As anyone who has ever met me can verify, my mind can go in some strange thought patterns. I'm probably the only person who after reading about the passing of Jim Brosnan, not only then thought about Jim Bouton and the 1969 Seattle Pilots but then really wandered to the 1969 Montreal Expos. Launching 45 years ago this season, the Expos were the first major league team to play their home games outside of America and they were sure an interesting team in those early years.
From their cozy little home field of Jarry Park to the entertaining way they played the game to some of the memorable names who dotted the rosters, the Expos were fascinating on a lot of different levels. They still are.
First off, being an expansion team, you end up with other team's leftovers but some of those guys, especially in 1969, would have been on today's expanded major league rosters. The starting third baseman was Puerto Rican Jose Laboy, but we all loved him because his nickname was "Coco”. Guys like Coco Laboy are what made opening packs of Topps cards in the late 1960’s and early 70’s are what made it so much fun. The cards allowed you to know a little more about the funny name in the newspaper article or radio broadcast.
And then you have two guys I always confused as a young man: Ron Fairly and Jim Fairey. I always thought those names were interchangeable but in reality Jim did not have the career Ron enjoyed. Ron is your definition of a minor star but it always upset me he never got to play one game in 1980 so he could become a four decade player (his career began in 1959).
Also in the outfield was one "Boots' Day. The last major leaguer I remember with the nickname of Boots was Lennie ‘Boots’ Merullo who became so legendary that a Washington DC fan club was named for him.
Joining all the outfield fun was Daniel "Rusty" Staub, who actually had two nicknames, both based on his hair color. In French Canada, he became known as "Le Grand Orange”. Now that is pure beauty. Rusty was really the face of those 1970’s Expos teams and a darn good hitter.
But wait. There’s more. How about John Boccabella? C'mon now, if you never heard the name Boccabella pronounced by the Expos public address announcer, you never forgot it. And bless the person who uncovered this clip from 1970 of Johhny B hitting a walk-off three-run homer at Jarry Park, right over Willie Stargell’s head.
So in honor of Boccabella, Staub, and even players such as Maury Wills and Manny Mota who started with the Expos before moving on, the 1969 Expos took their place in history. You can see their cards on eBay below. There’s a nice little ESPN segment on their birth, too.
There is talk that Montreal might be in line for an expansion team if they can get a new stadium built. There are still a lot of people there who miss the team and those of us who remember the originals would love to see baseball return to Quebec. Someone has even put together a CD with over 1700 photos documenting the club's history.
Do you have a team you liked because of the player mix? We'd love to hear your thoughts.