Tag: History

B/R MLB Rivalry Series: New York Mets vs. New York Yankees

Welcome to the sixth edition of Bleacher Report’s MLB rivalry series.

In the weeks to come, we’ll highlight some of the biggest head-to-head rivalries in our national pastime and shine light on the past, present and future of those matchups.

So far, we’ve run through the following rivalries:

Next on the docket is a closer look at a rivalry that interleague play was designed for, between the New York Mets and New York Yankees.

The two teams didn’t meet for the first time in a game that counted until 1997, but their battle for superiority in the massive market that is New York has amplified their rivalry.

The following provides a look at notable numbers and notes, a detailed breakdown of the rivalry’s origins, an overview of some notable regular-season moments between the two teams, a rundown of their meeting in the 2000 World Series and finally a preview of the present and future outlook of both franchises.

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B/R MLB Rivalry Series: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Arizona Diamondbacks

Welcome to the fifth edition of Bleacher Report’s MLB rivalry series.

In the weeks to come, we’ll highlight some of the biggest head-to-head rivalries in our national pastime and shine light on the past, present and future of those matchups.

So far, we’ve run through the following rivalries:

Next on the docket is a closer look at one of the newer rivalries around baseball between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers.

This rivalry doesn’t have anywhere near the longevity of some of the others we’ve highlighted since the Diamondbacks have only been a franchise since 1998, but it has still provided us with plenty of memorable moments.

The following provides a look at notable numbers and notes, a detailed breakdown of the rivalry’s origins, an overview of some notable trades between the two teams, a rundown of some of the contentious moments that have made the rivalry stand out and finally a preview of the present and future outlook of both franchises.

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B/R MLB Rivalry Series: New York Mets vs. Atlanta Braves

Welcome to the fourth edition of Bleacher Report’s MLB rivalry series.

In the weeks to come, we’ll highlight some of the biggest head-to-head rivalries in our national pastime and shine light on the past, present and future of those matchups.

So far, we’ve run through the following rivalries:

Next on the docket is a closer look at an ongoing NL East clash between the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets.

This rivalry doesn’t have quite the same lengthy history of the first three we highlighted since the Mets entered the league as an expansion team in 1962, but there’s still plenty to talk about.

The following provides a look at notable numbers and notes, a detailed breakdown of the rivalry’s origins, an overview of memorable regular-season moments, a rundown of postseason meetings between the two clubs and finally a preview of the outlook of both franchises.

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B/R MLB Rivalry Series: Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals

Welcome to the third edition of Bleacher Report’s MLB rivalry series.

In the weeks to come, we’ll highlight some of the biggest head-to-head rivalries in our national pastime and shine light on the past, present and future of those matchups.

We kicked things off on the East Coast with a look at the famed Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees rivalry. Then we turned our attention west to the long, storied history of the Los Angeles Dodgers-San Francisco Giants feud.

Now it’s time for the best of the Midwest.

The Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals may not have the same contentious history as the first two feuds we highlighted. But, thanks to overlapping loyalties, it might be the best turf war the sport has to offer.

The following provides a look at notable numbers and notes, a detailed breakdown of the rivalry’s origins, an overview of memorable regular-season moments, a rundown of postseason meetings between the two clubs and finally a preview of the outlook of both franchises.

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B/R MLB Rivalry Series: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. San Francisco Giants

Welcome to the second edition of Bleacher Report’s MLB rivalry series.

In the weeks to come, we’ll be highlighting some of the biggest head-to-head rivalries in our national pastime and shining light on the past, present and future of those matchups.

We kicked things off with a look at the famed Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees rivalry, and now we turn our attention to the National League side, where the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants have a long history of their own.

Their rivalry began when both teams resided in New York and continued when they simultaneously moved across the country to California. Recent battles for the NL West crown have kept the feud alive and kicking.

The following provides a look at notable numbers and notes from the rivalry, a detailed breakdown of the rivalry’s origins, an overview of memorable regular-season moments, a rundown of pennant-race clashes between the two clubs and finally, a preview of the future outlook of both franchises.

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B/R MLB Rivalry Series: New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox

Welcome to the first edition of Bleacher Report’s MLB rivalry series.

In the weeks to come, we’ll be highlighting some of the biggest head-to-head rivalries in our national pastime and shining light on the past, present and future of those matchups.

We’re kicking things off with the big one—the Boston Red Sox versus New York Yankees in a clash of two of the biggest media markets in the northeastern United States and all of professional sports.

This rivalry goes beyond market size and geography, though.

It’s rooted in the landscape-changing deal that sent Babe Ruth from Boston to New York and has provided us with plenty of memorable moments over the years.

The following provides a look at notable numbers and notes from the rivalry, a detailed breakdown of the rivalry’s origins, an overview of memorable regular-season moments, a rundown of postseason meetings between the two clubs and finally a preview of the future outlook of both franchises.

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Mets Rookie Noah Syndergaard: Record-Setting Season

In 1995 the New York Mets felt they were on the verge of an All-Star pitching rotation consisting of Bill Pulsipher, Jason Isringhausen and Paul Wilson. This highly promoted young trio was dubbed “Generation K.”

All three prospects fell short of expectations, however, as each of them suffered major injuries before the end of the 1996 season. After being converted to a closer, Isringhausen was the only member of the trio who went on to find success in the majors, recording 300 saves and playing for five teams after the Mets.

Fast-forward 20 years later. The Mets again have a young generation of highly touted young starters. But this time it appears they may live up to the organizations’s lofty expectations. The trio of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard helped carry the Mets to their first division title since 2006—and Syndergaard set the regular-season record for average fastball velocity per 100 innings pitched (97.1 mph) since 2002, according to NJ Advance Media’s Mike Vorkunov, via FanGraphs.   


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Detroit Tigers’ Dave Dombrowski Puts Club in Position to Compete in 2016

This is unfamiliar terrain for the Detroit Tigers.

The club has enjoyed a smooth ride for nearly a decade. From 2006-14, the Tigers averaged nearly 88 wins per season, captured four Central Division championships and made two World Series appearances.

It’s been a different narrative in 2015.

After jumping out to a scorching 12-3 record to start the season, the seemingly effortless ride has been derailed by pothole after pothole. Calling the Tigers’ season a struggle is an understatement. It’s been a disastrous journey for a team with World Series expectations.

Prior to the trade deadline, the road ahead was foggy. The club was bogged down by expensive contracts, aging veterans, a poor farm system and more questions than answers. After necessary maneuvering, the organization seems poised to travel less bumpy roads in 2016 and beyond.

General manager Dave Dombrowski was at a crossroads. The long-time executive was in a difficult position. On one hand, his club sat just 3.5 games behind the second wild-card spot and hardly out of the playoff race. On the other hand, the Tigers hadn’t put together a three-game win streak since early June and continued to struggle against the American League’s bottom feeders.

Dombrowski continued to wait.

Just four days before the deadline, his club sat four games under .500, trailed the Kansas City Royals by double digits in the standings and just got blown out by the Tampa Bay Rays in a game started by David Price.

A decision was needed. Buy or sell?

With owner Mike Ilitch desperate to bring a World Series title to Detroit and Dombrowski operating on an expiring contract, it would’ve been easy to try to salvage a fading season by further depleting an already-vacant farm system and attempt to win as many games as possible.

Multiple news outlets reported the organization was leaning toward making a push for the 2015 postseason.

Three days before the deadline, Jayson Stark of ESPN tweeted out that other teams were told the Tigers weren’t selling.

Still, Dombrowski realized his club was riding on a flat tire with no spare in the trunk. Acknowledging the Tigers’ season was over before the calendar flipped to August was a tough sell. Waving the white flag wasn’t easy for an organization with a heavy payroll.

Yet it became evident things weren’t turning around. The team is plagued by inconsistent offense and mediocre pitching. The Tigers fearsome lineup has a knack for hitting into double plays and stranding baserunners. According to MLB.com, the bullpen and starting rotation rank among the worst in baseball with a 4.30 ERA and 4.45 ERA, respectively.

Unlike some teams currently in the wild-card chase, simply qualifying for the playoffs isn’t the Tigers’ goal. The organization’s sole focus is winning a World Series championship.

Dombrowski told Chris McCosky of The Detroit News that his decision to sell stemmed from his belief the Tigers weren’t equipped to challenge for a World Series title this year.

We’ve won the division four years in a row but, however you would like to say it, unless you are in a position to win a world championship—that’s where we are at this time. In my heart, I didn’t think we were there with the club.

The Tigers’ trade chest was stacked with tremendous pieces to sell: David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Joakim Soria. The three represented arguably the best starter, hitter and reliever available on the trade market.

With Price, there was no indication a contract extension was imminent and most analysts expected him to join a different organization in the winter. With playoff hopes dim, the Tigers couldn’t afford letting a premier pitcher walk away for nothing more than a compensatory draft pick.

The fear of losing Price to free agency was confirmed by Dombrowski when he told Chris Iott of MLive Media Group that negotiations were far apart.

We like David. We said we wouldn’t discuss it publicly as far as dollars. But we did approach him at that point. It just was not really where we wanted to go from a financial perspective.

Less than 24 hours after informing other teams that Price was on the market, Dombrowski agreed to a deal that sent the left-hander to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd and Jairo Labourt.

The trio represents a major haul for Dombrowski, especially Norris, who ranked as the Blue Jays’ top prospect by Baseball America.

Next, the front office flipped Soria to the Pittsburgh Pirates for shortstop JaCoby Jones. Then, minutes before the deadline, Dombrowski sent Cespedes to the New York Mets in exchange for Michael Fulmer and Luis Cessa.

All six prospects immediately filled the Tigers’ top 15 list by MLB Pipeline.

The Tigers received favorable reviews from most media outlets with Jim Bowden of ESPN leading the praise for Dombrowski.

Daniel Norris and Michael Fulmer are can’t-miss rotation starters, while Matt Boyd, Jairo Labourt and Luis Cessa all have good arms. Taking advantage of the Pirates’ minor league depth at shortstop to grab JaCoby Jones was also a shrewd move.

With $110 million invested in just five players for 2016, adding young, inexpensive talent was necessary. Norris, Fulmer and Boyd are expected to compete for rotation spots next season, while Labourt and Cessa project as bullpen arms.

Dombrowski told Iott the trades put the organization in a better position moving forward.

We have traded so many guys in the past. Ideally, you don’t want to be in this position, but based on where we were, we think this gives us an influx of guys who can help us going into next year. It puts us in a good spot going into next year.

The departure of its soon-to-be free agents gives the Tigers an estimated $46 million in payroll flexibility heading into the offseason.

Adding a veteran starter and bullpen arms are the top items on Dombrowski’s to-do list. He confirmed to Iott the organization is still committed to winning in 2016.

Our starting pitching will need to be addressed in the wintertime. But I assure you that our goal going into next year will be to try to win a world championship.

Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweeted the club is expected to pursue Cespedes on the free-agent market and the interest is mutual.

A few potential impact free-agent signingsmixed with the recent youth infusion to go along with an already-promising coreindicates the future is bright in Detroit.

For the Tigers, the road ahead is clearer today than it was last week. Dombrowski is working to ensure the Tigers experience a smoother ride in 2016.

Follow Chris Hauler on Twitter

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Re-Evaluating the Cincinnati Reds’ Top Draft Picks from the Past Decade

It’s what’s on the agenda when a team is eight games under .500 and 11.5 games out of first before June. Because a Reds rebuild seems all but certain with ace Johnny Cueto playing in the final year of his contract, it’s time to assess what’s worked and what’s in store.

What has Walt Jocketty assembled in the last seven seasons, and what did previous general manager Wayne Krivsky leave him with? The following is a list of the Reds’ first-round draft picks from the past decade:


2005: Jay Bruce, OF

Has time snuck up on you too? Jay Bruce was drafted 12th overall that year and was widely considered the future. He was called up to replace Corey Patterson in the early part of 2008 after hitting above .300 across three minor league levels in 2007.

Did he go on to become the Reds’ future? The term’s subjective—after all, it was Bruce’s looping swing that ended the playoff drought and brought the Reds back for the first time in a decade. It’s hard to argue that he became the face of this franchise—Joey Votto or Johnny Cueto may have thoughts on that matter—but there’s no denying he’s contributed in a big way.

His rookie season, he finished No. 5 overall in Rookie of the Year voting, he’s a three-time All-Star with two Silver Slugger awards, and he finished No. 10 in MVP voting two years straight (’12-’13).

He’s a career .250/.323/.486 but has 571 RBI and 189 home runs. In now his eighth year, Bruce has only hit fewer than 20 home runs once—last year, a year that featured arthroscopic knee surgery.

Despite a lengthy slump, there is no denying how prolific Bruce has been to a playoff roster. This was a successful pick by Krivsky. Considering his contract and the Reds’ oncoming fire sale, it’s likely we’ll see the end of the Bruce era here. He’s likely to fetch a good return, especially if his recent hot streak continues.


2006: Drew Stubbs, OF

Believe it or not, Stubbs was the eighth overall pick that year. He ended up debuting with the Reds in 2009 as the Reds were assembling their new product post-Griffey-Dunn Era, ripe with high draft picks.

In a lot of ways, Stubbs contributed—his defense in center was good, and averaging nearly 30 stolen bases and over 12 home runs a season was good. But power aside, Stubbs was not a good hitter. His OBP was never higher than .329; .255 was the highest average he’d have in four years—all of which are very forgettable, especially for a top-10 overall draft pick.

But Walt Jocketty turned Drew Stubbs into Shin-Soo Choo, a pivotal piece of the Reds’ 2013 playoff campaign. And for that, Stubbs proved even more useful.


2007: Devin Mesoraco C, Todd Frazier 3B, Kyle Lotzkar RHP

Can we universally agree the first two names from 2007 are successes? Both made the All-Star Game in 2014, and Frazier was a Home Run Derby for what it’s worth, the first Reds participant since Ken Griffey Jr.

But Frazier is currently No. 2 in NL home runs behind Bryce Harper. His career line in now his fourth season is .258/.328/.461, but there’s no denying the impact he’s had on the Reds offense. He’s had two good batting average years (.273 in ’12 and ’14) and two bad ones (.232 in ’11, .234 in ’13).

He’s one of the only notable acts happening at Great American Ball Park right now. Devin Mesoraco perhaps would be, but he can’t stay healthy. The young slugger has made it to the disabled list again after just 51 plate appearances.

For his career, he’s slashing an unimpressive .242/.313/.423. But Mesoraco has just two years since 2011 where he’s played in over 100 games. He was an All-Star last season, a season that featured a career-high 440 plate appearances.

Kyle Lotzkar came and went. This was a swing and miss of Jonny Gomes caliber. He never made it higher than Double-A, which is where he’s at now, within the Texas Rangers organization.

Thus ends the Krivsky portion of the re-evaluation. Time to see how Walt did.


2008: Yonder Alonso, 1B

Was Yonder Alonso a successful pick? Walt Jocketty turned him and two other first-round draft picks into Mat Latos, the key No. 2 in the rotation that earned the Reds the 2012 NL Central crown. He was also the pitcher who surrendered the deciding Buster Posey grand slam to end that season.

That was Latos’ most important pitch as a Red, but there’s no denying his three exceptional years in a Reds uniform, never finishing with an ERA above 3.48 and tossing over 200 innings twice.


2009: Mike Leake SP, Bradley Boxberger RHP

Despite Mike Leake’s recent struggles, this pick skipped the farm and went right to the pros after being drafted. He’s never been asked to be the ace, and prior to this season, he’s never had to play the role of a No. 2 guy. So his career 55-46 3.97 is a remarkable contribution.

Leake threw over 200 innings for the first time last year. He’s on pace to do it again this season. Should the Reds enter rebuild, Leake is a candidate for trade, but he’s also an extension candidate, especially if and when the Reds move Cueto and free themselves of enormous fiscal responsibility.

Bradley Boxberger was packaged with Alonso and one other to land Latos.

2010: Yasmani Grandal, C

Grandal was also moved in the package for Latos. Devin Mesoraco won the role of Reds future catcher in Cincinnati.


2011: Robert Stephenson, SP 

Baseball America‘s No. 1 Reds prospect and one of the Reds’ only two Top 100 MLB prospects (MLB.com), Stephenson has struggled mightily since reaching Double-A. In now his third Double-A season, the promising right-hander is 9-16 with a 4.87 ERA.

That’s not to say there isn’t serious potential here—there most assuredly is. In 39.1 innings pitched, Stephenson’s recorded 46 strikeouts. That’s serious. The problem is his control. He’s averaging 6.6 walks per nine innings. Command has plagued him since reaching Double-A, after he finished averaging seven walks per nine innings in 2013.


2012: Nick Travieso SP, Jesse Winker OF, Jeff Gelalich OF

Nick Travieso is developing fine as the Reds’ No. 8 prospect. He’s 2-4 with a 3.88 ERA and 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings. He’s just in High-A, so it’s unlikely we’ll see him anytime soon.

Jesse Winker is the other Top 100 MLB prospect the Reds are sitting on and the Reds’ No.3 prospect, according to Baseball America. Prior to his wrist injury last season, Winker was killing it. But since reaching Double-A last season, Winker is slashing .225/.341/.333.

That could be just due to a cold start—Winker did impress in the Arizona Fall League (hit .338). Still, there’s no reason to suggest he’s regressing or anything yet, not unless his averages remain like this for the whole season. 

Winker is considered by man to be the heir to Jay Bruce’s throne in left field. 

Jeff Gelalich is now in his fourth minor league season. He’s still hovering around High-A and is only slashing .240/.326/.332. This left-handed hitter is a working project, often displaying flashes of potential, but he lacks consistency. 

2013: Phillip Ervin OF, Michael Lorenzen SP

Ervin bats behind Gelalich for the High-A Daytona Tortugas. It’s the highest level of competition he’s seen, and thus far he is handling it fine, slashing .253/.338/.460 in 202 plate appearances. 

Ervin wasn’t listed as an organizational top prospect, but he’s coming off a poor season in Dayton, where he hit just .238.

Michael Lorenzen, the No. 4 organizational prospect, has been an incredible draft pick so far. Lorenzen was pitching in Double-A last season. He started this year in Triple-A, and following season-ending surgery for Bailey, he’s pitching in The Show and doing it well (1-1, 3.12).

2014: Nick Howard RHP, Alex Blandino SS

A closer in college, the Reds tried converting Howard to a starter, and prior to this season, it was looking like a good move. This season has been brutal for Howard, though, and following a bad stretch where he surrendered 10 earned runs in three starts and never made it out of the fourth inning, he was moved back to the bullpen.

After three scoreless appearances from the bullpen, Howard’s been roughed up. He’s sporting a 7.03 ERA and a WHIP over 2.00.

Alex Blandino, however, is performing well in the same lineup as Ervin and Gelalich. He’s slashing .319/.405/.448. Numbers like this make him an enticing heir to Zack Cozart’s throne.

Krisky’s last picks, minus Lotzkar, were all good. The jury is still out on Jocketty’s 12 picks. Three of the 12 became Latos, who ultimately became Anthony DeSclafani, so hard to knock those. Two of the 12 are currently in the Reds starting rotation. The other seven are in development, but none of them above Double-A.

Still, from a pitching stance, the pipeline seems stocked with future contributors, provided they make it.

Stats courtesy of Baseball-reference.com unless noted otherwise. Organizational rankings compliments of BaseballAmerica.com while Top-100 prospects come from MLB.com.

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Remembering the 1994 Expos: From MLB’s Best to Washington Nationals in 10 Years

On this day 20 years ago, baseball fans were robbed.

Aug. 12, 1994, was the day Major League Baseball players went on strike. The work stoppage eventually resulted in the cancellation of the remainder of the ’94 season and the World Series, bringing a premature end to numerous arresting storylines.

And of those, none was more arresting than what the Montreal Expos were up to.

When the strike hit, the Expos had an MLB-best 74-40 record and a six-game lead in the National League East. After enduring something of a close-but-no-cigar existence since 1979, it seemed a lock that the franchise’s first World Series would follow just its second-ever trip to October.

If ever there was a day to remember these Expos, it’s today. And while there’s no way to do so without getting into the bad times, how ’bout we remember the good times first?

If you remember the ’94 Expos as a flash in the pan, here’s a hint: Don’t.

Thanks in part to Felipe Alou stepping in for Tom Runnells, the 1992 Expos went 87-75 and finished in second in the NL East. The ’93 club also finished in second, but this time at 94-68 and just three games behind the eventual NL champion Philadelphia Phillies.

As such, the plan for the 1994 Expos was to improve on a strong foundation. And fortunately, many pieces for the job were still in place.

In right fielder Larry Walker, center fielder Marquis Grissom, shortstop Wil Cordero and first baseman Cliff Floyd, the Expos had four homegrown players either established as stars or approaching starhood. Left fielder Moises Alou, acquired as a 23-year-old in 1990, was yet another promising young talent.

Catcher Darrin Fletcher, second baseman Mike Lansing, starting pitchers Ken Hill and Jeff Fassero and closer John Wetteland were added by then-general manager Dave Dombrowski in 1991, and Dan Duquette added third baseman Sean Berry in 1992 and left-hander Butch Henry in 1993.

All told, Duquette had just one major item on his shopping list for 1994. With veteran right-hander Dennis Martinez taking his 15-9 record and 3.85 ERA onto the open market, the Expos needed a starter. Preferably a cheap one with upside.

Duquette’s solution was to make maybe the boldest trade of the 1990s, sending young second baseman Delino DeShields to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a young, slender right-hander named Pedro Martinez. 

“Now that was a trade, as intriguing as it was stunning,” wrote Tim Kurkjian in Sports Illustrated. “Two young, proven talents were swapped even-up. Money was a factor, but the deal of the off-season was a trade of ability, not liability.”

Granted, it was possible to look at Montreal’s return and think that money was more a factor than ability.

Martinez had spent ’93 merely establishing himself as a major league pitcher, and in relief to boot. DeShields, meanwhile, had hit .295 and stolen 43 bases in his fourth full season. Swapping him and his seven-figure salary out for Martinez, who made just under $120,000 in 1993, seemed like a classic case of the small-market, penny-pinching Expos being…well, the small-market, penny-pinching Expos.

But Duquette was definitely a believer in Martinez’s talent. As Jonah Keri wrote in his (quite fantastic) Expos book, Up, Up, & Away, he saw Martinez as “the final ingredient for a great team.” 

And great they would be. 

Because Duquette ended up leaving the Expos for the Boston Red Sox, he didn’t get to see his prize acquisition live up to his lofty potential right out of the gate in 1994.

In 10 starts between April and May, Martinez racked up a 3.00 ERA with 70 strikeouts in 63.0 innings. The second start saw him flirt with a perfect game on April 13, one that was infamously broken up when he beaned Reggie Sanders and then suffered his wrath when he (stupidly) charged the mound.

Outside of the 22-year-old Martinez blowing hitters away, however, April and May weren’t overly kind to the Expos. They went just 28-22, putting them 3.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the new-look NL East.

But then the Expos got hot, beginning June by ripping off six in a row and 12 out of 14. By the time the Braves arrived in Montreal for a three-game series in late June, the Expos were 44-29 and only 2.5 games out.

The first game of the series saw the Expos get to the seemingly invincible Greg Maddux—he had a 1.63 ERA through 16 starts—for five earned runs in six and two-thirds. The big hit was a two-out, three-run homer off Maddux by Floyd that turned a 2-1 lead into a 5-1 lead. The Expos would go on to win 7-2.

The Expos then won the second game of the series on a walk-off single by Larry Walker. And though the Braves avoided a sweep by salvaging the third game, the message had been sent.

“We feel we can play with the Braves,” Expos GM Kevin Malone told The New York Times‘ Murray Chass. “People say they’re the best team in baseball, but we’ve proved we can play with them.”

The Braves series also proved that the oft-elusive Expos fanbase was catching on. After averaging, via attendance figures plucked from Baseball-Reference.com, just over 20,000 fans per game at Olympic Stadium before, over 40,000 fans attended each of the three games. After it, the Expos averaged nearly 31,000 fans the rest of the way.

Those fans continued to see good baseball. After going 19-8 in June, Montreal went 18-8 in July and 9-2 in August. By July 20, the Expos were in first place for good.

How does a team go 46-18 (with, to boot, a plus-116 run differential) in a span of two-plus months? Well, put it this way: It helps when virtually everyone is playing well.

Pictured here is Montreal’s lineup becoming invincible down the stretch. And while only Kirk Rueter finished stronger than he started among Montreal’s top pitchers, nobody really went into a slump given that the average National League ERA in 1994 was 4.21.

At the least, the ’94 Expos were looking superior to the 1981 club that came within one win of the World Series. Heck, they were a juggernaut capable of stacking up with any team from recent memory.

As Floyd told Keri years later: “Our energy level was high. There was no thinking that we were going to lose. We knew we were going to win every night. We knew no one could beat us.”

In the end, of course, the ’94 Expos weren’t beaten.

They were simply stopped.

When the strike came, the Expos were in an awkward position. 

On the one hand, they needed the strike the least. Beyond being baseball’s best team, they were in the midst of a 20-3 stretch that made them baseball’s hottest team.

But on the other hand, the Expos also needed the strike the most.

By Expos standards, the club was paying a lot for its 1994 roster. Richard Sandomir of The New York Times noted that their $18.8 million payroll was the second lowest in the league, but team president Claude Brochu insisted it was more than they could afford in a year when national TV revenue was down.

“The payroll should have been $14 million,” said Brochu, apparently only half in jest.

And looking ahead, things were dicey. Walker was making about $4 million and due for free agency, and Alou, Grissom, Hill and Wetteland were all million-dollar players who wouldn’t be getting any cheaper. To keep the ’94 roster intact, the Expos were going to need more money.

And to that end, their best hope was what the strike was all about: revenue sharing.

The Expos were only one team that wanted the rich teams to share with the poor teams. But the rich teams, naturally, didn’t want such a system taking money out of their pockets. Not when it could just as easily take money out of the players’ pockets.

And that meant several things, chief among them being a salary cap, no more salary arbitration, restricted free agency and, as Keri noted in Up, Up, & Away, a drop from a guaranteed 58 percent of league revenue to 50 percent.

After the players (understandably) refused to budge, the 1994 season officially ended in mid-September when the owners cancelled the rest of the regular season and the World Series. Like that, what had a chance to be the greatest season in Expos history was no more.

It also kicked off a string of events that led to professional baseball in Montreal—a dream first realized in 1969—being no more.

The strike eventually did lead to revenue sharing, not to mention a luxury tax. Combined, these things would indeed slow the growth of the rich teams while also aiding the poor teams.

The catch is that these things weren’t agreed to until spring 1997, two years after the strike ended and the Expos took a hammer to their 1994 roster by trading Hill, Wetteland and Grissom and watching Walker leave as a free agent ahead of a shortened 1995 season.

“We’ll still be good,” Malone told Chass. “We’re going be younger and less expensive…But we’ve done it in the past.”

Except not. With a good chunk of the 1994 team gone, the Expos staggered to a 66-78 record and a last-place finish. And though 1996 brought a return to respectability with an 88-74 record, it was not to last.

After 1996, Alou left as a free agent and Fassero and Floyd were traded. And after Martinez was a Cy Young-winning bright spot in Montreal’s 78-84 season in 1997, Duquette reunited with him in Boston. It was in a Red Sox uniform that Martinez would win two more Cy Youngs.

In 1998, The New York Times‘ Murray Chass noted that the Expos spent just $8.3 million on a team that went 65-97 despite receiving $12.5 million in revenue sharing. But rather than use that money on payroll, then-GM Jim Beattie said the team needed it to simply avoid losing money.

“We’re not operating for the good of the game right now,” said Beattie, adding: “We can’t move from that position until we get some assurance that we’re not going to shoot ourselves in the foot all the time.”

A potential solution was a new ballpark to take the place of the dank, dark and literally crumbling Olympic Stadium. To this end, Keri noted in Up, Up, & Away that Brochu announced in 1997 plans for a 35,000-seat open-air stadium that would cost only $250 million.

However, at least $150 million would have to come from the government. Lucien Bouchard, then the Premier of Quebec, all but scoffed.

“We already have a big stadium,” he said, via Keri, “which cost a few dollars and isn’t finished being paid for.”

An alternate solution was a new owner who would be willing to spend on real improvements to the team. When Jeffrey Loria came aboard in 1999, it seemed like the Expos were getting such an owner.

Emphasis on “seemed.”

“No more business as usual,” was Loria’s promise after buying a 24 percent stake in the Expos for $12 million, via Chass. Predictably, part of his plan involved “bringing in a winning attitude and winning players.”

A fine idea, indeed. So long as you bring in the right players at the right prices, of course.

Which, alas, Loria did not do. His big acquisitions before 2000 were 30-something lefty reliever Graeme Lloyd, 30-something starter Hideki Irabu and 30-something first baseman Lee Stevens.

It was largely thanks to their additions that Montreal’s 2000 payroll, via Cot’s Baseball Contracts, grew to a very un-Expos-like $33.5 million. The three were also powerless to stop the 2000 Expos from going 67-95, and the club’s attendance only increased from 9,547 per game to 11,435 per game.

This might as well have been the real beginning of the end for baseball in Montreal. Whatever hope Loria had of building momentum for a new stadium with a high-priced and talented team all but went out the window, and it didn’t take long for him to make his first step toward the door.

According to Keri, Loria issued his first cash call to all Expos partners in the summer of 2000. He was the only one who answered, and this kicked off a series of cash calls that involved him ponying up while everyone else kept their wallets shut. Every time it happened, his control of the team grew.

By spring 2002, Loria owned over 90 percent of the Expos. This was, of course, after contraction of the Expos had not only been discussed but actually voted on in the winter of 2001. What happened instead was a unique three-way deal that saw the Red Sox bought by Marlins owner John Henry, who sold the Marlins to Loria, who in turn sold the Expos to MLB for $120 million.

Thus did the Expos end up in the hands of the very people who wanted them gone. Oh, boy.

Things could have gone worse, though. When a new collective bargaining agreement was reached in August 2002, it included a clause that blocked contraction until 2006. Meanwhile, a makeshift Expos team was improving on a 68-94 record in 2001 by going 83-79. Another 83-79 record followed in 2003. 

But whatever hope the Expos had of keeping it up hinged on re-signing Vladimir Guerrero, he of the .995 OPS and 222 homers in the previous six seasons. That didn’t happen, as Guerrero left to sign a massive contract with the Anaheim Angels.

The Vlad-less Expos were hopeless in 2004, going 67-95 and finishing in last place. It was in late September that the decision was made: Major League Baseball in Montreal would end with the Expos moving to Washington, D.C., the following season.

Some 31,395 fans showed up to Olympic Stadium for the Expos’ final home game of 2004 on Sept. 29. The Expos lost 9-1 amid an atmosphere that Joe LaPointe of The New York Times described as equal parts “peaceful” and “surreal,” but not without an “undercurrent of bitterness.”

That the occasion was also a celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the 1994 team—one complete with some members of the ’94 team back in town and Ken Hill throwing out the first pitchwas really less of a celebration and more of a subplot. Rather than the past, what little future the Montreal Expos had left was the focus.

Or perhaps making a big fuss over the 1994 team was simply too painful for some. For if the 1994 Expos were an embodiment of anything, it was the Expos franchise itself:

Something that might have been, but in the end simply couldn’t be, truly great.


Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.

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