By: Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
The Expos’ book you are going to read about is a little different than most.
You won’t read about Rick Monday’s home run off Steve Rogers on Oct. 19, 1981. You won’t read about Mike Schmidt’s home run off of Stan Bahnsen on Oct. 4, 1980. You won’t read about Willie Stargell’s homer off of Scott Sanderson on Sept. 25, 1979.
As you may recall, those homers by Monday, Schmidt and Stargell resulted in Expos’ losses. The book being edited, coordinated and supervised by Ottawa resident Norm King deals only with memorable Expos’ wins. It’s all about accenting the positive. A tentative title being put forth by King is Au jeu/Play Ball: The 50 Greatest Games in the History of the Montreal Expos.
“I want to get a little French in the title because it's appropriate,’’ King said.
As a member of the Society for American Baseball Research for a few years, King has contributed a number of bios of Expos’ players for the SABR website and his most ambitious project will be realized next April with the release of the Expos’ book which will include 17 game stories done by King. The rest of the stories or “summaries’’ as King calls them are furnished by close to 20 writers, including yours truly, who sheds light on Pedro Martinez’s near-perfect game June 3, 1995.
“From what I have seen on Amazon.com, books exist for the Phillies, Yankees, Mets and Twins in which the author writes up 162 summaries from games that a team won during its history and uses the hook of a "perfect" season for the title 162-0,’’ King said.
For example, one book was titled: 162-0: Imagine a Phillies’ Perfect Season: A Game-by-Game Analysis of the Greatest Wins in Phillies’ History.
“That gave me an idea for an Expos’ book,’’ King said. “I started doing some research. By the time I got to 35-40 games, I got a little lazy so I thought 50 games would be a nice, round number. It would be hard to get 162 games for the Expos because they don’t have a long history.’’
King approached renowned SABR book coordinator and author Bill Nowlin of Boston, who then ran the idea by others on the SABR executive before the project was approved. It’s expected to be an 8X10 production, about 220 pages in length and will cost about $19.95 U.S. SABR books traditionally are printed on demand and aren’t available in bookstores.
“The book is going to be really awesome,’’ King said. “Interest in the Expos is reaching a fever pitch, and the book's timing couldn't be better. I have asked that the publication be pushed back to next April to coincide with the baseball season. With the buzz the exhibition games between the Jays and Red Sox in Montreal are going to have, it’s a good time to release the book.
“I’m going to promote it a lot with the media in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Denis Coderre, the mayor of Montreal, is working very hard toward getting the Expos back, and I hope to involve his office in promoting the book.’’
Of course, former Expo Warren Cromartie is another key figure beating the drums to get baseball back in La Belle Province, having organized a number of Expos’ reunions.
The book is another reminder of a great franchise that was lost to Washington but is another beacon of light as Montreal strives to regain the Expos.
“I want people to read the book, smile, laugh and maybe even cry,’’ King said. “Lest you think I'm exaggerating about the book's quality, I can tell you that Greg Erion, one of the two fact checkers (along with Jack Zerby) said to me on returning one of the articles and I quote: ‘Keep sending me articles like this and I'll become a retroactive Expos fan.’
“I also sent a couple of summaries to former Expos broadcaster Dave Van Horne and he wrote back and said that they reminded him of things he'd forgotten about. I’m so pleased with the quality of the book.’’
King thought for a few seconds when he was asked about his all-time favourite win by the Expos.
“A few stick out in my mind,’’ he said. “I would say that game in 2003 when the Expos came back against the Braves. At that time, John Smoltz was the hottest closer in the game. He’d only blown two saves the whole season. He had family there from Atlanta and there was a couple in front of us and I said Smoltz was going to blow the save. The Expos pounded him and they won in extra innings.
“There was a personal connection to that game. I was sitting with a couple of friends. One of them had a brain tumour. His name was Achilles Prassas of Montreal. It was the last time I saw him. He died several years later. He was only 37.’’
King has obtained photos for the book from the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. and likewise from the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont. with the help of author Bill Young’s collection.
“I told all my writers that they produced some really good, fine stuff and that it will be a really, really good book,’’ King said. “People will love reading the book, no question in my mind. I’m very proud of the way it has come together.’’
You can’t help but admire King for what he’s doing. The book is a feather in the cap of a guy who saw his first Expos’ game May 1, 1969 at Jarry Park.
“It was quite a thrill going to that game,’’ King said. “I was 12-years-old. The Expos won 3-2. Donn Clendenon received an intentional walk to load the bases in the bottom of the ninth and Coco Laboy hit a sac fly to score Ron Brand, who was pinch-running for Rusty Staub.
“One of the games I did for the book was on Gary Carter’s last hit in 1992, a double over the head of Andre Dawson, who was playing for the Cubs. I had a wonderful conversation with Gary’s wife Sandy about that hit. She went on the field to be with Gary after the game and they walked around the stadium, high-fiving the fans.
“I sent Sandy the Youtube video of the commercial Gary did for 7-Up with their daughter Christy when Christy was two-years-old. She was pitching to him and Gary told her to throw him a smoker. And he picks up the ball and it’s smoking.’’
Same with the book. It should be smoking-good.