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The Montreal Expos were a Canadian professional baseball team that played in the Eastern Division of the National League between 1969 and 2004. The Expos were the first MLB franchise outside the United States. During their existence, the Expos played at Jarry Park Stadium and then the Olympic Stadium.
How Did the Montreal Expos Start Up?
Interest in setting up an MLB franchise began after the relocation to Los Angles of the International League franchise, the Montreal Royals in 1960. Montreal City Council member Gerry Snyder, who had played a crucial role in bringing the 1975 Olympics and the F1 Canada Grand Prix to Montreal, was at the forefront of efforts to get a new baseball team for the city. Following a bid presented to MLB team owners by Snyder at their 1967 meeting in Mexico City, Montreal was awarded a franchise on May 27, 1968 along with San Diego.
The Majority shareholder and board chairman of the new team would be Charles Bronfman who also held a majority stake at Seagram. The moniker “Expo” was picked, referring to Expo 67, a global exposition the city had hosted, the most successful of its kind to date. Initial difficulty finding a suitable game ballpark threatened the existence of the franchise but eventually, 3,000 seater Jarry Park was picked and expanded to a capacity of 28,500. Gene Mauch, formerly manager of Philadelphia Phillies was appointed the first manager.
Montreal Expos in Competition:
The Expos’ first ever game was an 11-10 win over the New York Mets at Shea Stadium. Six days later, history was made as the first MLB game in Canada kicked off. The Expos won the game at Jarry Park 8-7 over the St. Louis Cardinals. They then went on to defeat the Phillies 7-0, completing a trio of winning games. Despite their impressive start, their form subsequently imploded and they finished their maiden season in last place with a 52-110 record. The Expos’ first ten seasons were all losing seasons despite changing managers two times.
In 1979 under Coach Dick Williams, they finished second in the NL East division with a remarkable 95-65 record. They had spent 88 days at the summit, including a 63-day consecutive run. During the 80s, the team experienced up and down performances. The 1981 split season saw them reach the playoffs for the first and only time in their history. They defeated the Phillies 3-2 in the division series, but went on to lose the NL Championship series 3-2 to Los Angles Dodgers at a rain-drenched stadium. They failed to finish above third place between 1982 and 1991 and fans were left to rue what would have been if the team had avoided hugely unpopular sales of key players. In 1989 with the Expos fighting for a playoff place, they traded four key players and the team slumped to fourth despite having led the NL East throughout July.
The 90s began well, with the team recording 5 winning seasons between 1990 and 1996. 1997-2001 were all losing seasons but the team managed second place in 2002 with an 83-79 record. 2003 was also a winning season (83-79) despite being forced to play many of their home games in San Juan. Again playing their home games in Puerto Rico, the Expos ended their final season, 2004 with a dismal 67-95 record.
Montreal Expos Notable Moments:
On August 23, 1989 the Expos and Los Angeles Dodgers played the longest game in the Expos’ history, lasting 6 hours and running for 22 innings. The game was eventually won by the Dodgers and is one of the most memorable and controversial games in history.
On September 29, 2004 following the announcement by the MLB that the franchise would be relocated, fans came in high numbers to say goodbye to their heroes. A season high crowd turned up for the 9-1 loss to Florida Marlins that night and the team received a warm send-off. The highly promising but subsequently cancelled 1994 season was commemorated with a banner that read’ “Best Team in Baseball”.
Notable Montreal Expos Players:
Gary Carter was a catcher signed as a rookie in 1972. He was popular with expos fans for his exuberance and energetic play. His career high with Montreal came in 1984 with 106 RBIs, 175 hits, 290 total bases and a batting average of .294 from 159 games. His sale to New York Mets that year was hugely unpopular with fans but he returned in 1992, his final active season.
Hall of Famer Andre Dawson shone for the Expos in his rookie year and went on to break single season club records for homeruns(32), extra base hits(78), sacrifice flies(18) and RBI (113) though all of these records have since been surpassed.
Rusty Staub leads the franchise with .402 on base percentage among players with 2000 or more appearances. He was one of the Expo’s most popular players and won many personal accolades during his time with the team.
All these players had their numbers retired by the Montreal Expos.
What Happened to the Montreal Expos?
Game attendance had waned continuously at the beginning of the new millennium, largely credited with fans’ disillusionment with the team’s policy of trading its stars to rival teams. To prevent the team from making losses, the MLB instructed them to play their home games in Puerto Rico, a move which initially seemed to pay dividends. However, it was soon clear that the team had to be relocated permanently or terminated.
MLB team owners purchased the team in 2004 with the intention of moving it elsewhere. MLB announced on September 29, 2004 that the franchise would be moved to Washington DC. That night, the Expos played their last home game in front of a season record 31, 395 fans. The team officially moved to Washington in 2005 and was renamed the Washington Nationals.