Us Against the World: The '02 Expos
Despite numerous road blocks and a variety of unprecedented circumstances
the Montreal Expos organization has persevered. The Expos are nearing the end of a season that they should not have even played.
Not only did the team play, they brought respectabiltiy and excitement back to the organization. One could make a strong case
that the plight of the Montreal Expos is the most compelling baseball story of 2002.
The entire organization was gutted
in February when the Florida Marlins were curiously sold to Jeffrey Loria, the Expos owner at the time. Loria took almost
every employee of the team (even tried to take Vladimir Guerrero and Javier Vazquez) with him to Florida and major league
baseball took over the Expos. The Expos were then forced to put together an entire organization in two weeks just to have
some semblance of order when Spring Training broke.
Frank Robinson, a Hall of Fame player and former manager, was
working in the league office before he was given the unenviable task of making a presentable team out of a ragtag bunch that
had lost 94 games in 2001. Omar Minaya, a bright, young assistant GM in the Mets organization, was given a shot in the role
of general manger.
Minaya dove into the position head first. Having nothing to lose, he invited veterans like Jose
Canseco, Lance Johnson, Henry Rodriguez, and Felix Jose to Spring Training for tryouts. While few of the moves worked out,
Minaya did establish the reputation as a wheeler and dealer. He sent out the signal that Expos weren't just going to quietly
lose a 100 games and fade away into our memories.
Having set the tone for the season, Minaya made the season's first
big splash in the trade market when they acquired ace Bartolo Colon from Cleveland on June 27th, a trade that sent shock waves
throughout the league. The free-wheeling Minaya was wasn't done, however, on July 3rd he landed All Star OF Cliff Floyd of
Florida in a three team trade that included the Cincinnati Reds.
Despite playing in front of meager crowds, the club
raced out to the games' best home record into July. At the All Star game in Milwaukee, Bud Selig's back yard, two Expos -
OF Vladmir Guerrero and 2B Jose Vidro, were in the starting lineup for the National League. The Expos were in the playoff
hunt. Excitement was building in Montreal.
The Expos' run at the playoffs was short lived, however, and Floyd was
dealt to Boston three weeks later. While they had talent including Colon, Guerrero, and Vidro among others, and some live
young arms; the Expos didn't have the depth to stay with the mighty Braves. Starter Javier Vasquez, who won 17 games in 2001,
has been inconsistent and Tony Armas remains an enigma. With no real closer, the 'Spos bullpen lacks an identity and consistency.
Those weren't the only problems facing the organization, however. Faced with a shoestring budget, an alienated fan
base, and no television contract, the front office had it's work cut out. Nobody complained, not that anyone would have listened,
and now the Expos have put together a very respectable season.
The Expos will finish with a better record than the
New York Mets and Texas Rangers, whose payrolls hover near $100 million. The Chicago White Sox and Cubs, Cleveland Indians,
and Colorado Rockies, among others, will also be looking up in the standings at the Expos when the season ends. Ironically,
it is Selig's beloved Brewers that will lose 100 games, not his redheaded stepchild, the Expos.
Despite the success
of this season, the future remains as cloudy as ever for the Montreal Expos. While contraction has been put off until at least
2006, rumors swirl about the team being relocated to the Washington, DC area (an area that has twice failed to support a team).
If that happens the players will be fine - they will keep their jobs, but what about the fine people in the front office?
They will be left twisting in the wind, of course.
While their contraction-pegged counterparts, the Minnesota Twins,
grab all of the headlines (and deservedly so, in most cases), the Montreal Expos get our nod for organization of the year
(for whatever that's worth). Somebody has to stand up for the little guy.
Longue vie aux Expos!!
- photo by Michael Vicklund
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