Academic journal article Nine

Alain Usereau. the Expos in Their Prime: The Short-Lived Glory of Montreal's Team, 1977-1984. Jefferson Nc: Mcfarland, 2013. 260 Pp

Academic journal article Nine

Alain Usereau. the Expos in Their Prime: The Short-Lived Glory of Montreal's Team, 1977-1984. Jefferson Nc: Mcfarland, 2013. 260 Pp

Article excerpt

Alain Usereau. The Expos in Their Prime: The Short-Lived Glory of Montreal's Team, 1977-1984. Jefferson NC: McFarland, 2013. 260 pp. Paper, $29.95.

William E. Akin

Why do we need a history of the defunct Montreal Expos? Why, especially, one that covers only eight years out of the team's thirty-five year history? Why a team that never won a league title, never mind a World Series?

One reason is that the story of a team that appears to have a dynasty within reach, creating a "passionate relationship between the fans and the team," indeed a "real love story" (3), only to crash and burn will resonate with fans of every major-league team--except Yankees fans, who are peculiarly exempt from such angst. The Expos appeared to gain credibility in 1976. A new manager, Dick Williams, took over for Gene Mauch, who had guided the team since its inception in 1969. The farm system was turning out an astonishing array of talent that included Hall of Famers Gary Carter and Andre Dawson. The list of phenoms also included outfielder Ellis Valentine, thought to be the best of the lot until drugs and fondness for the Montreal nightlife did him in. Then there was outfielder-first baseman Warren Cromartie, who believed that if Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson had candy bars named after them, then surely he should also; he received one when the "Cro-Bar" hit Canadian candy aisles. Other rookies in 1967 included third baseman Larry Parrish, and pitchers Steve Rodgers and Bill Gullickson. Right behind the first crop were Tim Raines, Tim Wallach, Scott Sanderson, and Rodney Scott.

The breakout came in 1979 when the club won ninety-five games. Fan support came with victories. The club topped the one-million mark in attendance for the first time in 1977, and soared over two million in 1979. Television ratings peaked as the Expos surpassed Les Canadiens in the hearts of Montreal fans. The Expos became Canada's team. Although a contender in the pennant races of 1979 and 1980, the team fell just short of a title. The Pittsburgh Pirates nosed out the Expos, taking the National League pennant and the World Series in 1979. The Phillies knocked the Expos out on the last weekend of the 1980 season on their way to becoming champions of baseball for the first time.

The Expos peaked in the strike-shortened season of 1981 when they reached the playoffs for the first and only time. In the NL Championship Series, however, their pitching would not allow the Expos to topple the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Expos remained a contender for a couple of more seasons, but failed to get over the hump to postseason play. The club fell apart near the end of the frustrating 1983 season. That year was also the last time the team drew over two million fans.

Usereau, a French language sportscaster who covered the Expos in their glory years, considers a wide range of issues that prevented the Expos from fulfilling their promise. He places the heaviest emphasis on destructive team chemistry. Years later, Cromartie articulated Usereau's thesis: "there was no chemistry on the team . . . the players were not playing as a team" (214). Instead of winning seven titles which Cromartie believed should have been theirs, the team floundered. The stars, Carter and Dawson, disliked each other. Out of that division a chasm developed between black and white players. Management kept searching, unsuccessfully, for the alpha male who would control the clubhouse. This was the reason for bringing in Dick Williams and Bill Virdon as managers, and acquiring veterans Tony Perez, Al Oliver, and Pete Rose. Usereau believes Parrish could have provided the needed leadership, but he was traded away after 1981. …

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