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The Little Expo That Could

31 March 2009

Six months ago, I came to you, dear readers, with a proposition: Help me choose my all-time 40-man roster for the Montreal Expos, for a historical baseball league I’d be competing in at Seamheads.com. The payoff would be to gain a vested interest in an Expos squad that was going up against a Murderer’s Row of all-time teams:

The Yankees, with Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle
The Cardinals, with Dean, Musial, Gibson and Pujols
The Red Sox, with Young, Williams, Yaz and Fisk
The Pirates, with Wagner, Clemente, Stargell and Bonds
The Indians, with Feller, Speaker, Lajoie and Jackson

…and many other terrifying squads, managed by some of the biggest names in the baseball world.

Predictably, you came through with some excellent suggestions, which I blended with my own lifetime of Expos mania to form a 40-man roster that might win a few games, compete until Memorial Day, then fade quietly into the sunset, weighed down by the Spos’ history of heartbreak and horrendous shortstops.

Thanks to some good fortune and the good sense of the Seamheads guys to place the Expos with expansion/relative newbie cousins Kansas City, San Diego and Milwaukee, Nos Amours rolled into a first-place tie by Memorial Day (or at least Out Of The Park Baseball’s version of it) with a 24-24 record. I was so giddy about the situation, and so sure it wouldn’t last, that I wrote a 684-word RotoSynthesis post about it that was about 674 words too long.

Then something funny started happening: The Expos started getting better. Sure, there were occasional slumps. But the combination of improved play, lineup tweaks (Ron Hunt, OBP king!) and plain old luck suddenly gave the ‘Spos a leg up on the rest of its division. Montreal went 59-47 from that point on (it’s an old-school, 154-game season), and the Expos won the Expansion Three division handily.

Still, a fluky regular season was one thing. Winning in the playoffs, with the loaded Red Sox, Pirates, Indians, A’s and Braves among the competition, seemed impossible. Those suspicions looked like they’d quickly be proven right, as the Braves jumped out to a 2-0 series lead in the best-of-five LDS. Hall of Famer Warren Spahn and future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine had laid waste to the Expos lineup, setting up a matchup with Greg Maddux in Game 3. But hey, if the Expos could somehow beat one of the top three starting pitchers in MLB history, all they’d need to do is beat Hall of Famer Kid Nichols and future Hall of Famer John Smoltz to win the series…

…which is exactly what happened. Facing the greatest all-time starting rotation of any franchise and an offense powered by the likes of Hank Aaron and Eddie Matthews, the Expos rode the performances of luminaries such as Al Oliver (!), Ken Hill (!!), Hubie Brooks (!!!) and Andy McGaffigan (!!!!) to advance to the LCS.

Winning it all from here should be a piece of cake, given the remaining competition.

The four teams remaining are:

The 103-win Boston Red Sox, managed by Bill James
The 97-win Pittsburgh Pirates, managed by Curt Schilling
The 94-win Cleveland Indians, managed by Joe Posnanski
The 83-win Montreal Expos, managed by some goofy Canadian

I feel like Poland on August 31, 1939.

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