Day 11: 30 baseball books in April, 2014 — Exposing the Expos for what they were and could be again

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  • The book: “Up, Up & Away: The Kid, The Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, Le Grand Orange, Youppi! The Crazy Business of Baseball, & the Ill-Fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos”
  • The author: Jonah Keri
  • Vital stats: Random House Canada, 408 pages, $32
  • Find it: At RandomHouse.ca, at the author’s website, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at Amazon.com
About 95,000 tickets were been sold for two exhibition games between the Blue Jays and the Mets at Olympic Stadium in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press)

About 95,000 tickets were been sold for two exhibition games between the Blue Jays and the Mets at Olympic Stadium in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press)

  • The pitch: More than 90,000 congregated at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium recently to see a two-game exhibition series between the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Mets. Thousands more apparently didn’t get in because the line outside the stadium to pick up tickets they ordered online took too long and they gave up.
    d7d38e83-9f92-4275-a6d9-f16be4128a29-460x276Asked about the chances of a Major League Baseball team ever returning to Montreal, former Expos manager Felipe Alou said at a press conference: “It’s 50/50, that’s what I hear. But after these two games it will probably go over 50/50.”
    How’s that math work in the conversion rate?
    The celebration was for the 20th anniversary of the 1994 Expos team that Alou had churning forward with a 74-40 record until the season was cut short by a strike and the World Series canceled.
    The exhibition series also marked 10 seasons ago when the Expos played their last game at the stadium before moving to Washington for the start of the 2005 season.
    These games were embraced by a group called the Montreal Baseball Project, led by former Expos star Warren Cromartie, who has been working to bring a team back to the city.
    If this was a tryout of sorts, the next step is to remind people of what glory there once was there.
    From Keri, the author of one of our favorite books from 2011, “The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First” about the Tampa Bay Rays, as well as “Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game Is Wrong,” comes this monster history book where there is nothing lost in translation.
    The Expos were wronged when they were booted to Washington, and their history going back to when the Brooklyn Dodgers had them as their top minor-league affiliate should be enough to get them to the front of the line if there ever should be another team added/moved/stolen.
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  • Here’s a quick Q and A about it with Keri about the book and other Expo-related issues:
    Q: Can you relay the feeling you had in Montreal recently for the two exhibition games there, and connecting with fans who must have consumed your book in biblical proportions?
    A: It was unreal. Just as an old-time Expos fan, walking through the tunnel from the Metro on the way to the stadium, shoulder to shoulder with thousands of fans, chanting, “Let’s Go Expos!” was so much fun. Then adding in the professional element, where I got to sign books next to Ellis Valentine, and give a speech at a ’94 Expos reunion gala…how many people get to experience that combination of visceral childhood-related experiences with professional accomplishments? One of the best and craziest weeks of my life.
    Q: You mention this a bit in the beginning of the book, but do you sense Montreal still has a connection with Jackie Robinson for that one year he played there before joining the Dodgers? And, with Walter O’Malley has the head of the expansion committee, how that made a difference when the Expos were added in 1968?
    A: Well, sure. There’s only one statue in front of the Big O, and it’s not of Gary Carter or Andre Dawson…it’s Jackie. His legacy is alive and well in Montreal. As for O’Malley, that definitely made a difference. He had a lot of influence in the expansion process, and the Expos weren’t necessarily considered a favorite to land a team heading into the discussion.
    Q: You write on page 312 that you “cried like a damn baby the day they canceled” the 1994 season, where the Expos were the best team in the game and a favorite to get to the World Series. And “you gave up on baseball.” How was that worth revisiting in this process? And when did you come back around to the game?
    A: You could say I quit on baseball for exactly six days. The season was cancelled on September 14, 1994. Six days later, September 20, 1974, was my 20th birthday. My girlfriend at the time bought me a Felipe Alou rookie card for that birthday, and urged me not to give up on the team, and the game that I loved. So I gave up on my boycott. If not for that moment, I don’t know that I’d be a baseball fan today, and I REALLY can’t imagine being a baseball writer today. Related: That girl and I have now been married for 16 years.
    Q: Any ill feelings toward Rick Monday (1981 NLCS Expos killer) as well?
    A: Nah. I’m too old for silly grudges. Besides, Monday was a gentleman when we talked and is universally regarded as such. He was just doing his job.
    Q: There is some other great Dodgers-Expos crossover history – the 22 inning game, Dennis Martinez’ perfect game at Dodger Stadium in 1991 (on the same weekend that Mark Gardner had nine no-hit innings against them but ended up losing), the trade that brought Mike Marshall to L.A. for a Cy Young season. But probably the trade of Pedro Martinez for Delino DeShields stands out on both sides as impactful. Were you surprised to find out about the story from Kevin Kennedy about the scouting reports that he never turned into the Dodgers but found their way to the Expos management and led to Montreal finding all these key players in the 1990s?
    A: I was! Now, Kennedy could have simply told Dan Duquette verbally that he liked Pedro and the deal could’ve happened. But the espionage element of the story really appealed to me. But Kennedy’s Dodger ties and the deal that later occurred were just wild, when you consider the gold mine that came over. Not just Pedro: John Wetteland, Darrin Fletcher, and Henry Rodriguez, all players in the Dodgers system who Kennedy had seen that the Expos eventually acquired, were picked up at least partially on Kennedy’s say-so.
  • More to know:
    == Keri appears on ESPN2′s “Olbermann” show earlier this week:== A review in The Globe and Mail: “(It is) a genius hunk of a book, not just de rigueur for anybody who’s had the misfortune of believing Mark Langston could win a World Series, but a compelling narrative of a team without a sense of destiny, a team always shadowed by its unlikelihood and its discounted otherness.”
    == A review on TheHardballTimes.com: “Some have expressed doubts about whether the Expos’ story is one worth telling, if this is a book that only the nerdiest nerds will love, and in a way it is. If more people cared about the Expos when they were in existence, perhaps they would have survived in Montreal. But sometimes it’s not the story, it’s the telling. Keri seamlessly blends the team’s tales together to make for an engaging read, using his treasure trove of personally conducted interviews and own life experiences to make for a truly unique book. I effectively finished the nearly 400-page book in four days. In fact, the main feeling most non-Montreal readers will feel upon completion of Up, Up & Away, will be “Damn, I wish someone would write a book like this about my team.”
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