Friday, August 6, 2010

August 12th, 1994 - The Worst Day in Montreal Expos History?

This article was first published in the August 6th edition of Main Street Week and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Week delivered right to your inbox every Friday.

Fans of the Montreal Expos spent many years riding the highs and lows of their beloved franchise. The glory days of Andre Dawson, Tim Raines and Gary Carter, the perfect game thrown by Dennis Martinez in 1991, or the pain of a 1981 playoff loss known as “Blue Monday”. We witnessed the emergence of a new generation of stars in the early nineties, as well as the financial struggles that ultimately led to the franchise’s departure to Washington at the end of the 2004 season. One day in particular stands out in my mind as the worst day in Expos history - August 12th, 1994.

There were no heartbreaking losses that day, no home runs to win the game, or stellar pitching performances silencing the Montreal bats. In fact, nothing happened at all that day; it was the first day of a 232-day work stoppage in the MLB. It was a bitter and lengthy labour battle, which in my opinion, eventually cost the city of Montreal their baseball team.

The strike forced the cancellation of the World Series for the first time since 1904 and there was talk of using replacement players in 1995 if the strike had not been resolved in time for that season to begin as planned. Teams returned to action for a shortened, 144-game season in 1995, but baseball fans voiced their displeasure by staying away from the ballpark. The Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa home run race in 1998 brought some fans back to the game, but they did not know at the time that performance-enhancing drugs fuelled the chase to break the single-season home run record. The Montreal Expos franchise never fully recovered from the World Series that did not happen, and neither did their fans.

After rebuilding their team in the late eighties and early nineties, the Montreal Expos assembled one of their greatest teams in 1994, under the guidance of one of the best managers in baseball, Felipe Alou. Think back for a moment on who was on that team... Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom, and Moises Alou patrolled the outfield at the Olympic Stadium. Mike Lansing, Cliff Floyd, Sean Berry, and Will Cordero guarded the infield. Ken Hill and Pedro Martinez anchored a young pitching staff; John Wetteland and Mel Rojas silenced the opposition bats when they came out of the bullpen. A remarkable group of talent, and the day the strike began, the Expos were first in their division and possessed the best win/loss record in all of baseball.

The Toronto Blue Jays had won the World Series in 1992 and 1993, and the Expos were heavily favoured to win the title in 1994, which would have been the third year in a row that a Canadian team ruled America’s sport; but it never happened. Perhaps the greatest team in Expos history, the 1994 squad never got their chance to call themselves World Champions. So, on August 12th, raise a glass in memory of the Montreal Expos; they may have become the Washington Nationals in 2005, but it is on this day that the moving vans started warming up their engines. Have a great sports day everyone.

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