Fans who cheered for the Montreal Expos can’t help, but look at the 2013 Washington Nationals and see the 1994 Expos team that could have saved National League baseball in Canada. If not for a player’s strike which brought the season to an end, the Expos may have won their division, advanced in the playoffs and generated enough fan support and revenue to keep the team from leaving Montreal for Washington in 2005.
The ’94 Expos were a young and talented team. Just as the 2013 Nationals are going into their season with high expectations so was Montreal after a 1993 campaign which saw them win 94 games and finish second in the NL East to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Expos boasted one of the best outfields in MLB with Larry Walker in right, Marquis Grissom center and Moises Alou left, all 27 years old. The infield was led by shortstop Wil Cordero and second baseman Mike Lansing also in their twenties. The Montreal starting lineup did not have a single player over the age of 28.
As for the pitching staff, it consisted of Ken Hill, John Wetteland and Jeff Fassero, but one name stood out. Pedro Martinez, a 22 year old from the Dominican Republic, had been acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Though he had gone 10-5 the season before, Los Angeles felt Martinez was too small to become an ace. For one of the few times in their history, the Dodgers guessed wrong on a potential hall of fame pitcher.
Martinez would go 11-5 in 1994 and Hill did even better at 16-5. Grissom, Alou and Cordero made the all-star team. All of this contributed to the Expos having the best record in baseball, 74-40, on August 12 when the season came to an end. Though the team was ranked eleventh in attendance they had drawn over 1.2 million fans to Stade Olympique and with a pennant race looming could have gotten close to or above two million.
However, it was not to be as the strike would last until April of 1995. When baseball returned, the Expos attendance and revenues slowly declined which forced the organization to trade away its top talent. By 2004, they could no longer make it financially and moved to Washington the next year.
Two decades after the 1994 season, Montreal fans watch as the Nationals have put together one of the best teams in baseball. The outfield consists of Jayson Werth in right, Denard Span center and Bryce Harper left. The infield has an all-star shortstop in Ian Desmond, who ironically was drafted while the team was still in Montreal. The pitching staff has a potential Pedro Martinez of its own in Stephen Strasburg. Just as the Expos were touted as serious World Series contenders then, Washington is now. The only difference in the two teams is that the Nationals have the stadium and money that the Expos did not.
There is no strike looming in 2013. The Nationals will get a chance to compete for the pennant that Montreal did not. Washington, a city that has gone 80 years without a World Series may finally get the chance to host one. Meanwhile, the city where its team was born, Montreal, looks on having never seen their Expos play in the fall classic and wondering what might be if their talented squad of 1994 had been allowed to play out the season.