LES EXPOS SONT ICI…MAIS, MALHEUREUSEMENT…
FiredUp Network Sports Writer
Sunday, April 30, 2023
Whenever spring comes rolling around, the natural thing to think about for sports nuts like me is baseball. As a Canadian, baseball and spring makes me think back to the origins of my love for the game and for me, that all started in 1969 with the arrival of the Montreal Expos. Sure, there are a lot of folks who remember the snowy day by Lake Ontario in 1977 when the Toronto Blue Jays hosted (and defeated) the Chicago White Sox. But for me, a nine-year-old in 1969, the Expos came into my life at that perfect time in a boy’s existence when his sporting memories coalesce and crystalize to remain there for the rest of his life.
The spring of 1969 has long been in the rear-view mirror, and I can’t recall exactly what the analysts said about the quality of the Expos’ team or players as they prepared to embark on the road that was the National League at that time. All that mattered to my friends and me was that Montreal had a major league baseball team, Canada had a major league baseball team and more importantly, WE had a major league baseball team to cheer for now.
Immediately, every kid in our neighbourhood had to have some kind of Expos’ thing, a hat or, God forbid, one of those shiny blue Expos’ warm-up jackets that the Steinberg’s grocery store was selling that looked exactly like the ones the players wore. Ohhhh, that would be the ultimate for us, the newly minted baseball fans. That would become like our Holy Grail.
Of course, as an expansion team, the Expos would experience some very lean times. For example, from May 13 to June 7 in that first year, the Expos would not win a single game. They lost 20 consecutive matches in that span. Over the course of the season, the team would win just 52 and they would lose 110. Gene Mauch was the Expos’ manager, and he knew that the team he had to work with was not going to be the group that got Montreal to any kind of ‘Promised Land’.
Before the season started, he told anyone who would listen that he was going to make use of all of his pitchers and often, he would be using a bunch of pitchers in every game. Red Fisher, in his column that came out in the Montreal Star after Opening Day, wrote, “It’s not really the best way to win a baseball game, but if yesterday’s pitching was an example of what the Expos have to offer, Mauch will not need his weight-watchers diet to fight the baby fat. Walking to the mound will do the job.”
Mauch knew of what he spoke – and everything he said about his pitching staff was on display in the Expos’ inaugural game at Shea Stadium in Queens, New York on April 8, 1969. It was like A Tale of Two Cities – or just another good news/bad news story. The team seemed able to score, but…..that pitching.
The man chosen by Mauch to start the very first game in the existence of the Montreal Expos was Jim “Mudcat” Grant. Grant had begun his career with Cleveland in 1958 and he was an all-star in 1963. The next season, he was traded to Minnesota for George Banks and Lee Stange. In 1967, he and Zoilo Versalles were dealt to the Dodgers for Bob Miller, Ron Perranoski and Johnny Roseboro. In October of 1968, the Expos drafted the 33-year-old pitcher.
Before they got to the actual first game though, there were some ceremonial boxes to tick. Singing the Canadian national anthem, half in English and half in French, was the Montreal-born and internationally renowned contralto Maureen Forrester. The colour guard from the College Militaire Royal in St. Jean, Quebec was there as well. And throwing out the first pitch, at Shea Stadium, was Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau.
Before the game, all anyone seemed to want to talk about,though, was the Expos’ hats. Noted United Press International sportswriter Milton Richman wrote “There was this thing about their hats and how ridiculous they looked.” Red Smith, in a column headlined ‘Viva Les Expos’, opined, “The Expos were sweet in playsuits of robin’s egg blue with red, white and blue caps that would be perfectly darling for a girls’ softball team.” What?
Oh, and, since the Mets had joined the National League in 1961, they had never enjoyed an opening day victory. Not one.
In that first game against the 1969 Mets, Grant lasted four outs – an inning and a third. He gave up six hits and three runs, all of which were earned. At the time he left the game, his team trailed 3-2. Fortunately for Grant, he did not have to absorb the loss. Dan McGinn took over for Grant and got out of the second without giving up any further damage. But the Expos got a run in the third off the great Tom Seaver to tie the game and then McGinn homered off the future Hall of Famer to give himself and his team a one-run 4-3 lead.
After the game, Mauch talked about his starter with Ted Blackman of the Montreal Gazette. “Mudcat didn’t have it today. He had no command of his breaking ball. He was wild in the strike zone, if you know what I mean. He usually hits the corners, but everything came down the middle and they hit him good.”
“But Tom Seaver wasn’t right either. Our guys knew they could hit Seaver and anyone else they wanted to pitch. When you’re a pitcher of Seaver’s calibre, you have an idea of how you’re going to pitch a great game. When he knew he couldn’t do it, he tired. And you know, mental fatigue is twice as bad as physical fatigue.”
After the game, McGinn was modest explaining his home run off Seaver. “It was a one in a million shot. I just guessed fastball on the first pitch and let ‘er rip.”
But in the bottom of the fourth, McGinn allowed three more Mets’ runs and left the game with two out in that inning and his team trailing by two. Jerry Robertson got the Mets out in the inning and blanked them in the fifth as well. Seaver put up a zero in the Expos’ fifth and was lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the inning. He stood to qualify for the win if the score held.
But Mets’ reliever Calvin Koonce couldn’t withstand the Expos’ onslaught. With two out and Maury Wills on first, and Rusty Staub at the plate, Wills got a great jump and stole second. Koonce then walked Staub. He had a one-ball, two-strike count on Mack Jones, who then cranked a double to left that scored Wills and Staub to tie the game.
Former Met Don Shaw came in to replace Robertson on the hill to face his former team in the sixth. He allowed only a Rod Gaspar walk and the teams went to the seventh still tied at 6-6. Koonce was still in the game for the Mets, and he would face catcher John Bateman, third baseman Jose ‘Coco’ Laboy and the pitcher Shaw. He got Bateman and Laboy but walked Shaw. He then walked outfielder Ty Cline and gave up a run-scoring single to Wills. Montreal had a lead again.
Shaw then worked out of a one-out, men on first and second jam by inducing outfielder Ron Swoboda to ground into a 5-4-3 double play. The new guys held a 7-6 lead heading into the eighth. Mets’ manager Gil Hodges had seen enough from Koonce and brought Al Jackson in to pitch the eighth. The first batter he faced was Rusty Staub. His first pitch to Staub was a ball. He grooved the next pitch and Staub crushed it to deep right-centre for the solo shot.
Jackson then got Mack Jones on a five-pitch strikeout. But Bob Bailey singled and Bateman singled and Jackson’s day was done. Ron Taylor was brought in to face Coco Laboy and quickly put two strikes past the Expos’ third baseman. But Laboy deposited Taylor’s next pitch beyond the left field fence and just like that, the Expos were leading these Mets 11-6. That was how they went into the bottom of the eighth.
Laboy’s home run ended up being the game-deciding hit. The man that his teammates called Coco was a 28-year-old career minor leaguer and, after the game, he wore a million-dollar smile. “When I went to the plate, I see we got one out and two men on base. I was thinking I just wanted to try and hit the ball up the middle, just make contact. Then when I got two strikes, I just wanted to protect the plate. I was happy when I hit it…really happy!”
Don Shaw came back out to face 22-year-old Amos Otis, Tommie Agee and Rod Gaspar. He retired the trio on twelve pitches. Taylor faced four Expo hitters in the top of the ninth but did not allow a run. The Expos had three more outs to get for their first win in team history. But Shaw was in for his fourth inning of work, and he was facing the meat of the Mets’ batting order, the 3-4-5 hitters.
The Mets’ first batter of the ninth was second baseman Ken Boswell. He worked Shaw to a 2-2 count before taking strike three for the first out. Next to the plate was the cleanup hitter, Cleon Jones. He hammered a ground ball through the left side. The Mets had a runner on for Ed Charles. With Charles down in the count, 0-1, Jones took off and stole second. Charles ended up working Shaw for a walk.
Al Weis was the next Mets batter. Shaw was ahead 0-2 when he got Weis to hit a lazy fly ball to right that was played easily by Staub. There were now two down. That brought the catcher, Jerry Grote, to the plate. Grote worked the count full before singling to left. That scored Cleon Jones and moved Charles to third. The Expos’ lead was cut to 11-7.
Mauch wanted to get out of this game without having to use another pitcher, so he elected to stick with Shaw when Hodges brought in Duffy Dyer to pinch hit for Taylor. Shaw had pitched to Dyer when the two played in the Mets’ system in Jacksonville. The Expos’ hurler dealt a ball and a strike to Dyer. But his third pitch got too much of the plate and Dyer hammered it to deep left for the three-run shot. Montreal still held the lead, but it was now down to a single run, 11-10.
Mauch brought Carroll Sembera in to face Otis. The youngster saw Laboy playing a bit deep at third and he laid down a perfect bunt to get himself aboard. Sembera then allowed Agee to reach on the base on balls. Now, facing Gaspar, Sembera finally got an out, retiring the Mets’ right fielder on strikes to mercifully end this game and get the win for the expansion team from Canada. The final score was 11-10.
The reporters went straight to Mauch after the game, and he did not disappoint. “Opening day, and already, we need a rainout to get our bullpen rested,” Mauch quipped. But then he talked about the wild 11-10 victory. “It was the darndest opening day game I’ve ever been connected with in my life. Both teams were loosey goosey with their bats.” Expos’ Chairman of the Board, Charles Bronfman, agreed, adding “It was some kind of crazy game!”
After the game, Mauch was all set to take his wife out for dinner at Toots Shor’s, the legendary New York restaurant that everyone in baseball of a certain vintage always seemed to frequent. But the game was still on his mind. “Just how do you think I’d feel if we had lost with 11. Hell, I almost did. I left Don Shaw in there too long. He was getting tired, but I wanted him to finish up if he could.”
The New York Daily News, on their back page, had a blurb that promoted a story inside their sports section. It was headlined “It Only Hurts When We Laugh…” The copy of the story read thusly, “Embarrassing, that’s what it is. The Mets were all set for their first opening day victory. After all, they had only to contend with the new kids on the block – the Expos from Montreal. And the Mets had Tom Seaver and 44,541 of the faithful. And what happened? Don’t ask.”
Keep in mind that the Expos were not the only expansion beginning play on that day. The San Diego Padres were also playing their very first game as well. Over in the American League, the Seattle Pilots and Kansas City Royals were all beginning their existences as well. All four of those teams experienced victory on their first day with the big boys.
Oh, and the Mets would go on to win 100 games and win the World Series in 1969 against the mighty Baltimore Orioles.
Early on in 1969, the Expos were going with a rotation of Jim Grant, Bill Stoneman, Larry Jaster and Carl Morton. In the opener, Grant couldn’t get through the second inning. In the second game at Shea Stadium, Stoneman couldn’t get out of the first inning, gave up four runs and the Expos lost to the Mets by a score of 9-5. Gene Mauch wanted some innings from his starters to ease the load on his bullpen, but Stoneman did not give him that.
After the euphoria of opening day, the Expos would lose five of their next seven games, including the Stoneman clunker. Following that loss, Larry Jaster managed to last seven innings, allowing four Mets’ runs in a 4-2 loss. The next game can only be termed ‘heartbreaking’ for young Carl Morton. The 25-year-old righty went nine shutout innings in his major league debut, giving up just six hits at Wrigley Field in Chicago, but he couldn’t get any run support. A twelfth inning Cubs run was the decider in a 1-0 loss.
Every day felt like a new test for this mix of scrubs from all over the place. In the fifth game of their nascent existence, the Expos were sending Mudcat Grant against the Cubs and the venerable Ferguson Jenkins. Mauch had wanted to see more from his number one man than he saw back on opening day in Queens. Grant showed his manager his best.
With the band of castoffs that Mauch had at his disposal, he needed every man to be better than they had ever been, but he needed that every day if this team was going to win any kind of respectable number of games. On this Saturday afternoon in Chicago, the manager was going to get what he wanted from the man everyone called the ‘Mudcat’.
Fergie Jenkins was not great on this day and the Expos took advantage of him. The Hall of Famer lasted just two innings as Montreal victimized him for seven hits and five runs, all of them earned, in just two innings of work. Grant, on the other hand, was great. He pitched eight innings of shutout ball, before faltering in the ninth in a 7-3 win for the visitors. In the process, he handed the Cubs their first loss of the season.
He retired the first sixteen Cubs batters he saw and he pitched into the ninth inning. The first hit he gave up was a single to centre fielder to lead off the sixth. The Cubs managed four straight singles against Grant in the ninth inning to get their runs. Carroll Sembera came on in the ninth to finish the game off and allow his teammate to earn his first win as an Expo.
After the game, Grant talked about how much he appreciated being picked up by the Expos. “There is nothing like the opportunity I’ve been given by expansion. I endorse it not only for me, but for a lot of other guys on this team like Coco Laboy, who spent nine years in the minor leagues before he got this chance. I haven’t had this kind of a chance in two years, but now I know, even though I pitched badly in New York last Tuesday, I won’t lose my turn in the rotation. I know I’m going to pitch.”
If pitching well earns a starter another opportunity, then Grant earned it. Bill Stoneman also pitched poorly in his first outing as an Expo. He was pitching on the getaway day, Sunday at Wrigley. He wanted to atone for his bad outing the previous Wednesday. Stoneman, being a former Cub, possibly carried some extra motivation going into Sunday afternoon affair.
Stoneman didn’t pitch badly but he was done in by mistakes made by his teammates. He pitched 8 2/3 innings and gave up only six hits, but three Montreal errors allowed the Cubs to score six unearned runs and the Expos finished up on the short end of a 7-6 loss. Stoneman would have to wear an 0-2 record because of it.
Their record was now 2-4. They would head back to Montreal for an historic two-game series at Jarry Park against the St. Louis Cardinals. It was Larry Jaster’s turn to pitch for the very first major league baseball game played outside of the United States. The Cards had won the World Series the previous autumn over the Detroit Tigers and hadn’t lost anyone of any consequence in the time between the Fall Classic and this early April meeting.
29,184 fans showed up at Parc Jarry in Montreal for this Monday home opener. This was not just a grand day for Les Montrealais. This was an occasion for all Canadians. We had a team! Oh, and if you are thinking “They only got 29,000?”, the official capacity for the park was 28,456. And, if you were inclined, you could get a beer and a hot dog for 95 cents.
I know, I know. You’re thinking that Jarry Park wasn’t a major league park. It was decidedly minor league. Well, having been there a couple of times when I was between the ages of 10 and 12, I can tell you that I didn’t care. I sat in the left field bleachers, the heart of Jonesville! So named for the left fielder, Mack Jones! Just being there felt like being in the presence of greatness. And we were.
Just like in their season opener against the Mets, their home opener was anything but a masterpiece. But the Montreal spring weather was spectacular! And, also like their season opener, the Expos won their first-ever game at home. And so, as Steve Martin’s character in The Jerk, Navin R. Johnson, said, “Roll the ugliness!”
Former Cardinal, Larry Jaster started the game for Montreal. His mound counterpart for his former team was Nelson Briles. The Expos jumped out to a 6-0 lead after three innings. Mack Jones had a homer, a triple and five out of the six runs batted in for Montreal. Briles was not having a great day. Jaster put zeroes on the board in each of the first three innings, but he had given up four hits over that span.
The first at-bat in the Cardinals’ fourth inning was an omen of what was to come for the Expos’ lefthander. That inning would literally devolve into a ‘comedy of errors’. St. Louis third baseman Mike Shannon led the inning off. Early in the at bat, Montreal catcher John Bateman was charged with an error when he dropped a foul ball and gave Shannon a new life. Then, Shannon reached base on an error by shortstop Maury Wills.
Catcher Tim McCarver was the next hitter. He singled to right, moving Shannon to second. Julian Javier then hit a ball back to Jaster which he misplayed, for an error, and loaded the bases. 155-pound shortstop Dal Maxvill was up next for the Cards and he hammered a Jaster pitch almost into the pool beyond the right field fence for a grand slam.
For Maxvill, it wasn’t his first grand slam in Canada. He played his minor league ball with the Cardinals’ farm club in Winnipeg back in 1960 and 1961 and he had a slam while playing there as well. In the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, it was reported that “it was fitting that Maxvill should do well in Canada. His wife, Diana, is from Saskatchewan.”
Jaster then got Briles to ground out to third and left fielder Lou Brock flew out to left, but Curt Flood singled to left. He moved up on a Jaster balk. Right fielder Vada Pinson was the hitter and he then singled to score Flood. Pinson also moved up to second after centre fielder Don Bosch played the single like a bag of doorknobs for another Montreal error. Jaster’s troubles were compounded when Joe Torre blasted a ball over the fence in right to give his team a 7-6 lead and end the Expos’ starter’s day.
Dan McGinn came in to face Mike Shannon. Shannon must have put a wild spin on the balls he hit. He popped up a McGinn delivery into foul territory that Expos’ firstbaseman Bob Bailey dropped, for the fifth Montreal error of the hideous inning. He then got Shannon to pop up to Wills to end the inning. But the significant damage was done as the Cardinals gave Briles the lead.
But Briles was not up to the task of holding that lead. Maury Wills led off with a single and Rusty Staub followed that up with a double to right field. Manager Red Schoendienst had seen enough from his starter. He brought in the righthander, Gary Waslewski, to face Mack Jones with runners on second and third. Seeing the damage Jones had already done in this game, Waslewski intentionally walked the Expos’ slugger.
Bob Bailey was up next for the home side. Right away, Waslewski unleashed a wild pitch that scored Wills and allowed Staub and Jones to move up a base. Waslewski got out of the inning, but the score was now tied. McGinn and Waslewski settled things down and both teams’ bats cooled off until the bottom of the seventh inning. And, once again, McGinn helped himself through the use of his bat.
In that Expos’ seventh, Bateman went down on strikes, but then former Cards’ farmhand, Coco Laboy doubled to right. Secondbaseman Gary Sutherland hit a ground ball to short. Maxvill looked Laboy back to second and gunned the ball to first for the second out. That brought McGinn to the plate. He muscled a single out to left that scored Laboy. Les Expos had regained their lead. But was it safe?
About the McGinn at bat that won the game for the home team, Red Fisher wrote an interesting little story in the Montreal Star. In the stands at Jarry Park that day was the great Montreal Canadiens defenceman, Jean-Claude Tremblay. As McGinn strolled to the plate, Tremblay and the man seated next to him were discussing the goings-on in front of them.
“Right now,” Tremblay’s seatmate said to the Habs’ No. 3, “I’d send in a pinch-hitter.” Tremblay replied, “So would I”. After McGinn singled in the game’s winning run, Tremblay turned to the guy sitting beside him and said, “See, I told you. If they’d sent in a pinch-hitter, he probably would have struck out.”
McGinn worked around a walk and a single in the eighth and then got the Cardinals in order in the ninth to record his first victory as an Expo. McGinn played with the Cincinnati Reds before joining the Expos. He had faced the Cardinals as a Red and felt as if this result was like retribution. “They beat me in my first major league game last year in eleven innings.” As far as Cards’ manager Schoendienst was concerned, “They tried to give us the game, but we didn’t want it.”
Yes, Montreal had won, and yes, the game was anything but beautiful, but there were complaints from the visiting team about the conditions of the field. There were a lot of last-minute touches that were being completed as fans were coming into the ballpark. And there were elements of the playing surface that required some attention.
Curt Flood referred to some of the issues he had with the field after the game with reporters. “The officials went through so much pain for the fans, it’s a shame they didn’t take the players into consideration. I’ve played on some bad diamonds, but this is the worst. I pray I don’t get killed out there.” The home plate umpire, Mel Steiner, tried to be positive. “They’re going to work on things. There’s a problem because the ground is soft. I’ve told them to try to pack it down.”
In a northern city like Montreal, the frost sits below the surface of the soil later into the spring than it does in more southern cities. That manifests itself in softer and more spongy soil, sometimes well into April. It was just a matter of the time of the year. The playing surface would eventually dry out and harden up.
The Cardinals’ general manager, Bing Devine, was candid about the game but he spoke well of Montreal and their fans. “It was a badly played game on both sides, but we’re not supposed to be playing as badly as the Expos. From a league standpoint, it was good for the expansion club to win. I wasn’t surprised by all the enthusiasm of the fans. Montreal is a big-league city. The people here are interested in sports, and they’ll spend the money.”
In the second of the two-game series, Carl Morton gave up a couple of home runs, but he struck out six in four innings of work. Don Shaw came on in relief and went the final five innings. But he gave up a run in the ninth inning on a Lou Brock single that scored Maxvill. That broke a 3-3 tie and gave the visitors the victory to even the set. Then both teams left town. Montreal flew to Philadelphia to play the Phillies. The Cardinals set out for home where they would host the Chicago Cubs.
The trip to the City of Brotherly Love would provide the Expos and their fans with the brightest of whatever few bright moments that may have existed in the 1969 season.
Going into action on April 17, 1969, the Expos were sitting with a record of 3-5 and were in fourth place in the National League’s East Division. At the top of the NL East were the Chicago Cubs with an 8-1 mark. The Expos had handed them their only loss. The Cardinals were a half game ahead of Montreal, and the Canadian team’s next opponents, the Phillies, were in the basement of the group with a 2-6 record.
25-year-old Bill Stoneman would be pitching for Montreal. In 1968, Stoneman had been a reliever in the Chicago Cubs’ bullpen. At 5’10”, no manager ever felt that Stoneman was tall enough to be a starter. In one article early in the 1969 season, an Associated Press writer referred to Stoneman as “the Montreal Expos’ chunky little hurler”. Even Stoneman, in an interview, said, “I’m so short that my managers and coaches always said, ‘You’re a reliever’. I was successful at it so I stayed there.’”
But, in Montreal, his manager didn’t really have any other choices. And Stoneman had always wanted to be a starter anyway. Jerry Johnson would be going for the hometown Phils. Neither pitcher had been able to record a win to this point in the young season. Stoneman was 0-2 while Johnson was 0-1. The game would be played at Connie Mack Stadium.
A few years earlier, Expos manager Gene Mauch had been guiding the 1964 Phillies. That team had been at the top of the National League from the beginning of the year into the middle of September. The Phils started the season 8-2 and were in cruise control, at times leading the league by nine or ten games. On September 1, they led the Cincinnati Reds by 5 ½ games and seemed a cinch to clinch the pennant.
On September 20, the Phillies played their 150th game of the season. They were in Chavez Ravine to play the Dodgers. Jim Bunning won his 18th game of the season against just five losses. Philadelphia had a record of 90-60 and now held a 6 ½ game lead on the Reds with just twelve remaining. Those same Reds were set to invade Connie Mack Stadium for a three-game series that would make or break the season for each team.
Cincinnati did what they had to do in sweeping the series and cutting the Phillies lead to 3 ½ games with nine left. Then the Milwaukee Braves visited Philadelphia. They swept the Phils while the Reds and the Cardinals were winning. After the games on Sunday, September 27, the Philadelphia lead over the Reds was gone. In fact, Cincinnati now led the Phils by a half-game. Their lead over St. Louis was a game and a half.
It would go down to the final day of the season, but by then, ‘The Phold’ was complete. It was the Cards that ended up on top of the National League pile, a game ahead of each of Cincinnati and Philadelphia.
Gene Mauch lasted as the Phillies’ manager until the one-third mark of the 1968 season. His team was 27-27 at the time. His next job would be as the skipper of the 1969 Expos, and now his gang of castoffs was about to face Mauch’s old squad, a team that was doing worse than they were. Philly had won just two games going into this series with Montreal. They had lost six. Mauch was coming back to the scene of his emotional depensing. Would there be an element of revenge?
April 17 was a Thursday.
Remember that Bill Stoneman had primarily worked out of the bullpen in his previous two major league seasons with the Cubs. He had only started two games with a big-league club prior to the 1969 season. The thought of a complete game was completely foreign to him. But, keep in mind that he did go 8 2/3 innings in his last start which happened to be against his former team. Stoneman might also have been relieved in the knowledge that slugger Richie Allen wouldn’t be in the lineup for the Phils due to a bruised right shoulder. The shame of it all was that just 6,494 fans showed up to see this one.
The Expos started the game feebly enough. Centre fielder Don Bosch went down on strikes. Shortstop Maury Wills hit a comebacker that Johnson fielded well and retired the Montreal shortstop with an easy toss to first baseman Johnny Briggs. Right fielder Rusty Staub grounded out to second baseman Tony Taylor.
Stoneman came into the game. The first Phillies batter was Taylor. He reached on a base on balls. Left fielder Ron Stone was up next. He lofted a fly ball to centre. Bosch ran it down without a problem. Briggs and third baseman Deron Johnson both went down on strikes. Johnson though did hit a Stoneman delivery hard down the third base line but umpire Nick Colosi ruled that it went foul by inches. After an inning, the game was scoreless.
Johnson got Mack Jones on a groundout to shortstop Don Money. First baseman Bob Bailey was up next. He pounded a ball to deep left-centre which landed. Bailey had an easy double but he kept chugging and he was thrown out on a perfect relay from Stone to Money to Johnson at third. Bailey was injured on the slide and had to leave the game. Expos’ catcher John Bateman went down swinging to end the inning.
It was up to Stoneman to match Johnson. Right fielder Johnny Callison was the first batter of the second inning for the Phils. He popped out to Bateman in foul territory. Money was the next man up. He hit a fly ball that Bosch made a nice shoestring catch on for the second out. Larry Hisle played centre field for the Phils, he came up and grounded out to Gary Sutherland at second. It was still scoreless after two.
In the top of the third, the Expos got on the board against Johnson. Coco Laboy led off with a single to left. Sutherland hit a ground ball to third that Deron Johnson bungled. That moved Laboy to second. The pitcher Stoneman came up next and Johnson got him when his two-strike bunt attempt went foul. But the top of the order came up and Don Bosch hit a ball to second that Taylor couldn’t handle. Laboy came home and Sutherland moved to third. There was no RBI awarded because of the error. Maury Wills then hit into a 6-3 double play to end the inning. But it was 1-0 for the visitors now.
The Phillies had a chance to get back into the game in the bottom of the third inning. Catcher Mike Ryan hit a lazy fly ball to Staub in right for the first out. Stoneman’s counterpart, Johnson, struck out. Taylor then hit a ball hard to right field, but Staub made a long run for it and was able to get to it for the third out of the inning.
Le Grand Orange, as Staub was known in Montreal for his crop of red hair, was the lead-off man for the Expos in the top of the fourth. Before the game, a Philadelphia scribe approached Mauch to ask about Staub’s performance to this point in the season. “He’s only hitting .286,” barked Mauch, “but he’ll fix that.” Staub did some fixing, alright. He parked one over the right field fence for the second Montreal run of the game. Johnson got Mack Jones looking at strike three. Ty Cline had come into the game after Bob Bailey got hurt back in the second. He managed to single to left off Johnson.
That brought John Bateman to the plate. A Johnson wild pitch moved Cline up to second. Bateman hit a ground ball to Deron Johnson at third. He looked Cline back to second and made the long throw to get Bateman easily. Laboy then hit a ball to Taylor at shortstop that might have gone for a single if it hadn’t struck Cline. That was the third out of the inning. But the solo homer by Staub did the damage and it was now 2-0 for Montreal after four.
Stoneman was set to face the 2-3-4 hitters for the Phillies. Ron Stone grounded out to the shortstop, Maury Wills, for the first out of the inning. Johnny Briggs worked Stoneman for a walk. Deron Johnson hit a ground ball to Gary Sutherland at second who made the toss to Wills to retire Briggs on the fielders’ choice. Johnny Callison was the next batter and he went down looking at strike three. Thus endeth the fourth inning.
Johnson got the Expos 1-2-3 in the top of the fifth. Gary Sutherland grounded out to third baseman Deron Johnson. Stoneman looked at a called strike three. Bosch rolled a grounder to first baseman Johnny Briggs who made the play unassisted. Heading into the bottom of the fifth, Montreal still led 2-0 and the Phillies did not yet have a hit in the game.
Stoneman was going to face the bottom of the Phils’ order in the bottom of the fifth. Shortstop Don Money was the sixth-place hitter for Philadelphia. He popped out to Sutherland at second. Larry Hisle then looked at ball four and headed down to first. But, catcher Mike Ryan skied a ball to the left side of the infield that Coco Laboy was able to track down. That brought up Stoneman’s mound counterpart Jerry Johnson. He clubbed a grounder to Laboy who fired the ball over to Sutherland at second for the force on Hisle and the final out of the inning.
The top of the sixth started inauspiciously enough when Maury Wills’ ground ball to Don Money was played cleanly for the first Montreal out. But then Rusty Staub did what Rusty Staub does and he clobbered a ball to right field for a double. Johnson got Mack Jones on strikes. But then Ty Cline came up and his single to centre scored Staub. Fortunately for Cline, Larry Hisle misplayed the ball and the Expos’ first baseman headed over to second.
John Bateman was the next batter and he worked Johnson for a base on balls. Coco Laboy then touched Johnson up for a single to centre and Cline was able to score. Bateman rumbled into third and Hisle’s throw there allowed Laboy to make it into second safely. With runners on second and third, the decision was made to intentionally walk Sutherland so Johnson could face Bill Stoneman. The Philly righty was able to retire Stoneman on strikes.
There are times when a long offensive inning can raise concerns for a pitcher who may have gotten cold waiting to come back out and pitch again. But Stoneman got Tony Taylor to fly out to Staub in right. He then induced Ron Stone to hit a roller to Sutherland at second that resulted in an easy out. Johnny Briggs then went down on strikes to end the inning. After six complete innings, the Expos were leading the Phils 4-0 and ‘Stoney’ still had yet to give up a hit on the day.
In the top of the seventh, Johnson allowed Staub to reach on a two-out double and a subsequent walk to Mack Jones had runners on first and second with Ty Cline stepping into the box. But Johnson got Cline to pop up to Money at short for the third out.
In the Phillies’ half of the seventh, Stoneman gave up a walk to Johnny Callison, but he kept all of Deron Johnson, Don Money and Larry Hisle in the infield to preserve his team’s 4-0 lead AND his shot at a no-hitter.
The Expos had a bit of a goofy eighth. Jerry Johnson was still in the game for Philadelphia. First, the Montreal catcher, John Bateman, singled to centre field. Then, with Coco Laboy at the plate, Bateman took off for second and was retired 2-6-3 on the caught stealing. Laboy then singled to centre. Gary Sutherland was the next batter for the visitors. He grounded into a 4-3 double play.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, Stoneman was going to face the Phillies’ 8-9-1 hitters. The Philadelphia catcher, Mike Ryan, was their first batter. Stoneman got him on strikes. Jerry Johnson was the next scheduled man to hit. Vic Roznovsky came in to pinch hit for his pitcher. He drew a walk. But Tony Taylor rolled into a 6-4-3 double play. The score was 4-0 for Montreal and, after eight full innings, the Expos’ righty still had his no-no.
Phils’ manager Bob Skinner brought the righty Bill Wilson in to face Bill Stoneman and the new Philadelphia pitcher walked the visiting team’s pitcher. Don Bosch was the next man up and he laid a bunt down to try to move Stoneman over to second. But the resulting throw went to second to try to get the force on the pitcher. It was unsuccessful and the play was ruled a fielder’s choice. Maury Wills’ ensuing infield single then loaded the bases for Staub.
Le Grand Orange came through in the situation and capped a great day with his fourth hit – his third double to go with his solo homer in the fourth – of the game to score Stoneman and Bosch and stretch Montreal’s lead to 6-0. Skinner, and whatever Philly faithful remaining in the stadium, had seen enough of Wilson. Turk Farrell was coming in to mop this one up.
The first Expos’ hitter he faced was Mack Jones. He got him on strikes. He then walked Ty Cline intentionally. But, then he uncorked a pitch that got past his catcher Roznovsky and rolled to the backstop. Wills came home with Montreal’s seventh run of the night. He then retired Bateman and Laboy on strikes to end a ninth inning that was ugly for the home side.
The task now for Stoneman was to retire Ron Stone, Johnny Briggs and Deron Johnson – the 2-3-4 spots in the Philly lineup. Stoney retired Stoney on strikes. He then did the same to Briggs. It all came down to Johnson. He hit a roller to Wills at short. Wills had to knock it down, but given the lack of speed on the part of Johnson, Wills was able to recover the ball and fire it over to Cline at first for the game’s final out.
History was made! Stoneman’s no-hitter was complete, and it was the first ever no-no by an expansion team in the first year of its existence. For Stoneman, it was obviously his first ever no-hit game. But it was also his first ever major league complete game as well! He and the assembled reporters had some fun together after this one was over.
“It’s the best way to do it,” Stoneman told them. “Was I nervous out there? No. Not really. I knew there was something going on, but I told myself not to be nervous.” He was asked when he realized that he had a no-hitter going. “I was aware of it very early…in the third or fourth inning. I’ve never before had one going any longer than that. Actually, I even sneaked a look at that big zero in their hit column on the scoreboard when we were in the dugout, but I didn’t dare peek over there when we were in the field.”
“I don’t think any pitcher who throws one will tell you he doesn’t know about it during the game.”
He told the press that he was mixing his two best pitches all night long. “My fastball and curve were working equally well, but neither one was exceptional. By that, I mean I wasn’t overpowering anybody with my fastball or fooling anyone with my curve. It was a good mixture.” But, hey, Stoneman did pile up eight strikeouts.
Veteran catcher John Bateman called the game and he mixed Stoneman’s fastball and curve masterfully. The Expos’ pitcher said he barely ever had to shake his catcher off. Stoneman was complimentary of his receiver’s background. “He knows the hitters. I had good stuff and I was getting the ball where I wanted it, except for the walks.”
He did allow five bases on balls. And one reporter did remind him of that fact. “Yeah, but you walked five guys!”, the media man said, trying to draw a smile from the Expos’ pitcher. Stoneman retorted, “Those were the five guys who might have gotten hits off me!” Everybody was smiling and it wasn’t just in the Expos’ club house in Philly that people were celebrating.
Over in St. Louis, the Cubs were joyous over their latest win, a 3-0 result over the Cardinals. The victory was their ninth in the ten games they had played in this young season. The team was rolling. When the guys were told about Stoneman’s exploits in Philly, one of the Cubs exclaimed “Even the ex-Cubbies are rolling this year!”
The Cubs pitching coach, Joe Becker, was happy for his former reliever. “More power to him. Bill really didn’t get a chance with us last year because he was going back and forth to the military so much. In fact, he never really got in shape all season. Even after he got out of the service after missing most of spring training last year, he had to go back into the military for two weeks and never was 100 per cent physically.
Cubs’ pitcher Bill Hands watched Stoneman closely just four days earlier when the two men faced each other at Wrigley Field. Stoneman went 8 2/3 innings in the loss, but Hands said he saw something in this edition of the Expos’ hurler that was different than when he was toiling for Chicago.
“I noticed he used to come straight overhand with all his pitches and now he has dropped down to a three-quarter delivery. He always had a good curve ball, but he couldn’t get it over before. Now he is getting the ball over and he has confidence in it.”
A little reminder might be necessary, but back in October of 1968, in the expansion draft, when the Expos had selected Stoneman, some members of the Cubs’ brain trust were very happy. According to Richard Dozer of the Chicago Tribune, “And when Montreal put the finger on Bill Stoneman in the second round, (John) Holland (general manager of the Cubs at the time) and manager Leo Durocher almost danced for joy – then quickly rescued three young pitchers they thought would be taken before Stoneman.” One must wonder what Holland and Durocher were thinking after that Stoneman performance in Philadelphia.
Back in the Expos’ room in Philly, Gene Mauch was asked why he decided to turn Stoneman into a starter. “He can throw strikes and if we’re going to win, he (Stoneman) has to be a part of it.” This series was the first visit back to Philadelphia for Mauch. In the stands, there was a prominent sign that stated “FORGIVE GENE! BRING HIM BACK!” Mauch told a reporter that he had indeed seen the placard and he asked, “What did I do?”
And while Stoneman was indeed the man of the hour, Staub had a pretty fine day as well. Was it his best ever? He wouldn’t commit to that. “I can’t truthfully say it was my most memorable night. Against the Cardinals one night, I hit two home runs and a double in Houston and it was one of the biggest thrills of my life. Oh, I was pleased to have a big night here in Philly, but the big thrill was Stoneman!”
Staub continued, “From the sixth inning on, I was too excited over what he was doing to worry about myself. And, oh yes, I was particularly glad for ‘The General’.” ‘The General’ was the Expos’ manager, Gene Mauch. After the way he had been let go by the Phillies the previous season, his players were only too happy to come into Philly and hand their opponents a defeat.
Players in the Expos’ room, to a man, were happy they were able to come to Connie Mack and get the win for their skipper. Bill Stoneman was one of them. “I wanted this game for Gene. I’m happy for Gene – really happy! I hope we beat ‘em every time we come to Philadelphia.”
That Stoneman no-hitter took place on April 17. It was THE shining moment for the Expos in their 1969 season. They were 4-5 and looking okay in the standings after Stoneman’s masterpiece. From that point though, through to June 7, the team won just seven of their next 39 games. Over the remainder of the year, they went just 48-105. Of course, they finished at the bottom of the East Division.
It was perhaps ironic that the team the Expos defeated in their first game of the season, the New York Mets, eventually won the division, the National League and, ultimately, the World Series. The team the Mets defeated in the Fall Classic was the vaunted Baltimore Orioles. But, in 1969, the Miracle Mets would not be beaten. Mets’ reliever Tug McGraw led everyone when he said, “You Gotta Believe”.
The first week-and-a-half of the season was the best part of it for the very young Expos. They won their first ever game, their season opener against the Mets at Shea Stadium. They won their first ever home game against the Cardinals. And Stoneman pitched his magnificent no-hitter in Philadelphia. Dan McGinn, their left-handed relief pitcher hit the team’s first ever home run.
After the Stoneman no-no in April, perhaps the brightest moment was the signing of Claude Raymond from the Atlanta Braves in mid-August. Raymond was 32 years-old and approaching the end of his career, to be sure. But what he meant for the team in the community was immense. For the Expos to have a Quebecois player who was a bona fide major leaguer to present to their local fans meant the world.
Stoneman emerged as the best pitcher on the staff. He finished the year with a record of 11-19. Carl Morton started the year with the Expos but went up and down and eventually spent more time in the minors than with the Expos. He blossomed the following season though and was named the National League’s Rookie of the Year in 1970.
Rusty Staub became a star in Montreal and in Canada in 1969. Mack Jones was a comet, in that he shot across the Montreal sky for a short time before trailing away. But Staub was beloved. In 1969, he was the team leader in games played, hits, runs, home runs and batting average (.302). Staub’s career on-base percentage as an Expo was .402, the best ever by any member of the team. Coco Laboy was another guy who emerged as a fan favourite. The career minor leaguer led the team in at-bats and runs batted in in 1969.
From 1969 to 1971, Staub was the best player on the team and an All-Star each season. The fans loved him, and he loved them back equally. His nickname, ‘Le Grand Orange’, was reportedly given to him by the Montreal Gazette’s sports editor, Ted Blackman. Staub was one of those players who embraced his relationship with and responsibility to the fans and he did it with gusto.
Stu Cowan was one of those kids who loved Staub. He later worked at The Gazette as a sportswriter. In 2012, he wrote a nice column on Staub and his legacy in Montreal. Cowan was one of the kids in Staub’s Young Expos Club, a program started by the Bank of Montreal that encouraged kids to open accounts at the bank and get tickets in the left field bleachers.
“I went across the country each year during the offseason for three years to try to help promote Major League Baseball and the Expos,” Staub told Cowan. “It was a very special time and relationship. I look back upon it and I think I was very lucky to be a part of something that was so viable and so exciting at the same time.”
Cowan brought up his membership in the Young Expos Club and the stadium in Montreal at the time. “Parc Jarry,” Staub laughed as he spoke to the Gazette columnist. “I’m not going to get into all its frailties, because it had some hiccups – it wasn’t exactly the best playing surface in the history of baseball. But the greatest thing when I think back about it is the fans.”
Right before the 1972 season though, Staub was traded to the New York Mets for Tim Foli, Mike Jorgensen and Ken Singleton. He eventually made his way back to Montreal in 1979 and in his first at-bat at Olympic Stadium, the home crowd gave him a standing ovation which lasted his entire time at the plate. Staub said that outburst of love from the fans was “one of the most memorable moments of my entire life.”
On October 1, 2015, Staub was on a flight returning from Ireland back to the United States. He suffered a heart attack and fortunately, there were two doctors on board the plane and they resuscitated the ex-ballplayer. The flight turned around and headed back to Shannon Airport. Staub passed away in West Palm Beach, Florida on March 29, 2018. He would have turned 74 three days later. He suffered multiple organ failure.
He will always be remembered as one the Expos’ all-time greats.
From 1969 through 1972, Bill Stoneman pitched more than 200 innings in each of those four seasons for the Montreal Expos. He was undoubtedly the team’s ace. He provided the Expos with the greatest moment of their first season. In 1971, he pitched 295 innings and recorded 251 strikeouts in that span. The only National League pitchers with more strikeouts that year were Tom Seaver and Ferguson Jenkins. He had 20 complete games in 1971, tied for the league lead with Bob Gibson.
One of those complete games occurred on Helmet Night at Jarry Park, June 16, when Stoneman had one of the best performances of his career. He carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the San Diego Padres. He struck out 14 in the game and allowed only one walk. The only Padres’ hit of the night came from Cito Gaston in the seventh inning. Montreal won 2-0.
In 1972, he was selected as one of the National League’s pitchers for the All-Star Game in Atlanta. On October 2, 1972 (four days after Paul Henderson’s Summit Series-winning goal), Stoneman completed his second career no-hitter in a 7-0 win over the New York Mets in Montreal. In this one, he struck out nine Mets’ batters and gave up seven walks. His earned run average in 1972 was a sparkling 2.98.
In 1973, he incurred an arm injury and his season suffered because of it. Before the 1974 season, his contract was purchased by the California Angels. His tenure there lasted just a little over three months. His playing career was over. But his post-baseball career was just beginning. He had a masters degree in physical education from the University of Oklahoma and when he was finished with baseball, he began working in banking.
By November of 1983, he was working with the Expos in a player relations capacity. The following September, he became the team’s vice president of business operations and in 1987, he became the general manager of the club. His time while with the Expos may not have been the club’s most productive as a collective unit, but his performances were exemplary.
One can only wonder what he could have done had he played on some of the better Expos’ teams that would come a few short years after his departure from the game. We older Expos fans will always be able to look back on his great pitching performances in the first four years of the franchise with admiration and gratitude.
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