Keeping the Legacy Alive: Expos Collectors
With the uncertainty of the team's future, fans haven't exactly flocked to Olympic Stadium to save the Montreal Expos. But don't let this mislead you, Expos fans however small in number do exist and are deeply devoted to the club. As anyone who has attended an Expos game this year can attest, the enthusiasm of the few fans left is difficult to match.
Not surprisingly amongst this group of fans there exists a passionate group of Expos card and memorabilia collectors. At the root of their collections is a profound love for the Expos and the countless memories the team has provided them.
"The players on those early Expos teams were all heroes to me," says Marc Robitaille, a fan since 1970 and owner of several hundred pieces of Expos memorabilia. I used to go to Jarry Park and watch games. People used to say it wasn't good enough to be a major league ballpark, but I thought it was great."
Erle Schneidman, an Expos fan since the team's inception and owner of a large collection of Expos cards, post cards, pocket schedules, ticket stubs, and media guides shares Robitaille's fondness for the Expos Jarry Park years.
"When I was a kid, I used to live 15 minutes away from Jarry Park. I would go to 40 or 50 games a year," recalls Schneidman. "I remember catching a homerun ball there that (Pirates' shortstop) Freddy Patek hit."
Unlike Robitaille and Schneidman, Grand Falls, New Brunswick native Marco Gagnon started following the Expos in the early '80s. Since that time he has accumulated more than 20,000 Expos cards.
"I could name you almost every player on the early '80s teams - from players in the bullpen to the players on the bench," says Gagnon.
He also plans a trip to Montreal each year to take in an Expos series.
My idea of a vacation is going to an Expos' game. This year I already have my tickets for the last series in September which unfortunately looks to be my last trip," says Gagnon.
The idea that this is the Expos last season has spawned a renewed interest in older Expos cards and memorabilia, says Alan Pearson of Raxan Collectibles in Kirkland, Quebec.
"People are more likely to buy (the older Expos stuff) now than before," says Pearson. "I've found that people are looking back to the Rusty Staub, Mack Jones, Steve Rogers years."
Montreal area dealer, Scott Coates, has also seen a significant rise in sales of early Expos cards and memorabilia.
"Even before the season, I noticed people were interested in Expos '69,'70, and '71 Topps cards," says Coates. "There are even more people now."
The Expos themselves have also encouraged fans to look back at the team's history: this year's media guide cover is a collage of Expos greats, their souvenir shop is selling the old 1970-style Expos caps, and team promotions have included a Turn Back The Clock" game.
They have also chosen to commemorate Rusty Staub, Steve Rogers, Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Gary Carter, and Vladimir Guerrero with bobblehead dolls. With only 5,000 of each produced, the dolls given out at six different home dates have become popular collector's items.
Monique Giroux, Director, Media Services for the Expos, says people started lining up at 8 a.m. for the first giveaway. The dolls were initially handed out on a first come, first serve basis, but the mayhem created by the original promotion prompted the Expos to change the way they were distributed. After the first promotion, fans were issued a coupon that offered them the opportunity to win a doll or another random prize.
Despite being well represented in Expos' promotions, the players on the successful '80s teams have not enjoyed the resurgence in popularity that the early Expos have. Pearson and Coates have only noticed a small increase in sales of Carter, Raines, and Dawson.
"There was a little increase last year when Raines came back," says Coates. "But mostly because people were looking for something to get signed."
There has also been little growth in sales of current Expos. But many feel if the club folds and a player like Guerrero is picked up by a higher profile team, the value of his cards will go up.
"There are still a lot of people out there who don't realize how good he is," says Coates.
Whatever happens to the team, most Expos collectors say they will continue to build their collections.
"I see my collecting as a long-term project that will go beyond their days in Montreal," says Ryan Cracknell, owner of more than 6,000 Expos cards.
Gagnon will also remain an Expos collector, but if the team leaves, his collection will be built with a heavy heart.
I'm always hoping that someone will come along and buy them and keep them in Montreal," says Gagnon. "But I used to go to Quebec City to watch the Nordiques and I lived through them leaving, so I'll live through this."
The Expos departure may hit long-time Expos fans like Robitaille and Schneidman the hardest.
"For me it has been a tradition of almost never going to bed without knowing whether the Expos won or lost," says Robitaille. "I've invested so much time and energy in the team over the years that sometimes I ask myself, 'Was it all for nothing?' Think I think, 'Probably not.' I try to appreciate the good times the Expos have given me."
Schneidman is one of the more optimistic Expos fans. He still believes there is a chance the team might stay.
They're still here and there's still hope as long as they are still here," says Schneidman. I'm convinced that if the management group we have in Montreal today were here five years ago, baseball would be thriving in this city."
*reprinted with the persmission of Candian Sports Collector Magazine.