Montreal crowd cheers on Jays and 1994 Expos

* The '94 Expos turned up in great numbers this weekend in Montreal, as Olympic Stadium played host to an exhibition series between the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets. .... 2014 Canadians in College Letters of Intent 2014 Canadian draft list 2013 Canadians in the Minors  2015 Canadian draft list

By Bob Elliott

MONTREAL -- As always, the best position player Canada has ever produced is up on current events.

Fact: Major League Baseball and the Player’s Association agreed to bump penalties for performance-enhancing drugs from 50 to 80 games for a first violation, and from 100 games to a season-long 162 for a second positive. A third violation stays as a lifetime ban.

“What does it matter, 50 or 80? Once you are stained, your reputation is stained for life no matter what you do after,” said Larry Walker. “That’s why I used nothing but Canadian maple syrup on all my pancakes all those years.”

Fact: The Detroit Tigers signed Miguel Cabrera, who turns 31 next month, to an eight-year, $248 million US contract extension.

“I read where Mike Illitch bought the Tigers for $85 million and he’s able to give out a contract like that?” said Walker. “Everyone wants to blame the players for the strike in 1994. That should settle the argument who won the strike in 1994, the owners or the players.”

The strike of 1994 was the reason Walker was back in Montreal, along with evenko booking the New York Mets and the Toronto Blue Jays for a pair of games, the first at Olympic Stadium since the Expos departed in 2004.

Montreal had a six-game lead in the National League East in 1994 when the season was banged.

One fan held up a homemade sign Saturday which read:

“Montreal Expos

1994 World Series champs”

Had you told me that either Expos fans or Montrealers would almost fill Olympic Stadium to cheer for the Blue Jays, giving Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista of the Centre of the Canadian Universe Blue Jays standing ovations say, 20 years ago, I’d have bet the house against it.

Same for five, 10, or 15 years ago.

Yet, it happened Saturday when Cabrera broke up a scoreless game with a two-run homer, and on Friday when Bautista went deep.

“That’s the way I remember this place: electric,” said Tim Raines, who played for the Expos from 1979-90 and again in 2001, and is now a minor-league coach in the Jays system.

The Mets and the Jays brought out the fans. Brett Lawrie, with his glove, solid pitching, Cabrera and Batista entertained them. There were 50,229 fans on Saturday and 46,121 Friday.

The two-game total of 96,450 dwarfs the combined consecutive games attendance high of 66,940 that the Tampa Bay Rays drew to Tropicana Field last year.

“These two crowds are like we used to draw all those years we’d get knocked out on the last weekend,” said former Expos manager Jim Fanning. “This can’t be anything but good for baseball in Montreal. The stadium has never been more crisper or more fan friendly.

“Never since it opened in 1977 has the turf looked as good.”

Players on hand from the 1994 team were Moises Alou, Sean Berry, Denis Boucher, Wil Cordero, Joey Eischen, Darrin Fletcher,  Cliff Floyd, Lou Frazier, Marquis Grissmon, Heath Haynes, Gil Heredia, Ken Hill, Tim Scott, Tim Spehr, John Wetteland, Rondell White and Walker, along with coaches Joe Kerrigan, Pierre Arsenault and manager Felipe Alou.

Walker, Grissom, and the father-and-son Alou combo received the largest ovations, along with the group as a whole. Players went on strike Aug. 12, 1994 and were told all would be settled within two weeks -- and on Sept. 14 commissioner Bud Selig cancelled post-season play. Owners planned on locking out players in the spring of 1995, so to strike was the only leverage the union had.

In the 1960s, Montreal ownership approached John McHale of the commissioner’s office on the best way to land an expansion franchise. Charles Bronfman liked McHale so much he hired him as president.

In a bit of symmetry, John McHale, Jr. of the commissioner’s office stood at the back of the press box briefing media on his trip to Montreal. He saw Expo caps downtown, fans pouring into the stadium and excitement in the stands. Like any big-league park.

Yet, it’s not McHale’s call. Expansion is not on the horizon.

Now, if Tampa Bay’s Stuart Sternberg wants to sell?

Well, there is some nice St. Lawrence riverfront property. It has location, fans and a baseball history.

All it needs is an investor.