Sports

The new-look Expos - still a decade or two away

John Robertson April 19 1976
Sports

The new-look Expos - still a decade or two away

John Robertson April 19 1976

The new-look Expos - still a decade or two away

John Robertson

Who will ever forget the inspiring September stretch drive of the 1975 Montreal Expos? Well, Gene Mauch, for one. After spending six agonizing months tossing virgins into volcanoes, Gene was tossed into the hall of flame himself. It was basically a matter of economics. Unable to afford to send their players to the minors for the experience they sorely needed, the Expos’ brass decided it was cheaper to fly minor league manager Karl Kuehl, 38, up to the majors.

The Expos had long since decided that youth must be served. After all, owner

Charles Bronfman commands top price for Chivas Regal whiskey, and it’s only 12 years old. So his baseball organization adopted the old Mormon philosophy: bring ’em young. The 1975 Expos may have lost 87 games, but they won 75, didn’t they? So why not stand pat with a pair of deuces—catcher Gary Carter and third baseman Larry Parrish?

Spring training was scarcely a week old when Carter began typifying the new hellbent Expos style by running into a wall and bouncing off with a concussion. He was advertised as a fence-buster, but the Expos have to keep reminding him: “With your bat, Gary, not your head.” Parrish came to the Expos with a good-field, no-hit reputation, but quickly reversed it—hitting .274

with 65 RBis and leading the league in sensational plays on routine ground balls. Not bad for a kid who couldn’t go to his right, or his left, and kept getting nosebleeds when he bent straight down.

Anyway, Carter and Parrish form the nucleus of the new, unimproved Expos. Elsewhere, the Expos are dubiously blessed with Pepe Mengual in centre field and Larry Bittner or Ellis Valentine in left. Pepe made quite a contribution in 1975, striking out 115 times and hitting an anemic .245. Bittner was the club’s only bona fide .300 hitter in 1975 (at .315), but drove in only 28 runs—or fewer than five a month. As a result, Kuehl awarded the left-field job to rookie Ellis Valentine. Valentine promptly awarded it back. He had the best arm in triple-A baseball in 1975: the problem was the rest of his body. He hit a miserable .095 in spring training and opened the season in the dugout. Valentine can really pick ’em up and lay ’em down, so he may see service as a stretcher-bearer before the season ends.

At second base, the Expos will be bolstered by the return of 1975 rookie Pete Mackanin. Remember the doubleplay combination, Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance? Well, the Expos have decided to leave second base to chance. Mackanin doesn’t just turn a double play. He rolls it over a few times just for good measure. First base remains in the capable hands of Mike Jorgensen, who may be the team’s best all-around ball player—which isn’t saying a helluva lot in a club which didn’t have anyone capable of hitting 20 homers or driving in 70 runs.

Actually, the best thing the 1976 Expos have going for them is the Olympics. It will make the fans forget about baseball until it’s too late to worry about it. In their eighth year of operation, the Expos aren’t getting better. They’re getting younger. What comes after puberty? Terminal acne, usually.