Ellis Valentine and the Opening Day Bat
By Bob Elliott
MONTREAL _ Stuart Herman moved 10 times in 21 years.
Each and every time The Bat moved with him.
Herman grew up a ball fan along with his older brother Mitchell in Ville St. Laurent.
Unlike most little guys with big-league dreams he had a major leaguer living in a spare room in his upper duplex.
Montreal Expos players often roomed players host families or billets in the early days going back to Mack Jones.
At the Herman household lived one 6-foot-4 big leaguer named Ellis Valentine.
Stuart’s father Bill Herman was a close friend of the late Ted Tevan, legendary talk show host.
“I’m not clear how it all came about, I was very young, Ellis wound up at our place,” Herman said Saturday night. “We had a ton of pictures, autographed balls from the team.”
And The Bat.
When Olympic Stadium opened in 1977 the Philadelphia Phillies thumped the Expos 7-2 before a crowd of 57,592.
Valentine homered in the third inning off future Hall of Famer lefty Steve Carlton -- the first in the new yard. Valentine returned to the Herman house, his own home away from home, that Friday night and gave the bat to Bill Herman.
Now, 37 years later Stuart’s wife, Miriam Gartenberg, read in the newspaper that author Jonah Keri would be autographing his latest best seller: “Up, Up, and Away: The Kid, the Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, le Grand Orange, Youppi!, the Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos.”
Keri was booked for McLean’s Pub on Peel along with former manager Jim Fanning and Valentine.
“I’ve had The Bat for a long time, it had been a gift to my father” he said. “I thought it would be nice to give it back.”
Didn’t matter if it was the only item he had from his father’s house.
So, Herman headed downtown from Cote des Neiges to the book signing. He nervously waited in line for roughly half an hour, despite the fact he came bearing a gift, a life long family treasure he was about to return to the man who used it so well.
Herman reached Keri telling him that he married Miriam Gartenberg. Keri and Gartenberg had gone to high school together.
And then Herman asked Valentine to sign Keri’s book to his father. The son will give it to the father when he returns home _ a surprise from his father’s former boarder.
And then he delivered the news: how the two lived under the same roof for three seasons, how he had the D-2 model used to hit the first ever Olympic Stadium homer and he gave him The Bat.
“His mouth dropped, then he hugged me,” said Herman.
Jon Farrar was on the mike at McLean’s hyping the crowd talking about Keri’s book, Fanning and Valentine. When he heard and saw what was unfolding he told the crowd.
“There was a large ovation, people were crying,” said Keri. “A lot of people were crying.”
That night Herman listened as a friend told the story about hearing Valentine on radio tell The Bat gift.
“That was me,” he said.
Herman admits he is an “emotional guy,” both then and listening to the pod cast from Mitch Melynk’s afternoon drive show on TSN 690.
Asked about hitting the last home run at Jarry Park and the first at Olympic Stadium Valentine answered:
“Now dig this,” Valentine told the TSN’s audience. “I’m over here signing autographs. A gentlemen comes in with the bat I used to hit the first home run ever at Olympic Stadium and gave it to me.
“He is the son of a gentlemen I stayed with and put me up. I didn’t have any money.”
The Sporting News shows Valentine earned $25,000 in 1977. The major-league minimum is now $500,000.
Valentine continued: “I needed a car, he gave me a car to get to and from the park. His came came here and presented me the bat. How COOOO-OL is that? Stuart Herman did that? I was riveted to the chair,”
Some thought Valentine would have a better career than Andre Dawson who wound up in Cooperstown. At the end of May, 1981 and after almost winning in 1979 and 1980, the Expos dealt Valentine to the New York Mets for set-up man Jeff Reardon, who saved 152 games for the Expos in less than 5 1/2 years.
Valentine battled drug and alcohol abuse, but has been clean for 27 years.
Herman says it’s too bad that there was not any official documention of the historic bat, but that wasn’t done in 1977 as it is now.
“I still have a two-tone bat at home Ellis used to hit a home run off Nolan Ryan,” Herman said.
That’s The Bat II.