Montreal called and it wants its baseball back. For several years, rumors have been swirling about the potential return of MLB to Quebec, and they picked up again at the start of this season. According to The Montreal Baseball Project—a group founded by former Expo Warren Cromartie—Montreal is currently the largest city in North America without a team, with a population of over four million in the metropolitan area. The Project does everything from public engagement on social media to feasibility studies about new stadium construction to support the return of baseball to the city.
The Expos franchise relocated to Washington D.C. in 2005 after years of poor attendance in Montreal, but baseball supporters say things have changed since. First, Montreal’s mayor has made bringing the Expos back part of his platform, and has been campaigning for baseball’s return to the city since he took office in 2013. Impressive attendance numbers at exhibition games over the past two pre-seasons, too, suggest the public’s renewed attraction to the sport; notably a two-day Mets and Blue Jays series in 2014 brought a crowd of 96,000, with a 2015 Reds/ Jays series racking up similar attendance figures.
Fans also point to the death of former Expos star Gary Carter, and the fact that there are now two French-Language sports channels available in Montreal as other catalysts for the public’s resurgent interest in the game. Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, too, is more open to the idea of a team in Montreal than Bud Selig, calling a return “a viable possibility,” provided the MLB finds itself in a position to relocate a team or expand.
Both expansion clubs of the 60s, Expos and Mets fans have, over the years, shared the familiar heartbreak of rooting for a fledgling young team. Fans have also shared a love of several key players who starred on both teams at some point in their careers. Given the low budget preventing the Expos from resigning strong players once they were eligible for arbitration, many teams can probably say the same; nevertheless, here are a few stars close to our hearts who’ve worn blue pinstripes on both sides of the International Boundary.
Rusty Staub (WARP 56.2)
An Expo from the team’s inaugural 1969 season and the first guy to win the Expos’ Player of the Year award, outfielder/ first baseman Rusty Staub is arguably the most-beloved of the Expo-Met trajectory players. While in Montreal he took French lessons in an effort to connect with Francophone fans, telling Sports Illustrated: “I felt I should be able to communicate with the people of Montreal in their own language. After all, they were interested in baseball. I thought I should be interested enough in them to learn how to converse with them.” As a result, Staub became a fan favorite and was gifted perhaps the best nickname in all of baseball: “Le Grand Orange,” for his red hair. He remains the franchise leader in OBP for players with over 2,000 team plate appearances at .402, and the Expos retired the number 10 in his honor in 1993.
Despite a series of injuries, Staub continued to perform well with the Mets, leading the team in hits and RBIs in 1974. In 1975 he became the first Met ever to surpass 100 RBIs in a season (with 105 total), a team record he would hold until 1986 when he was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame and his record was tied by …
Gary Carter (WARP 65.3)
Catcher for the Expos from 1974 to 84 and then for the Mets from 1985-89, Carter was another player to earn acclaim from both teams. After a decade of strong hitting for the Expos, his number eight was retired by the organization in 1993. A street near the Expos’ former park was renamed for him in 2013.
Carter was an important part of the Mets’ 1986 World Series win, with two home runs and nine RBI, one of which was the sacrifice fly in Game 6 that tied the score. He was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame in 2001, and won Manager of the Year Awards for his work with the Gulf Coast Mets and St. Lucie Mets in 2005 and 2006.
An 11-time All-Star and three-time Golden Glove winner, Carter was also inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003. He died in 2012 after suffering from brain cancer.
Cliff Floyd (WARP 27)
Floyd made his MLB debut with the Expos in 1993 as the National League’s youngest player at the time. He played in Montreal until 1997, then again in 2002, before being picked up by the Mets in 2003. A rookie with the Expos, and hindered by injuries during his time with the Mets, Floyd actually put up his best batting average with the Marlins (.317 in 2001), but he had a particularly successful 2005 season with the Mets, hitting his career-high of 34 home runs … also the Mets’ highest total that year.
Floyd was on the BBWAA Ballot for Hall of Fame in 2015. He currently broadcasts games with Sirius XM.
Pedro Martinez (WARP 80.4)
Full disclosure: I had a giant crush on Pedro Martinez growing up, so please excuse any fangirling. But honestly, can you blame me? Debuting with the Dodgers in 1992, Martinez hit his stride after joining the Expos, including pitching nine perfect innings against the Padres before they scored a hit in the bottom of the 10th. His 1997 season saw him go 17-8 with a 1.90 ERA and 305 strikeouts, earning him the Cy Young Award and the honor of being the only Expo ever to win one.
As a Met from 2005-2008, Martinez started strong with a record of 15-8, leading the National League with a 0.95 WHIP, his sixth time topping in the category. He was injured and needed surgery in 2006, but played well in 2007 upon his return and recorded his 3000th strikeout that year (against only 701 walks), becoming the first Latin American pitcher to do so. Though a Met at the end of his career (the less said about his Phillies run, the better), the whole career was such an impressive one—219 wins and 100 losses, an ERA of 2.93, and the highest winning percentage by a right-handed pitcher since 1893—his continued celebration is much deserved.
Bartolo Colón (WARP 38.6) (was on Expos in 2002)
Okay, so he was only an Expo briefly in 2002–after his career was underway with several seasons in Cleveland–but how could I resist the chance to sing the praises of Big Sexy? With a 20-8 record, including three shutouts and eight complete games, his time in Montreal was pretty damn impressive. Plus, as of March 4 of this year, Colón remains the last active player to have played for the Expos. After the retirement of LaTroy Hawkins last year, Colón is also the oldest active player in the MLB.
In 2014, Colón took his 200th win in a game against the Phillies, and in 2015 he broke the team record previously held by Dwight Gooden for most consecutive decisions as a starter (26).
Though he was offered more money elsewhere, Colón chose to stick with the Mets, signing a one-year contract for 2016. That, combined with the extensive charity work he does in his hometown of Altamira, and these photos of him in spring training show his true colors as not only a talented pitcher, but an all-around good guy.
I’ve got my fingers crossed for the baseball lovers of Montreal that a team makes its way back to Quebec soon. In the meantime, motion to get a poutine stand at Citi Field?
Photo Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports