Montreal’s baseball fans will get a chance to applaud the 1994 Expos for their memorable, strike-shortened season.
Former manager Felipe Alou has confirmed to The Canadian Press that he and other members of that dominant squad will be at an exhibition game next March at Olympic Stadium.
Alou says he doesn’t know exactly what’s planned but he’ll be sure to make it up from the spring training camp of the San Francisco Giants, for whom he’s a scout. He said the details still need to be ironed out with former Expos star Warren Cromartie, who is spearheading the event.
“I know he’s trying to reach other players from that team, but I don’t know who he got. He told me he’d be in touch after the season,” Alou said in a phone interview.
A news conference is scheduled for Tuesday when Cromartie’s Montreal Baseball Project will also introduce some results of a feasibility study on baseball in Montreal, commissioned by the local board of trade.
The Expos were enjoying the best season in their history in 1994 — with an outfield of Larry Walker, Moises Alou and Marquis Grissom, and a burgeoning Pedro Martinez who entered the season as the team’s No. 4 starter.
They had the best record in the major leagues, at 34 games over .500, when the season ended prematurely in mid-August.
And for a number of key regulars, that was it.
The Expos were dismantled before the next year’s Opening Day, in one of the periodic fire sales that crushed the spirits of the local fan base. The Expos played in a mostly empty stadium before moving to Washington a decade later.
Major League Baseball will make a brief return next March, as Olympic Stadium hosts two exhibition games between the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets.
The tickets have only been on sale for a few days but more than 40,000 total have already been sold for the games. That ensures a far better draw for the exhibition matches than what the Expos generally got for regular-season games in their final years.
Alou, a former National League manager of the year and a three-time all star during his playing days, maintains the city should have a big-league franchise.
“I always said Montreal would be a good city for Major League Baseball,” Alou said. He added that there were whispers about minor-league baseball coming to Montreal, but he didn’t buy it.
“Montreal is a big-league city,” Alou said. “It’s a big-league city for hockey and I think it can be a big-league city for baseball.”
There’s one glaring prerequisite, though, for making baseball work there, Alou said: a downtown ballpark.
The Olympic Stadium is located in the city’s east end, away from central transport hubs. Its location required a lengthy night-time commute for fans who lived on the other side of the city core, or off the island.
“I don’t believe that any city that had Major League Baseball for 34 years went on without building a downtown major-league stadium,” Alou said.
Location wasn’t the only problem, he said.
He also suggested the cavernous concrete creation from the 1976 Olympics wasn’t exactly propitious for baseball.
“We never had a stadium in Montreal,” Alou said.
“Fans were fantastic to show up at Jarry Park and Olympic Stadium, but they never had the feeling to witness Major League Baseball in a Major League Baseball stadium.”
Alou remained popular with local fans throughout his time as Expos manager, as he compiled a record of 691 wins and 717 losses through various fire sales from 1992 to 2001. He later managed the Giants from 2003 to 2006, with a record of 342 wins to 304 losses.
Baseball has crept into this fall’s municipal election campaign, with both main mayoral candidates speaking vaguely about the possibility of courting a new team.
Alou said it won’t work without a new ballpark.
“If they get a team with no stadium, it’s going to fail,” Alou said.
“We can’t go back and do the same mistakes.”