SI Vault
Tim Crothers
April 20, 1998
Montreal Exposed
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April 20, 1998


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Montreal Exposed

Last Friday morning Montreal manager Felipe Alou scanned the box scores and league leaders, tracking the progress of his former Expos. He checked out second baseman Mike Lansing and rightfielder Larry Walker, the 1997 National League MVP, of Colorado; righthander Pedro Martinez, last year's NL Cy Young Award winner, of Boston; closer John Wetteland of Texas; and the rest of a virtual All-Star team of recent Montreal expatriates, clucking over each one like a proud papa. In fact, one of them, Houston's Moises Alou, is his son. "I root for all of our former players to succeed," Alou says. "It gives this franchise something to brag about. Our team may be moving further and further away from a World Series, but at least some of our past players are getting a chance at rings."

When Alou arrived at Montreal's Olympic Stadium later that afternoon, he had to face the reality of his current roster: a team with a $9 million payroll that is made up largely of players who ought to be in Double A; a team that had just snapped a season-opening string of seven straight defeats, the longest such streak in club history; a team with the league's second lowest batting average (.228 through Sunday); a team that had scored half as many runs as its opponents; a team whose general manager, Jim Beattie, has admitted that it cannot contend in the East Division this season.

"For weeks we've been hearing everybody burying us, and we fell into the trap of trying to prove them all wrong," said Expos utilityman F.P. Santangelo before last Friday's game against the Cubs. "We need to stick together so we don't fulfill everybody's low expectations."

On the game's first pitch, Cubs reserve outfielder Brant Brown launched a home run. The next two Cubs walked before former Expo Henry Rodriguez cracked a three-run homer in his first plate appearance back at Olympic Stadium. It was his fourth homer of the season, which equaled the Montreal team total at the time. Eight of the first nine Chicago hitters reached base, and six scored. In the second inning the Cubs' Mark Grace hit a foul pop, and catcher Chris Widger and third baseman Scott Livingstone pursued it. When Widger tossed his mask, it hit Livingstone's shin and caused him to miss the catch. In Montreal, there's a fine line between comedy and tragedy.

Just 9,982 fans suffered this and more, in a stadium that has all the cheer of a mortuary. Many were listening to the Canadiens on the radio, thus missing the theme from Titanic piped in between innings, a subtle reference, perhaps, to the Expos' future. Team president Claude Brochu is struggling to sell $50 million worth of seat licenses he says he needs to finance a downtown stadium and keep the Expos in Montreal. "We're gaining momentum as the deadline looms and people begin to realize the team might move away," said Brochu as the Expos fell behind 10-0. Despite conventional wisdom to the contrary, Brochu believes "there's a better than 50-percent chance that the Montreal Expos will remain the Montreal Expos."

Rodriguez finished the game 5 for 5 and received the evening's only standing ovation. In losing 13-0, the Expos got only three hits.

After the game Rodriguez said he had wanted to stay in Montreal. But like most of the other current stars who are former Expos, the club couldn't afford to pay him what he was worth, and he was traded in December for Miguel Batista, a righthander with 21 appearances in the major leagues. "I was disappointed to leave, and I didn't come back hoping to put it in their face," Rodriguez said. "It makes me feel bad to see old friends go through this."

Alou didn't seem particularly discouraged, the sign of a manager who has either transcended or surrendered after just nine games. He chalked up his serenity to his days as a skin diver in his native Dominican Republic. "Before a dive I would have these nightmares about being swarmed by sharks, but during the dive I never thought about them," Alou said. "I worried a lot this winter about how we couldn't compete, but once the season starts, you manage the club. You just can't worry about the sharks anymore."

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