The latest installment of MLB Network Presents covers a topic that many baseball fans have been clamoring for quite a bit – the Montreal Expos. This hour-long documentary isn’t a thorough, deep dive into the franchise’s history, but does provide some background into the franchise’s beginnings and the highlights of its short-lived life.
Connecting different generations of players, Warren Cromartie, Andre Dawson, Cliff Floyd and Rondell White join together at a local restaurant to reminisce about life as Montreal Expos and the special bond created with its fan base. Notable Expos personalities relive different points in the club’s history, beginning with original owner Charles Bronfman and three-time Expos All-Star Rusty Staub discussing the birth of Montreal baseball in 1969 at Jarry Park. Sandy Carter, the widow of Expos Hall of Famer Gary Carter, and former players Tim Raines and Steve Rogers detail the Expos captivating Montreal in the late 1970’s at Olympic Stadium. The memorable 1981 Expos season is featured, including the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Rick Monday describing his back-breaking home run in Game Five of the 1981 National League Championship Series, which Expos fans refer to as “Blue Monday.”
The episode continues with Expos Cy Young award winner and Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez highlighting the talented 1994 Expos team, who were poised for a Postseason appearance before the season was cut short by the players’ strike in August. Former Expos general manager Dave Dombrowski, longtime Expos broadcasters Dave Van Horne and Rodger Brulotte, and journalists Michael Farber, Jonah Keri and Mitch Melnick explain the once festive environment surrounding Expos games at Olympic Stadium. The relocation of the franchise to Washington, D.C. in 2004 is covered with the current Mayor of Montreal Denis Coderre describing the city’s passion for seeing a baseball team return.
The film’s structure is almost too simplistic – a number of people tied to the Expos discuss the franchise and its history. It’s almost a little too romantic at times – the franchise seemed doomed right from its inception with the struggle to find a place to play in 1969, and the issues with the club’s first home (Jarry Park) are almost hand waved away.
There also isn’t too deep of a dive into the reasoning behind why the franchise always felt the need to trade away its star players aside from “well, they needed money”. But *why* did they need money? I would’ve loved to hear an explanation of the logic behind trading players like Gary Carter, Larry Walker, and Pedro Martinez aside from “they’re expensive and we can’t afford them”.
One of the highlights of the film to me was the description of “Blue Monday”, the Expos’ loss to the Dodgers in Game 5 of the 1981 NLDS. Numerous people involved with the loss, including pitcher Steve Rogers, outfielder Warren Cromartie, and Rick Monday of the Dodgers (who hit the game-winning home run) relive the game, with Monday sharing a humorous, borderline terrifying anecdote about being asked to leave a Montreal restaurant years after the home run because a group of Expos fans wanted to fight him.
It wouldn’t be fair to call ‘The Colorful Montreal Expos’ “the rise and fall of the Montreal Expos” because the franchise never really had a rise. The NLCS loss in 1981 was the high point in the franchise’s success (barring their MLB-best record in 1994 when the players went on strike), and it’s not as if they went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows at a drastic speed. The Expos were perennial cost cutters, starting with their trade of Rusty Staub in 1971, just three years into the franchise’s history. The fire sale after the 1994 season wasn’t the first time the Expos had to sell off assets in order to compete.
I think what this film does quite well is explains why the Expos were so beloved, and why they’re still loved to this day. This was a unique franchise, the likes of which we’ve never seen before. The Expos were the first MLB franchise to be located outside of the United States, and they were in Montreal – a French-speaking city. This unique blend of cultures is something we haven’t really seen in American sports aside from the NHL – the NBA expanded into Toronto and Vancouver (for a time, at least), but nowhere in Quebec. The NFL is looking to England rather than Canada. MLB has played exhibition games at the Expos’ former home, Olympic Stadium, but hasn’t seriously considered relocating a franchise to Montreal or expanding to the city.
And that uniqueness, combined with the incredible starpower that wore the Expos’ red, white, and blue, is why people still care about the Expos in 2016, more than 11 years after their final game.
MLB Network Presents: The Colorful Montreal Expos airs on Tuesday, January 26th at 9 PM.