The Day the Expos Began to Die

My Mount Rushmore of Bad Sports Memories, in chronological order, are as follows:

  • Black Monday (October 19, 1981)

  • Ben Johnson Disqualification (September 27, 1988)

  • Major League Baseball Players Strike (August 12, 1994)

  • Patrick Lalime Game 7 Five-Hole Goals (April 20, 2004)

Today is the 25th anniversary of the August 12, 1994 Major League Baseball players strike, which may explain the heartburn I am experiencing as I type this. To this day I have difficulty accepting that the ’94 strike even happened.

Like most sports fans who grew up in Ottawa in the 70’s and 80’s, I was a hardcore fan of the Montreal Expos. During my teen years, there was a stretch where they fielded very good teams that were only a swing of the bat or two away from playing in the World Series. They developed some great players and put together some exciting teams but they always seemed to fall short at the end.

At the time of the strike, the Expos were winning baseball games at a .649 clip, with a jaw-dropping record of 74-40.

As a small market team, they earned the reputation of a franchise that identified and developed young prospects and moved them on once they became superstars. The 1994 Expos team was a mostly home-grown roster that was bolstered by a few impactful trades. Many on the roster were young players on the cusp of superstardom.

Please allow me to gush about the lineup for a moment.

The Expos boasted arguably the best outfield in baseball in ’94, with Marquis Grissom, Moises Alou and Larry Walker. Their infield was solid, with Sean Berry and Cliff Floyd on the corners, with Will Cordero and Mike Lansing turning double plays. You want pitching? Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez anchored a great staff of starters including Ken Hill and Gil Heredia. John Wetteland was a rock solid closer. And the calm, confident leadership of Manager Filipe Alou kept the team focused and relaxed.

At the time of the strike, the Expos were winning baseball games at a .649 clip, with a jaw-dropping record of 74-40. They had just won 20 out of their last 23 games and owned the best record in baseball. They were a full 6 games up on their division rival Atlanta Braves. All this despite a payroll of only $19 million, ranked 27th out of 28 teams. Ask any Montreal Expos fan who was around at the time - winning the World Series was all but a guarantee. This team was loaded. They were due. Expos fans knew it was going to happen.

Fans of Major League Baseball knew there was the possibility of a strike the moment the season began. Optimistic fans believed that talk of a potential strike was just that, talk. This is perhaps one of the reasons why the baseball strike of 1994 was so painful. The outcome wasn’t decided by a pitch or swing of the bat. Rather, it was decided by union representatives. After the announcement of the strike, I monitored the strike daily, hoping for breaking news that the season could be resumed and the Expos could pick up where they left off as the best team in baseball. But it was not meant to be.

Evil Bud Selig cancelled the remainder of season and the World Series on September 14, 1994. The following spring, Expos ownership decided they would not be able to add payroll in 1995. The Expos held a fire sale and jettisoned Walker, Hill, Wetteland and Grissom for two big league players and a handful of prospects. The team stopped spending money on players so the fans stopped spending money on tickets. This marked the beginning of the end for the franchise in Montreal, as they relocated to Washington DC after the 2004 season.

I like to think that, had the 1994 MLB season not been cancelled, the Montreal Expos would have defeated the New York Yankees in the World Series. They would have parlayed this success into a beautiful 37,000 seat downtown stadium. And they would still be playing in Montreal. But we will never know.

Pass the Rolaids.

- Brent Savidant, staff writer

Twitter: @SavMoney1point0

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