In 1994, the Montreal Expos were the best team in baseball and seemed destined to reach the postseason, and, perhaps, a better future and fate.
It was not to be, thanks to Bud Selig and his merry band of miscreants (including Claude Brochu). So in lieu of a productive idea, I thought I’d again wallow in misery and reflect on what a wonderful team it was. This week is a “What ever happened to the 1994 Expos?” Be forewarned; I might toss a personal observation or 20 into the proceedings. It’s my column and I’ll whine if I want to. I’ll do the lineup and bench this week and the rotation and bullpen next week (unless something really interesting happens … like David Samson getting a pituitary gland transplant).
Catcher – Darrin Fletcher: Lasted with the Expos until 1997, thereafter signing with the Toronto Blue Jays. His first three years in Toronto, he provided decent defense (his throwing arm notwithstanding) and an above-average bat, posting RCAP (Runs Created Above Position) of three, 11, and 20 between 1998 and 2000. He lasted with the Blue Jays until 2002, when he retired at age 35.
Personal memories: During the Expos’ runs in 1993 and 1994, it always seemed that either he or Wil Cordero would come up with the bases-clearing extra base hit in the seventh or eighth inning that finally blew the game open. An underrated player and a personal favorite during his stint in Canada.
First base – Cliff Floyd: Although he played a few games in 1993, Floyd’s rookie year was in 1994, when he was 21. He was billed as “Willie McCovey with speed,” until a wrist injury in 1995 began a career notable for abbreviated seasons. In 1997 he was traded to the Florida Marlins for Dustin Hermanson and Joe Orsulak. Five years later, he was dealt back to the Expos during the season, along with Wilton Guerrero, Claudio Vargas, Donald Levinski and cash for Graeme Lloyd, Mike Mordecai, Carl Pavano, and Justin Wayne, as Montreal was making a run at the postseason. Floyd didn’t stay three weeks back north before being traded to the Boston Red Sox for Sun-Woo Kim and Seung Song. At the end of the season, he signed as a free agent with the New York Mets, where he plays today. Floyd has Hall of Fame talent and has played spectacularly when healthy. Sadly that hasn’t been often enough. Oh, what might have been.
Second base – Mike Lansing: In 1997, he enjoyed his best season (20 home runs; 110 OPS+ … his only season over 100) and was traded to the Colorado Rockies for Jake Westbrook, John Nicholson and Mark Hamlin. The mile-high air at Denver did nothing for him, and in 2000, he was traded by the Rox to the Red Sox, along with Rolando Arrojo, Rich Croushore, and cash, for Jeff Frye, Brian Rose, John Wasdin, and Jeff Taglienti. He was granted free agency after the 2001 season, and hasn’t played since.
Third base – Sean Berry: Berry had his moments. From 1995 to 1998 he posted OPS+ numbers of 132, 122, 95 and 136, while splitting time between Montreal and Houston (where he was traded at the end of the 1995 season in return for Dave Veres and Raul Chavez). He later re-upped with Houston, and also signed as a free agent with Milwaukee, Boston and Cleveland. Berry never played more than 132 games in a season, averaging less than 80 per season. His major league career ended in 2000 at age 34.
Shortstop – Wil Cordero: I’ve always felt that leaving the steadying hand of Felipe Alou short-circuited what could’ve been an amazing career. However the Expos front office felt otherwise, sending him (along with Bryan Eversgerd) to to the Boston Red Sox for Shayne Bennett, Rheal Cormier, and Ryan McGuire before the 1996 season. After being released by the Boston Red Sox toward the end of the 1997 season for hitting his wife with a phone receiver, he signed the following year with the Chicago White Sox. He also signed free agent contracts with Cleveland and Pittsburgh, before being traded back to the Indians for Alex Ramirez and Enrique Wilson. After being released by the Tribe in 2002, he went back to Montreal, then to Florida, back to the Expos in 2004, and then went to D.C. along with the club. A talented player, and quite probably a jackass. Like Floyd, he’s a “What could’ve been” story.
Center field – Marquis Grissom: A victim of the fire sale of 1995, he was dealt to the Atlanta Braves for Tony Tarasco, Esteban Yan, and Roberto Kelly, where he helped the Braves to the only World Championship of their amazing run. Two years later, he was involved in another huge trade when he, along with David Justice was dealt to the Tribe for Alan Embree and Kenny Lofton. At the end of that season, he was shipped to the Brewers with Jeff Juden for pitchers Mike Fetters, Ben McDonald, and Ron Villone. After three years languishing in Milwaukee, he was sent to the Dodgers along with Rudy Lugo for former Blue Jays ball hawk Devon White. Grissom signed on with the Giants for the 2003 season and remained there through last season. He’s alive and kicking, and inked a minor league deal with the Chicago Cubs for 2006. Grissom has a few nice notations on his resume: four Gold Gloves, the MVP for the 1997 ALCS, 669 extra-base hits and a solid post season line of .317/.355/.445 in 218 at-bats.
Left field – Moises Alou: Urine good company if you train with Mr. Alou, although Moises has yet to part the Red Pee (alright, alright, I‘ll knock off the piddly puns). Seriously though, Alou has enjoyed a terrific career: a career OPS+ of 128, over 1000 career runs and RBIs, almost 300 home runs and a lifetime batting average of .301. Alou signed as a free agent with the Marlins after the 1996 season, helping them to their first World Series title. After being a non-factor in the LDS and LCS, he caught fire in the Fall Classic, batting .321/.387/.714 with three home runs and nine RBIs. Not long after the Series, he participated in the Marlins first fire sale, being sent to the Houston Astros for Mark J. Johnson, Manuel Barrios, and Oscar Henriquez. At the end of the 2001 season, he signed a three year pact with the Cubs, where he started with two average seasons before finding his stroke in 2004 at age 37. Afterward, he signed on with the Giants where he enjoyed a fine (.321/.400/.518) 2005, at age 38. Expect a first ballot induction into the Hall of Very Good.
Right field – Larry Walker Allowed to walk as a free agent after the strike, Walker signed a long term contract with the Colorado Rockies, where he stayed until 2004, when he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Jason Burch, Luis Martinez and Chris Narveson on Aug. 6. He recently announced his retirement. What else can you say? He’s a possible Hall of Famer. He was the first player since Al Simmons to have three straight seasons in which he batted at least .350. He won the NL MVP in 1997, copped seven Gold Gloves awards, three batting crowns, had a season of over 400 total bases, and stole 230 bases with a 75% success rate. The only thing missing from his resume is a World Series ring. Only an extensive injury history and Coors Field stands in his way of a plaque. Regardless, Walker enjoyed a terrific career (140 OPS+).
Lenny Webster: Spent only three scattered seasons in Montreal: 1994, 1996 and his final one, 2000. In 1994, he was Fletcher’s understudy, enjoying a solid season (.273/.370/.448) in a limited role. Allowed to leave as a free agent, he hooked up with the Philadelphia Phillies and was picked up off of waivers by the Expos the following year. After again not being retained by Montreal, he signed with the Baltimore Orioles and helped them to the AL East title in 1997. He was released by the O’s in July in of 1999, and was picked up by the Red Sox, who in turn cut him loose less than a month later. That offseason he signed on for his third tour of duty with Montreal, where he retired after a poor season (31 OPS+).
Lou Frazier: A speed merchant, a decent batting eye, a terrific baserunner and all the power of a Ford Festiva. Although he could fill in on the infield, he was much better suited to the outfield because of his speed. In July 1995, he was traded to the Texas Rangers for Hector Fajardo. In 1996 he was picked off waivers by the Seattle Mariners, yet did not play with the parent club, and was later released. Before the 1997 season, he was signed by the Orioles, and didn’t make the varsity there either. Granted free agency in October, Frazier signed with the Chicago White Sox and played in parts of seven games as a pinch hitter/pinch runner, in which he stole four bases in four tries. He made one last attempt in 1999, singing with the Phillies, but didn’t make the club.
Juan Bell: Was a solid utility infielder for the Expos in 1994, yet was allowed to become a free agent at the end of the year, when upon he signed with the Red Sox. He played poorly in 17 games, which ended his major league career—he was 27.
Rondell White White flashed his considerable promise in limited playing time in 1994. Between he and Floyd, it looked like the Expos could be good for quite some time. Like Floyd, he struggled to stay in the lineup but exceled when there (.308/.364/.504) in parts of his last three seasons in Montreal. He was traded to the Chicago Cubs for Scott Downs at the trading deadline in 2000, staying there through 2001, when he signed a controversial contract with the Yankees that December. During spring training in 2003, he was dealt to the Padres for Bubba Trammell, Mark Phillips and cash. In August of that year, he was traded as part of a three team trade to the Kansas City Royals. On Dec. 19, 2003, he signed with the Detroit Tigers, where he played through 2005. White has inked a deal to play with the Minnesota Twins for 2006. Although not as talented as Floyd, he might’ve had an Alou-type career with a little more discipline and a lot more health.
Tim Spehr: The third catcher on the 1994 Expos, Spehr only had one season with 100 at-bats … his last (1999). Before then (and after his time with the Expos), he was never traded, being signed and released by: Boston (who sold him to the Royals), the Braves, the Mets (who sold him to the Royals … again). I’m sure there’s a joke to be made there somewhere. Of interest, he played three games in the outfield. There were no fatalities.
Freddie Benavides: He posted an OPS+ of 28 in 1994. Suffice it to say there wasn’t a 1995.
Randy Milligan: Although a useful player for the Orioles in the early 1990’s, come 1994 Milligan had a good batting eye and not much else. He joined Benavides in the unemployment line in 1995.
Jeff Gardner: Another utility infielder for the Expos in 1994. He posted an OPS+ of 49 and presumably joined Benavides and Milligan in looking for a fourth for pinochle.