I was walking around the streets of downtown Toronto the other night after a couple drinks at The Rex, where I had listened to a brass band of awesome, and while foot cruising the sidewalks, I started to wonder about baseball — and different things, I guess. I wasn’t maudlin around in a haze, I felt good from the music and a chat that I’d with an older guy at the bar who was a big Expos fan. He still dreams of the day when the franchise comes back to Montréal.
As I was walking home and taking in the city buzz from all the fan-boys-and-girls who have come to Toronto to get a glimpse of some kind of movie star type, my mind couldn’t stop thinking about the idea of the inevitable — that being the return of the Expos. I wondered what division they would play in when they came back. Wouldn’t it be cool if they moved to the AL East and battled the Blue Jays all season long? Or would the Toronto/Montreal rivalry lose its novelty over the years — which would make their home in the NL East the most suitable destination for their return. If they ended up in the NL East again, a Canada Day series with Montreal every year may be more fun to watch than if the two teams met a bunch of times during the regular season. Who knows? These were just thoughts I had.
Afterwards, I decided to reach out to an ol’ Montréal Expos beat writer, Danny Gallagher, to ask him what he thought about some of the questions I had. Now, the truth is that I find that a lot of humans need to learn how to get over themselves. It’s a human flaw that many people have, I guess — one of many that make up our novel of imperfections. But Mr. Gallagher is not that type of person. If you don’t know the man, he is a freelance writer, author, and Expos historian. He just inked a deal with Dundurn Press to publish his book — Blue Monday — on the 1981 Expos; the only team to reach the post-season in franchise history. He’s the author of four other books and is a frequent contributor to the Canadian Baseball Network.
It’s always refreshing to work with good, thoughtful people, so corresponding with Danny during this interview process was a gerat experience. We decided to talk about the good birds of summer, the Expos, the past and the future.
Sportsnet recently released the all-time greatest Blue Jays list to celebrate, I believe, over 40-years in the MLB, slotting Alomar in the top spot, who do you think is the greatest Blue Jay of all time?
Roberto Alomar was the best pure athlete the Jays ever had. He was tremendous on defence and offence, although he was only with the team four seasons. I would say Roy Halladay was the best player the Jays ever had. He threw some nasty stuff, was durable and was a workhorse for so many seasons. He was voted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this year and I think he’s a solid candidate for enshrinement in Cooperstown. To mention other names, you can’t forget the likes of Dave Stieb, Carlos Delgado and Jose Bautista.
And since we are on this topic, who is the greatest Expo?
I would have to say Andre Dawson is the greatest player the Expos ever had. He patrolled the outfield with grace and aplomb and produced solid offence during his career in Montreal. What we can’t forget is that Dawson produced extraordinary statistics when his knees bothered him a lot. He rarely, if ever, complained about his knee problems. Vladimir Guerrero would have to be way up there among the best Expos but I’ll go with Hawk as No. 1.
And since I’m still on this ‘greatest’ topic, who is the greatest Canadian baseball player ever?
Ferguson Jenkins would have to be the best baseball player Canada has ever produced. He was a spectacular pitcher. He was an ironhorse and a workhorse, winning 20 games or more seven times during a time span when the Cubs sported mediocre teams. Consider this: he pitched an astonishing 267 complete games and 49 shutouts. Compared to today’s era when few pitchers complete a game, Jenkins was remarkable. He’s a member of both halls of fame in St. Marys and Cooperstown.
Second to Jenkins would be outfielder Larry Walker. And look what Joey Votto is doing. When he’s finished his career, Votto might supplant Walker as the greatest position player Canada has ever produced.
Since you got to spend so many innings watching Vlad Sr. in Montréal, how excited are you to see the success Vlad Jr. has had this year in Lansing and, now, Dunedin?
It’s exciting to see Vlad Jr. come along so quickly in the Blue Jays’ system. I think he could probably come up to the major-league team in 2018 and be a success but maybe management doesn’t want to rush him too much. He’s going to be a hit with the fans in Toronto and throughout the majors.
What do you think are the similarities between the two?
Both players bat right-handed but it appears that at similar ages, Jr. is quicker and is maturing quicker. I’m told by their joint agent Jesse Guerrero that neither one of them wears batting gloves. Jr. has a lot of power, just like his dad. What stands out is that Jr. doesn’t hit at balls in the dirt, like his father did, with a lot of success.
What was your best memory while covering the Expos?
My best memory covering the Expos isn’t a good one but a memorable one. It’s actually a tie. The 1989 Expos should have won the NL East but they failed down the stretch. It was a really puzzling collapse, prompting majority owner Charles Bronfman to put the team up for sale. The 1994 Expos were on their way to a post-season berth when the strike and cancellation of the season ruined it all.
Do you think that the Montréal Expos will return to the MLB?
It’s not a question of if but when baseball returns to Montreal. It’s the No. 1 city on any expansion list. An expansion team or a relocated team could easily play at Olympic Stadium for several seasons before a new park is built downtown. It will be an expensive proposition getting a team back but prospective owners such as Stephen Bronfman are prepared to absorb the costs to bring baseball back. It’s too bad that Montreal couldn’t have been chosen to host recent relocated games involving Tampa Bay, Houston or Texas.
And, if they do, do you think that they should play in the AL East and battle the Blue Jays regularly, or go home to the NL East?
It would make a lot of sense for a Montreal team to play in the same division as the Blue Jays, thus creating a huge rivalry. It also makes sense if the Montreal team stayed in the NL East like the Expos did.
One final question: How long do you think Canada has to wait for the Toronto Blue Jays to win a 3rd World Series?
I think the Jays are not that far off from winning their third World Series title. Despite their less than satisfying 2017 season, they are still a talented team, especially if they could field a completely healthy team. If there was some way it could be done, I think management would like to trade Troy Tulowitzki or heaven forbid, eat his salary. He’s just not the player he used to be. I would love to see the Jays keep Jose Bautista. They could buy out his option year for 2018 and then try to sign him to a cheaper contract but whether he would go for that, I don’t know. The Jays have 10 players eligible for salary arbitration this winter so it will be interesting to see if they offer a contract to all of them.
And that concludes the first edition of ‘Kind Of Blue Sessions’, who knows what baseball mind will get picked in the next interview, but I’m sure it will be someone who has typed many baseball things.
And remember this: Don’t swing at pitches in the dirt, you’re better than that.