by Kevin Burton
Do you know who Bob Henley is? I didn’t.
Henley is the third base coach for the Washington Nationals, who begin play in the 2019 World Series on Tuesday.
Henley is also the only link from the Nationals to the old Montreal Expos, the Nats’ ancestors. He was a catcher who appeared in 41 games for the Expos in 1998, hitting .304 with three home runs, 18 RBI. Injuries shortened his big-league playing career to that one year.
I got this information from The Daily Hive, an online newspaper that covers Canada’s four largest cities, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary.
The Daily Hive says Montreal baseball fans should not care about the Nationals’ title quest. I’m sure most of them don’t. For some reason I really cared about the Expos though.
I thought it was so cool that there was a team in Canada. Before the Reds-Expos games I caught on WLW radio, they would play two national anthems. The organist at Jerry Park, the Expos first home, would play music you didn’t hear at other stadiums.
My mother would point to the National League East standings and say, “The Canadians are on the bottom.” Most of the time they were. I tried to make excuses for them but there was not much I could say.
In 1969 Major League Baseball launched four expansion teams, the Seattle Pilots, Kansas City Royals, San Diego Padres and Montreal Expos.
After ‘69 the Pilots moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers. The Royals and Padres are still at it. The Expos played through 2004 when poor attendance, poor facilities and other factors caused the franchise to move to Washington.
Before the moving vans were packed however, I contrived a way to see the Expos in all their glory.
This was in 2001. I had e-mail for the first time thanks to my laughable 486 computer, a discard from the photo lab where I worked.
I e-mailed my brother, “Want to catch a Reds game on my birthday?” He was up for it, so I sent another e-mail.
“First thing you need to know is, the Reds are at Montreal on my birthday…”
His response, “You dog!….” still makes me smile.
So we were off to Montreal, he from Massachusetts, I from Ohio. Weather changed my airline plans. I would change planes in Toronto now rather than Detroit.
At customs they asked, “Why are you in the country?”
“To see the Expos,” I said.
Likely story. It’s a wonder they didn’t lock me up right there and then. Remember this was at a time when most people wouldn’t cross the street to see the Expos. That’s why I wanted to go see them, before the team moved. There were already rumblings about that.
When we got to Olympic stadium, let’s just say we had elbow room. Attendance was listed at 5,191 and 6,852 for the two games we saw, one Expos win, one Reds win.
The 1994 players’ strike that wiped out the World Series also wiped out the Expos, some say. Montreal was in first place by six games when they pulled the plug. The fever, understandably, subsided.
It went downhill from there, to the point where the team played 22 home games in Puerto Rico in 2003 and again in 2004, to generate attendance and revenue.
Talk about ending with a whimper, not a bang.
But now, some 15 years later, there is talk of Montreal’s getting another team.
In May, Baseball America called the 2005 transfer of the team from Montreal to Washington, “Perhaps baseball’s saddest tale in the last 30 years.” The article called Montreal a top candidate for expansion.
It seems to me baseball doesn’t need any more teams. But if they do expand, Montreal should be the first place they go.