Overtime: The Expos: A Baseball Story

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Overtime: The Expos: A Baseball Story

With the Nationals going to the World Series, we shouldn’t forget what came before. (Courtesy of Flickr)

With the Nationals going to the World Series, we shouldn’t forget what came before. (Courtesy of Flickr)

With the Nationals going to the World Series, we shouldn’t forget what came before. (Courtesy of Flickr)

With the Nationals going to the World Series, we shouldn’t forget what came before. (Courtesy of Flickr)

Dylan Balsamo, Assistant Sports Editor

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By the time you read this article, the Washington Nationals might have clinched a spot in the 2019 World Series by defeating the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series and winning the National League pennant. Maybe they haven’t yet. But chances are, whenever you’re reading this, the Nats have either clinched it or are pretty close to it.

On Monday night, Washington defeated St. Louis in Game 3 of the series 8–1 to take a commanding 3–0 lead over the Cards. Last week’s Nationals win in the National League Division Series against the Dodgers was just the second time the organization had ever won a playoff series. If the Nationals win this series, either with a Tuesday night victory or a win in whatever games are necessary thereafter, it will be the franchise’s first-ever trip to the Fall Classic.

Younger baseball fans who have not studied the history of Major League Baseball to the plethoric and embarrassing extent that myself and the rest of this sports staff have may not find this fact particularly outstanding, as the Nationals are to some extent baseball’s “newest” team (they began play in our nation’s capital in April of 2005). What these fans do not know is that before they were the Nationals, this franchise was a whole other team: the Montreal Expos.

The Expos began play in Montreal, Quebec in 1969 at Jerry Park Stadium, now a tennis stadium, as one of four expansion teams that season, entering the newly-formed National League East. Over their uniquely rich three-and-a-half decade stint in French Canada, the Expos were home to some players that baseball fans of any age would likely recognize the names of: Rusty Staub, Andre Dawson, Gary Carter, Vladimir Guererro (Sr) and Pedro Martinez. Current National Ryan Zimmerman was drafted as an Expo but did not reach the big leagues until after they had left Montreal. When New York favorite Bartolo Colon went unsigned after 2018, he was the last active player to have played for the Expos.

While the franchise saw plenty of star power in Montreal, it was never able to translate into success as a team. The Expos only got to taste playoff baseball once, as in 1981 the season was split in half due to a players’ strike. Montreal was the best team in the NL East in the second half of the season, so they played in the NLDS against the Philadelphia Phillies and won the series before falling to the Dodgers in five games in 1981 NLCS.

But that’s not the “playoff” team that Expo historians are the fondest of.

That team would be in 1994. Managed by Felipe Alou, the ’94 ’Spos had star power: Martinez, John Wetteland, Cliff Floyd, Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom and Felipe’s son Moises. They had a stranglehold on the lead in the NL East, had the best record of the three national league division leaders, and were in fact the club with the best record in all of Major League Baseball. They were the favorite by Las Vegas and fans alike to play a formidable Yankees team in the World Series and perhaps beat them.

There was even talk of the city of Montreal finally getting a new stadium made just for baseball after the Expos had played in Olympic Stadium, named for its intended purpose, for nearly 20 years.

But in mid-August of 1994, the players of Major League Baseball went on strike with no sign of negotiations being made before autumn’s unforgiving arrival. All remaining games in the season were canceled, and there was no postseason, no champion crowned.

Baseball came back in 1995, but the Expos were not the same. Half of those star players had left the club, signs of a new stadium began to fade, and by the end of 2000, Montreal was back to their old ways and the Yankees would go on to win four World Series. It is one of baseball’s most romantic tragedies.

After the 2004 season, the Expos home attendance had hit an all-time low with no sign of the team improving, so Major League Baseball bought out the club and moved them to Washington D.C. So became the Nationals, and so ended the Expos.

Now it’s 2019 and 1994 was a quarter of a century ago. This season has heard rumors of the Tampa Bay Rays moving the team to Montreal for half of their home games. It was an idea that raised eyebrows all over but eventually faded away just like the summer breeze that swept the ‘94 Expos out of sight. There are no Expos.
But there are the Nationals.

Now, 25 years after a missed opportunity for a franchise-saving championship, the Nationals are surprising the baseball world by taking the NLCS by storm. They took down the Dodgers, the team they lost to in 1981, and now they are a step away from defeating the Cardinals, one of the most successful National League clubs since the Nats moved to Washington.

And guess who they might play in the World Series: the Yankees.

It’s sad, but it’s beautiful.

Go ’Spos.