Pedro and the Expos: What might have been

A moment in Wednesday’s Pedro Martinez press conference brought it all home to me, how long he’s been around, how much more our paths had crossed then I realized. He told a colleague, ``You’re probably too young to remember,’’ and although the reporter responded that ``I’m older than you think’’ I got to thinking: Nope, he’s not that old.

The year was 1994, Martinez’s first as a starter after a torridly successful previous season as a Dodgers setup guy. He was swapped in the offseason for Expos second baseman and Delaware native Delino DeShields, the first of many cost-cutting moves that sabotaged what might have been the decade’s most dominant team otherwise, supplanting the Yankees.

This is fact: when the baseball strike occurred after the games of Aug.11, 1994, Montreal had the best record in baseball, 74-40, and as importantly, had finally captured interest in their hometown. A mid-June series with the National League champion Phillies twice drew crowds of about 30,000 to vacuous Olympic Stadium, and a later series with the Braves averaged over 40,000. Because they had a miniscule season ticket base (under 6,000 as I recall), these numbers represented all single-game and walk-up sales.

They were an all-star team. Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom and Moises Alou were in their prime, or nearing it. Cliff Floyd was the first baseman. Wil Cordero was the shortstop. The rotation included Martinez, Ken Hill, Kirk Reuter and Jeff Fassero. Like Martinez, each went on to other teams and had great success, and most made at least one all-star team.

John Wetteland, their closer, helped the Yankees get over the hump two years later.

Their last game that season was August 4 against the Cardinals. They drew 39,044. when baseball finally returned, Walker was gone, Grissom was gone, Hill was gone, Wetteland was gone. So were their embittered fans, forever. Martinez stayed through 1997, won his first of three Cy Young awards, then signed with the Red Sox as a free agent.

The franchise eventually left too, becoming the Washington Nationals, where despite the new park that the Expos never got, attendance is already an issue. To this day, I wonder what would have happened had 1994 been played. To this day, I think this was the most vicious and lasting parts of both Bud Selig and Don Fehr’s legacies.