Oct. 7, 2017
Paul MacDougall: Chiasson’s skills took him from Grand Etang to the Montreal Expos
By Paul MacDougall
Cape Breton Post
Well it’s official, the Blue Jays are not in the playoffs this year.
Who knew eh? But the previous two years were fun with down-to-the-wire playoff berths achieved.
One thing’s certain, Canadians love baseball. They will travel to see it (I sure do) and they throw their support behind our one and only Canadian team.
The Jays weren’t our first and if the plates align just right we may have our other big league team back someday. But this column delves into the past, leaving the future to the commentators.
The Montreal Expos were the darlings of Canada for a number of years starting in 1969, taking their name from the World Exposition of 1967 that showcased Montreal to the world and probably helped the National League brass decide the city was worthy of an expansion team. Financial backers were there and a new modern stadium (Olympic Stadium) was promised to be built.
The team started in the East division at Jarry Park under manager Gene Mauch and previously acquired star player Rusty Staub. Staub not only excelled at the game but endeared himself with fans by learning to speak French.
One of the first administrative people the Expos organization hired was St Francis Xavier University graduate, Laurent ‘Larry’ Chiasson, who hailed from Grand Etang, a tiny hamlet on the outskirts of Cheticamp in Northern Cape Breton.
Chiasson studied journalism at St. F.X. and wrote for the student newspaper and the local paper, The Antigonish Casket. He took an interest in public relations at university and upon graduation went to work for the Expo 67 organization. Following that he worked with the Canadian Press and then the Financial Post.
Chiasson was hired by the Montreal Expos to develop a media guidebook for the 1971 season. The publication which went by ‘Guide Media’ was, according to Dr. Cecil MacLean, French professor at St. F.X. and sports writer and commentator, “scrupulously bilingual to the last detail ... complete, well-edited, and presented in a bright format.” The guide contained everything about the players, the organization, a schedule, even a section called ‘Day-by-Day with the Expos in 1970.’
Chiasson included colourful and interesting autobiographical sketches of the players. He noted pitcher Dan McGinn was the fourth best punter out of Notre Dame and pitching coach Cal McLish was named after President Calvin Coolidge and weighed 12 pounds at birth. Television and radio station covering games, including the play-by-play announcers, were all listed. There were 43 English and 12 French TV stations carrying the Expos games in 1971.
Chiasson soon became recognized as an expert at promoting the team, a veritable master of communication, and was quickly promoted to director of public relations for the ball club. The national press realized Chiasson’s talents in promotion and Maclean’s Magazine featured him. They noted under his direction public relations in the field of sports had acquired a new and fresh dimension.
In addition to all his regular workload, Chiasson produced numerous yearly ‘Guide Media’ books which are collectables today.
Famous Canadian political cartoonist Terry Mosher (Aislin) got his start in those early days of the Expos and looking back fondly on Chiasson says, “he was a key person in the background who went far beyond expectations in getting the myriad number of jobs done. All those initial efforts led to the wild success of the team in the early 1980s.”
In 1969 Mosher was hanging around the Expos press box as a political cartoonist. Over the seasons Chiasson didn’t quite understand why Mosher was there but eventually discovered an archaic league rule that allowed each newspaper in a major league city to nominate one cartoonist to join the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Chiasson encouraged Mosher to apply. He did, was accepted, and soon gained access to every major league ballpark in North America. This association votes on Hall of Fame nominations and 10 years later Mosher voted for Ferguson Jenkins, who may have got in by one extra vote.
Larry Chiasson, who helped Mosher and many others, died too young in 1978 and Fergie Jenkins is still the only Canadian in Cooperstown.
Paul MacDougall is an educator and writer. He lives in Sydney. His column appears monthly in the Cape Breton Post. Paul can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org