By: Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
Bill Seagraves was about to take batting practice and looking down on the ground by the batting cage, he noticed bats belonging to Bob Bailey.
It was the first-ever spring training session for the Expos in West Palm Beach in 1969 and Seagraves was in awe of Bailey's lumber. Bailey had yet to show up at camp.
"I think it was like a tree. They were huge,'' Seagraves told me about the bats.
Bailey had something to say when I queried him about his bats. They weren't really heavy.
"I hit with a MC 44. It was a Willie McCovey bat. He wore 44. It had a thick handle and a big barrel but it only weighed 32 ounces,'' said Bailey, who is coming to Montreal's Place Centre-Ville to partake in the ExposFest fund-raiser organized by Perry Giannias April 2.
Also coming are former major-league closer Eric Gagné and Expos' icons Jeff Reardon, Andre Dawson, Dennis Martinez and bosom buddies Cliff Floyd and Rondell White. Floyd and White are so air-tight as friends that they live on the street in Davie, Fla., located west of Miami.
Bailey was an original Expo, who played with Montreal for six-and-a-half seasons, a tenure that saw him hold a few team records until the early 1980s. He had been a Pirates' bonus baby signed out of Woodrow Wilson high school in Long Beach, Calif. for a fee that been bandied around over the years, the highest signing bonus for any player at that time.
"If you put down $150,000, it wouldn't be far off,'' Bailey said, clearing the air.
Bailey was made available to the Expos by the Dodgers to help out the expansion team after both the Expos and Padres passed on him in the 1968 expansion draft. On Sept. 21, 1968, the Dodgers agreed to send Bailey's rights to Montreal.
"I had four pretty good years with the Pirates and then I stunk up Los Angeles for two years so I had a chance to go a place where I could the ball out in left field,'' Bailey said. "Everybody in the expansion draft wanted to go to San Diego because it's a nice city, but attendance in San Diego was horrible.
"It was a great time in Montreal, the excitement, the Jarry Park atmosphere. You just never forget it. Every time at Jarry Park, it was a circus, not the way we played, but the atmosphere in the ballpark we had to deal with. I tell you, there were more guys coming and going in that clubhouse. This guy Angel Hermosa was up and down more than a yahoo.''
If the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame voters are looking for inductees, they can look no further than Bailey, who blossomed on some horrible Expos' teams in their early years out of the chute. He collected over 80 RBI three times. He played an integral role in the franchise's first game, a 11-10 win over the Mets April 8, 1969.
"I think about baseball every day but most of it is about the time I spent in Montreal,'' Bailey said. "We opened up 1969 in New York with Tom Seaver pitching for them. I got the first hit for the Expos, a double into right-centre with a couple of men on in the first inning.''
One of Bailey's teammates in 1969 was Maury Wills, who was at the end of his career. Bailey has nothing but good things to say about Wills.
"Maury wanted to be in L.A. He didn't want to be in Montreal,'' Bailey said. "But I tell you something, there's a player who should be in the Hall of Fame. He brought base stealing back into baseball. It had been gone for a long time. He was very intimidating when he ran the bases, as intimidating as Henry Aaron was with the bat.''
Bailey's biggest game with the Expos was likely in 1973 when he hit two homers and drove in seven runs. He would continue to play for the Expos until 1975 when he was traded to Cincinnati. He was a part-timer with the Reds won they won the World Series in 1976.
Bailey played the equivalent of close to 15 full big-league seasons before his career winded down with the Red Sox in 1978. It wasn't long before he got into managing. In fact, he managed the Expos' rookie-level Pioneer league team in Calgary in 1979-80. One of his protégés was Big Cat, Andres Galarraga, who came highly recommended by Felipe Alou, the long-time Expos' disciple.
"Galarraga was 17 from Venezuela so in order to develop him, we had eight other Latin players to keep him happy,'' Bailey recollected. "The ball really jumped off his bat.''
Bailey has been out of baseball for a long time and is enjoying the good life in Las Vegas aided by a bountiful players' association pension. He has curtailed his drinking and gambling problems and is taking care of his diabetes, which he has endured for 20 years.
"Before you took the insulin for the first time, they say you are all nervous but the shot and inconvenience is nothing,'' Bailey said.
Bailey is looking forward to ExposFest in April, his first appearance in Montreal since he was inducted into the Expos' Hall of Fame in 2004.
"Anytime anyone gives me a plane ticket, I'll go to Montreal,'' he said.