2004 Montréal Expos
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Managed by Frank Robinson
History, Comments, Contributions
The 2004 Montreal Expos were the last edition of the team; after the season, they relocated to Washington, DC and became the Washington Nationals. The team was owned and administrated by Major League Baseball and run on a shoe-string budget. There were almost no marketing efforts, and 21 "home games" were moved to Estadio Hiram Bithorn in San Juan, Puerto Rico, even further battering what remained of the fan base. After the Expos had managed to surprise just about everyone by being competitive in spite of being wards of MLB in 2002 and 2003, the bottom fell out in their final season as they were now completely out-manned. They went just 5-19 in April and finished in last place in the NL East at 67-95. Lost in this was the fact that the Expos improved after that awful start and even managed to play above .500 in both July and August. The result was that attendance was just 749,550; they were the last team to draw fewer than a million fans until the 2018 Miami Marlins, and no team has drawn fewer spectators in a season since then. However, this should not be seen as reflective of the locals' lack of interest in baseball: they had managed to top a million under circumstances that had been just as trying the year before. It was instead the result of years of actively discouraging the fan base from supporting the team, in a ploy to facilitate a move to another city.
The move was announced just hours before the final scheduled home game on September 29th. Realizing that the dreaded end had arrived, fans showed up in large numbers for the game, with a crowd of 31,395 in attendance, the largest of the season, most of them having bought their tickets in the final couple of hours before the game. The ambiance was funereal at Stade Olympique and a 9-1 loss to the hated Florida Marlins did not help things. MLB was fearing things could get ugly; some thought they were hoping that incidents would happen, as it would have provided further fodder to the myth that the fans were to blame for the whole debacle around the final years of the team, but it was not the case. There was a lot of booing of Bud Selig and Jeffrey Loria, but nothing too serious. When things threatened to boil over in the final innings, mascot Youppi! did his best work to keep the mood positive and nothing untoward happened - except for the fact grown men and children were openly crying when the game ended. Fans milled around for the longest time after the game, no one wanting to believe it was truly over. Coach Claude Raymond stayed to comfort an endless stream of fans, then he explained he went home in his uniform, which is how he managed to keep it as a souvenir; otherwise it would likely have been impounded by MLB and destroyed as an unholy relic.
The Expos had three more games to play, though, heading to Shea Stadium in New York, NY, where everything had started in April of 1969. The Expos won the first two of these games, but on Sunday October 3rd, with busloads of Montrealers having made the six-hour trek south to witness this sad bit of history, the New York Mets defeated the Expos 8-1 to put an end to the story. Fans got up all over the ballpark and chanted "Let's Go, Expos!" before the final half-inning, which long-time broadcaster Jacques Doucet was too choked up to describe. When Endy Chavez grounded out to second to end the game, he could no longer describe the action, tearing up as he was reading the short text he had prepared for the occasion; it was up to his partner, Marc Griffin to utter the final words.
Awards and Honors
- All-Star: Livan Hernandez
- NL Silver Slugger Award: Livan Hernandez (P)
- Topps All-Star Rookie Team: Terrmel Sledge (OF)
- Danny Gallagher and Bill Young: "Up, Up and Away: Sept. 29, 2004" in Remembering the Montreal Expos, Scoop Press, Toronto, ON, 2005, pp. 252-256.
- Jeff Stuart: Blue Mondays: The Long Goodbye of the Montreal Expos, PublishAmerica, Frederick, MD, 2009.
- Adam J. Ulrey: "Blast-Off in the Big O; June 19, 2004: Montreal Expos 17, Chicago White Sox 14 At Olympic Stadium", in Norm King, ed.: Au jeu/Play Ball: The 50 Greatest Games in the History of the Montreal Expos, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2016, pp. 140-141. ISBN 978-1-943816-15-6