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Up, Up, and Away: The Kid, the Hawk, Rock,…

Up, Up, and Away: The Kid, the Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, le Grand Orange,…

by Jonah Keri

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I was trying to save this for the off-season but didn't quite make it. The history of the Montreal Expos presented by one of my favorite baseball writers, writing from a long-suffering fan's perspective. In retrospect what the team's management accomplished is even more impressive. It is also sad to realize that if they could of only held on a few more years the new mlb.tv revenue (which is evenly shared among the teams) would have ensured their survival.

On a personal note, I will always remember a 2002 trip to Montreal to see a series between the Royals and Expos. Of course the (terrible) Royals were swept. My wife charmed the bullpen catcher out of a ball. And we figured out 'we' were pregnant with our oldest - quite an eventful time! ( )
  kcshankd | Sep 5, 2014 |
Being a fan of a sports team is an intensely personal voyage. As such it can't be surprising that reading another's book about that team will always fall short. Regardless this book brings back the excitement, the raw electricity of the good days as well the emptiness left from the 'oh so close' moments that multiplied over the years. Unfulfilled promise. Cynical business. Such a shame. Worth reading for a glimpse into the pell-mell voyage that was the Montreal Expos. ( )
  TomMcGreevy | Jun 6, 2014 |
What a strange, bittersweetly nostalgic weekend this has been, watching the Toronto Blue Jays' two-game exhibition stand with the New York Mets at Montreal's aging Olympic Stadium—a facility that hasn't seen a major-league ballgame since the Montreal Expos pulled up stakes ten years ago, departing to become the Washington Nationals. I must say that it was an excellent move by Random House, publishers of the first-ever comprehensive history of the "Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos," to time its release to this particular week.

If you were ever an Expos fan, you know you want this book. If you weren't, reading it might make you one.

Even calling it a "comprehensive" history suggests something dryer than the actual product. I slammed through this highly personal but generously-scoped history faster than any book I've read in the last two decades—in other words, since the year that the Montreal Expos had the best team, and the best record, in MLB, only to have their expected World Series trip cancelled by the 1994 players' strike.

Well researched, yes, comprehensive, yes, but spiked perfectly with tales from Jonah Keri's own longsuffering fan's relationship with the team.

I'm inspired to tell a fan story of my own. Before I do, I should explain that I jumped on the Expos' fanwagon at the age of eight. By the summer of 1989, the year that the Expos really caught fire for the first time, I was a nine-year-old hardcore fan, constantly wearing my Expos cap, using sheets of blank lined exercise paper to log the games that I watched on Saturday afternoons on the CBC. My family did not have the means to vacation outside of the Maritimes so I could never dream of travelling from Halifax to see the Expos in person. The Big O would remain a distant, exotic theatre of sport, that Other Place where Big Things Happened. Through my early 20s I watched from afar the leadup to the crushing disappointment of 1994, and by the time I entered the working world in '96, I had been turned off major-league ball by the strike. But in my early 30s, as MLB began to look to find ways to terminate the franchise, I began to root for the team to survive in the face of being undermined by baseball's own organization.

So it was that on Saturday, August 3, 2002, at the age of 32, I walked into Olympic Stadium for the first time in my life, tears welling up in my eyes in those first moments. I was overwhelmed by the feeling of stepping simultaneously into the Big O of my childhood imagination and the real stadium in Montreal. It was the year that MLB had taken possession of the franchise from New York art dealer Jeffrey Loria—who personally profited around $100 million from the decline of the Expos—and had unexpectedly allowed the team to grow its payroll and sign the outstanding Bartolo Colon to anchor their starting rotation.

Colon started that day, allowing the Houston Astros six hits and three earned runs in a losing cause, the Expos on the wrong end of a 5-3 final scoreline. I was excited to see Vladimir Guerrero and the returned Andres Galarraga, but the two stars managed just one hit between them. But for me the highlight of the experience was listening in on the conversation next to me.

I had bought a "VIP" ticket, the kind of seat in the zone behind home plate that would typically cost hundreds of dollars at any thriving major-league park, but in what was supposed to be the sunset year of this franchise cost me only fifty bucks (what the hell, I thought, I'm only ever going to see them once). I soon realized from what I was overhearing next to me that I was sitting next to a scout from the Milwaukee Brewers (whom the Expos were set to visit in the following week), and a member of the Expos coaching staff. The two were rapidly dropping famous first names in the conversation, and "Omar" featured prominently (Omar Minaya, that is, who had taken over as GM that year). But what puzzled me was the fact that the Expos coach was periodically training a small radar gun on his pitchers.

What the hell?, I thought. Wouldn't the Expos have radar guns set up in permanent locations in the stadium? It seemed very strange. I always wondered about that—until I read Jonah Keri's book.

Page 366. "MLB assumed control of the Expos in February 2002. That gave the team, now wards of the state, just a few weeks to prepare... the Expos would need to use every resource at their disposal. Unfortunately, they had virtually none. Jeffrey Loria had taken _everything_. He grabbed the computers, the scouting reports, the radar guns..." THE RADAR GUNS. The Expos didn't have radar guns set up in the stadium because JEFFREY LORIA TOOK THEM.

Twelve-year-old mystery solved, thanks to Jonah Keri.

But Keri is also good at explicating the multiple reasons for the franchise meltdown, and in the cause of fairness what he exposes is that Loria was partly a scapegoat. He did take advantage of the situation in the end, but what happened was as much a failure of the Quebecois partners in the franchise to fulfil their moral duties as partners, as Keri makes indisputably clear. Over the years, before and during the Loria period, local and national "partners" such as Bell and Desjardins showed they were anything but.

As Keri says, "the erosion of the city's business community [starting in the late 1970s] would eventually prove to be more harmful to the Expos' future than any one lopsided trade or disposable manager."

Keri also, while showing the degree to which Claude Brochu was unfairly scapegoated before Loria, makes a compelling argument that Brochu's infamous 1995 firesale that dismantled 1994's heartbreakingly great super-team was a terrible decision not just in baseball terms but in business terms. Keeping the team intact likely would have done more to offset the negative financial impacts of the players strike and its aftermath than the player sell-off that was supposed to protect the team financially. Just another bitter irony of Expos history.

It's not all bitterness and regret though. Keri's book is also packed with treats for the longtime fan and curious observer alike, and my favourite is the one-page lexicon of French baseball terms. His story of how some of these were concocted from scratch is entertaining and illuminating.

It's been strangely wonderful watching the two Olympic Stadium games on TV this weekend—the Friday night event honoring the memory of Gary Carter, and the Saturday afternoon celebration for the 1994 team. It's been a sort of two-screen experience, looking up from the book's stories and quotes from the likes of Mel Didier and Steve Rogers to see them guesting on the broadcasts and hitting some of the same talking points. The Expos will always remain cemented as my favourite sports team of all time, and now there is finally a book that tells the whole story. I hope there will be more to come—a Dave Van Horne Expos memoir would be especially great. Keri says that Van Horne "told so many terrific stories about his 32 years broadcasting games that I wished I had three books' worth of space to recount them all." Make it happen, Random House! ( )
1 vote jrcovey | Mar 30, 2014 |
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To Papa Alec, who took me to the Big O to see Tim Raines hit for the cycle, and Papa Max, who had the best nickname for Rodney Scott ("The Woodchopper")
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Before the Montreal Expos actually lived, they almost died.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307361357, Hardcover)

The definitive history of the Montreal Expos by the definitive Expos fan, the New York Times bestselling sportswriter and Grantland columnist Jonah Keri.
     2014 is the 20th anniversary of the strike that killed baseball in Montreal, and the 10th anniversary of the team's move to Washington, DC. But the memories aren't dead--not by a long shot. The Expos pinwheel cap is still sported by Montrealers, former fans, and by many more in the US and Canada as a fashion item. Expos loyalists are still spotted at Blue Jays games and wherever the Washington Nationals play (often cheering against them). Every year there are rumours that Montreal--as North America's largest market without a baseball team--could host Major League Baseball again.
     There has never been a major English-language book on the entire franchise history. There also hasn't been a sportswriter as uniquely qualified to tell the whole story, and to make it appeal to baseball fans across Canada AND south of the border. Jonah Keri writes the chief baseball column for Grantland, and routinely makes appearances in Canadian media such as The Jeff Blair Show, Prime Time Sports and Off the Record. The author of the New York Times baseball bestseller The Extra 2% (Ballantine/ESPN Books), Keri is one of the new generation of high-profile sports writers equally facile with sabermetrics and traditional baseball reporting. He has interviewed everyone for this book (EVERYONE: including the ownership that allowed the team to be moved), and fans can expect to hear from just about every player and personality from the Expos' unforgettable 35 years in baseball. Up, Up, and Away is already one of the most anticipated sports books of next year.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:33 -0400)

The definitive history of the Montreal Expos by the definitive Expos fan, the New York Times bestselling sportswriter and Grantland columnist Jonah Keri.

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