very much an American city. To celebrate my kid brother's move to Montreal in 1981, I took him to the championship game we lost to the Dodgers, who went on to the World Series. We had $20 tickets in the nosebleeds. Full stadium. Happy days.

I stopped going to the ballpark because the Expos told me to stop going. They've been very stupid, quite often. Claude Brochu wanted a new stadium downtown. In a weird marketing pitch, he convinced everyone the Big Owe was a rotten venue for baseball. I decided to wait for the new digs. They never came, I never went back ...

It's been argued repeatedly over the years that Montreal is not really a baseball town. Meaning what? We are too French? Too stoned? Too poor? On the contrary, Montreal had a love affair with the game long before the Expos. Jackie Robinson broke the race barrier here with the Royals at de Lorimier Grounds in 1946. The ardour remained. Bill Stoneman and Rusty Staub are still remembered from the Jarry Park era. Then Bill (Spaceman) Lee, Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, Larry Walker, grinnin' Gary Carter, Dennis Martinez. Mention their names in this town, we get misty-eyed. We had the best team of all in '94, the year of the Strike. Then there was Felipe Alou. We would have made him president for life of the republic of Montreal, no contest. The wily old manager was so cool. Loved fishing, lived in a bungalow in Laval. He was our man. Average crowds were in excess of 20,000 per game.

Montreal is a crazy city, granted: acute split-personality disorder. A gulag in winter, a happy, happening Mediterranean town in summer. Music and comedy festivals. Fireworks at La Ronde. The Expos were not the only show in town, if that's what not-a-baseball-town meant. There is an old saying in French: loin des yeux, loin du coeur. Far from the eyes, far from the heart. The strike of 1994 killed our chance of seeing the World Series here. That team was disbanded - Walker, Marquis Grissom, Moises Alou, John Wetteland, all gone - and things were never the same again. So last week, when baseball officials announced the Expos' move to Washington, there were a few tears, but no surprise.

There is good opera in Montreal. I never go there myself, but it feels somehow reassuring to know I could see Turandot without having to board a plane for somewhere else. It was the same with baseball. Montreal will be sad when the Expos fold for good, then will shrug it off. It'd be something else if les Canadiens moves to Las Vegas or Hoboken. There's not so much going on in winter around here, you see.

Maclean's October 11, 2004