Last weekend, the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets played a pair of exhibition games at Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. It seemed like a heck of a lot of fun, and it pains me that I wasn’t able to make the six-hour trek (especially since the games coincided with the release of Jonah Keri’s excellent book, Up, Up & Away [check out a review here]).
It really, genuinely seemed like a great weekend for baseball fans, and especially those would-be Expos fans who no longer have their local Nos Amours to root for.
The weekend, coupled with Jonah’s book, has resulted in plenty of Expos nostalgia. The history of the franchise is one with more bad memories than good ones, but it’s also a history littered with some truly incredible moments. Olympic Stadium isn’t exactly an inviting masterpiece, but it’s been home to some of the most exciting and touching moments in baseball. So, in no particular order, here are the 10 best moments in the history of Olympic Stadium.
♦ On July 6, 1977, Pink Floyd played in front of an Olympic Stadium-record crowd of 78,322, who paid an at-the-time obscene $10 for the chance to be spit on by Roger Waters.
♦ The 1976 Summer Olympics were held at Olympic Stadium (do you think that’s how it got its name?), hosting the opening and closing ceremonies, athletics, equestrian (!!) and the soccer finals. Of note: East Germany’s victory over Poland in soccer had 72,000 in attendance, a Canadian record for a soccer crowd; Bruce Jenner set the points record in the decathlon; 20-year-old Edwin Moses set the 400-meter hurdles record in his first year of competition.
♦ Believer Fever: In 2003, with Death knocking at the Expos’ door, Montreal took the first three games of a four-game set from the Phillies. A win in the final game of the series would have created a tie for the Wild Card with a month to play. The crowd was electric, and while the team stumbled down the stretch (no September call-ups? C’mon son), it was a final sign that the city would support the team, even as the fans were getting crapped on.
♦ It may have been only June, but it stands as one of the single biggest in-game moments at Stade Olympique: Cliff Floyd absolutely golfing a Greg Maddux offering on June 27, 1994 to pull the Expos within a game and a half of the Braves in the division standings.
The New Stadium Opens…
After playing for far longer than expected at Jarry Park, the Expos finally moved into Olympic Stadium on April 15, 1977. Unfortunately, Steve Carlton was on the bump for the visiting Phillie and pitched a terrific complete game to sink the Expos 7-2. Ellis Valentine’s third inning home run, the first ever in the history of the park, stands out as the key highlight.
And the End
The stadium also was home to a loss in its final game, with the Expos dropping a 9-1 decision to the Florida Marlins on Sept. 29, 2004. Carl Pavano – whom the Expos had dealt in 2002 for the returning Cliff Floyd and Wilton Guerrero – held the home side to a run on seven hits over seven innings. The last player to hit a home run at the park? He’s pretty good. A crowd of 31,395 turned out, more than for any other home game that season.
Gary Carter Says Goodbye
This one may be self-explanatory. Sept. 27, 1992, Gary Carter – back with the Expos after seven seasons away – ropes a go-ahead double over the arm of Andre Dawson in the bottom of the seventh inning. The run would stand as the deciding factor in a 1-0 victory, and Carter would get an appropriate reception from the home crowd as he was pulled for a pinch-runner. It’s tough to imagine a better way to go out than that.
Darryl Strawberry Homers off the Roof
On Opening Day in 1988, the Expos surrendered six home runs to the Mets, two of them to Strawberry, one of which went an approximate 5,000 feet, were it not for the pesky roof getting in the way. Bad start to the year for the Expos, to say the least.
Jerry White’s Walk-off
It’s Oct. 17, 1981, and the Expos are tied 1-1 with the Dodgers in the NLCS and 1-1 in Game Three. Enter Jerry White, who clobbers a walk-off three-run home run down the left field line, giving the Expos the win and the series lead. They’d lose the series 3-2, but this one surely stands as the best postseason moment in franchise history.
Tim Raines Comes Back as an Expo
The would-be third Expo in the Hall of Fame, Raines made a 2001 return to the Expos after a decade away to a raucous reaction. While the four-pitch walk (and, later, his move to the Orioles) isn’t quite the tidy book-end Carter was afforded, it still seems a pretty great moment. If I can recommend you do anything today, go look at his player page and then try to get this guy in the Hall.
1982 All-Star Game
Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Gary Carter and Steve Rogers, all starting in the All-Star Game, at home, with Al Oliver also on the team as a reserve. Rogers got the win after three innings of work, Raines walked and stole a base, Dawson singled, Carter drove in a run, and Oliver had a single and a double once he entered the game. Somehow, a team this loaded ended up just third in the division, though the Expos’ run differential was indicative of an even better record. (It still would have been short of the Cardinals, however).
The Olympic No-hitter
On May 10, 1981, Charlie Lea threw a no-hitter in the second game of a doubleheader against the Giants, one of four no-nos in Expos history (two were by Bill Stoneman, one was Dennis Martinez’ perfect game). This was the lone such outing at Olympic Stadium, however, and the win moved the Expos within a half game of the division lead.
Le Grand Orange Returns
The first star the Expos had, Rusty Staub was in Montreal from 1969 to 1971, a short stint that had a lasting impression. In 1979, Staub returned to the Expos for the stretch run, OPSing .773 in 38 games for a team that won 95 games and somehow missed the playoffs. Staub returned to Olympic Stadium for a double-header on July 27, pinch-hitting in the eighth inning of the first game. Video seems to be unavailable, but by all accounts the response was one of the biggest in Montreal baseball history.
Curtis Pride Feels the Love
On Sept. 17, 1993, Curtis Pride pinch-hit with the team down 7-4. It was a somewhat surprising call given that, to that point, he was 0-for-1 as a major leaguer, and this game was a crucial one. Well, he smacked his first career hit, driving in two runs with a double to left-center. That’s not the important part here, though. The Olympic Stadium crowd gave Pride – the first deaf player in baseball since 1945 – such an enormous ovation that, according to Keri’s book, Pride later claimed he could feel it through the turf. Keri wrote:
And Pride, standing there on second, this rookie, this bit player who couldn’t even hear, tapping his chest, telling us that he couldn’t process what was happening with his ears…but he could with his heart. In all my years as a baseball fan, this was the moment I wished I could stick in a bottle, and keep forever.
References and Resources
- Credit for finding some of these glorious videos belongs to ExposNation.com.