Johnson & Martinez remember the Expos
By Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Randy Johnson said he was “forever indebted to the Expos’’ for giving him his start in the major leagues.
Pedro Martinez looked into the audience, picked out a familiar figure and said, “Dan Duquette, you are crazy. You traded for me twice. You wanted me a third time but my body was broken down.’’
Johnson and Martinez, two former Expos, were speaking from the heart while delivering their induction ceremonies Sunday on the field outside the Clark Sports Center before 45,000 people on a hot, muggy day which also saw Craig Biggio and John Smoltz elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
“Randy, you are my brother from another mother,’’ Martinez quipped. “How does the weather feel when you stand up?’’
Johnson, at 6-foot-10, was about a foot taller than Martinez and both intimidated the opposition with heat and breaking balls.
Johnson wasn’t about to criticize the Expos for trading him when he was so young to the Seattle Mariners in the Mark Langston trade. Instead, it was all about keeping things positive.
“The Expos gave me an opportunity,’’ Johnson said. “My minor league career was not stellar. I remember my first start for the Expos in 1988 against the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 1989, I was sent back down to the minor leagues. I was traded to Seattle for Mark Langston. Seattle helped set my career in motion. It was my apprenticeship. Then Jerry Colangelo, the owner in Arizona, had a vision and I bought into it.’’
Johnson would win a memorable World Series with the Diamondbacks in 2001 and later that decade, he would resurface with Arizona after stints with other teams.
“I was with Houston two months, I made 11 starts and I went 10-1, the best time of my life,’’ Johnson said.
Johnson paid tribute to this late father Bud and took special time to praise his mother Carol, who was in the audience.
“Mom, I love you very much. You are a Hall of Famer,’’ Johnson said. “You raised six children, you fed us and took care of us. You’re the most important person in my life.’’
Among many other people he thanked, Johnson singled out former Expo/Mariner mate Brian Holman as someone he cherished.
At exactly 4:05 p.m., Martinez took the microphone and razzled and dazzled, although his speech was somewhat long at close to 45 minutes. Martinez praised his Expos manager Felipe Alou and coach Tommy Harper, the latter of whom was in the audience.
“Felipe gave me an opportunity to start,’’ Martinez said. “Tommy was great to me. I have to thank Montreal businessmen Sam Eltes and Mark Routtenberg and the Montreal fans. It’s too bad you don’t have a team. I hope you get a team pretty soon.’’
Of all of the four inductees, Martinez got the longest standing ovation. Hundreds and hundreds of fans from Martinez’s native Dominican Republic showed up on the hallowed grounds to pay tribute to their hero. In the crowd were some 100 members of Martinez’s inner-circle family. It was an impressive show of display that exceeded the support Astros’ fans gave Biggio. Sounds of BGO resonated through the facility many times during the afternoon.
In what was an odd element to Hall of Fame induction weekend were the exhibits involving Martinez and Johnson. The feel-good scenario was looking at Martinez’s exhibit in the hall’s museum and seeing that his mainly Red Sox presentation was adorned with an Expos’ cap.
The not-so-good scenario was looking at Johnson’s exhibit and noticing that his Expos’ cap wasn’t present.
Martinez’s caps from the Mets and Phillies weren’t present but it was nice to see the Expos’ cap. Face it: he pitched four seasons with the Expos so it was really no surprise to see his cap in the glass-enclosed case.
Confusing, though, was Johnson’s exhibit that included caps from the Mariners, Diamondbacks and Giants.
We’re not sure who chooses caps for an inductee’s exhibit but it would have been nice to see an Expos’ cap in Johnson’s exhibit for the plain simple reason his career started in Montreal. He was drafted by the Expos in 1985 and spent minor-league seasons in Jamestown, N.Y., the Florida venues of Jacksonville and West Palm Beach and Indianapolis. Of course, there were bits and pieces of the 1988-89 seasons that he spent with the major-league team.
Anyway, I was able to squeeze in a question to Johnson at a media scrum Saturday and I asked him what he remembers about the day he signed with the Expos in June, 1985 at his parents’ house in Grass Valley, Calif.
“I don’t know what the signing bonus was but I was able to pay off the rest of my parents’ house and buy them a car,’’ Johnson told me. “I took care of them after that. My dad passed away in 1992 and I have my mom. Moms are really special people and that’s why I’m so glad she is here to see me inducted.’’