Thursday, April 26, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Enshrined as an Expo, and he's happy about it

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Over the weekend here, it was as if the 1994 baseball season had never ended abruptly with a players' strike that began Aug. 12, when the Montreal Expos owned the best record in the game. Or as if a new, privately financed stadium had magically been built in Montreal, allowing the Expos to remain in Canada instead of relocating to Washington after the 2004 season and becoming the Nationals.

Expos fans, in full regalia, flocked to Cooperstown and relived old dreams during the Baseball Hall of Fame's induction weekend, turning Main Street into a flashback from the Boulevard St.-Laurent. They were here to toast Tim Raines, the third player to enter the Hall as an Expo — and the first one who did not balk at being depicted in a Montreal cap on his plaque.

"I saw a lot of Expo caps and uniforms out there, even though I'm probably seeing some people who don't remember who the Expos are," Raines said before his induction on Sunday. "I'll put the cap on, get them some recognition."

Raines, who went by the nickname Rock, was a seven-time All-Star who won the National League batting crown in 1986 with a .334 average and finished his career with 808 stolen bases, which ranks fifth on Major League Baseball's all-time list. He played for six teams over 23 seasons, including two championship years with the New York Yankees, but his first 13 years were spent with Montreal, beginning in 1979.

"That's where it started for me," Raines, 57, said. "It's only fitting."

During his induction speech, Raines drew laughs when he said, "Bonjour," and graciously apologized to fans from Quebec for his limited facility with French.

There is a chance that the nostalgia evident in Cooperstown could be converted into a future for big league baseball in Montreal. The Canadian Press reported in March that two potential investors, Stephen Bronfman and Mitch Garber, had met with MLB officials this year to propose possible sites for a new ballpark. However, Garber said the report was overstated.

Any such quest is likely to be complicated by the lackluster history of the Expos. The team routinely drew small crowds and, over its last seven seasons, averaged fewer than a million fans at Olympic Stadium, which was ill suited to baseball.

The Expos made the playoffs just once in their 36 seasons, losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1981 National League Championship Series. In 1994, before the strike ruined a potential championship season, the team's home attendance was only 70 percent of the National League average.

"I tried everything for them," Bud Selig, the former commissioner who was part of Raines' induction class, said here Saturday. "I kept them there a couple of extra years. I talked to a lot of people about buying the team. It's a complicated relationship. They need a stadium; they need owners. If you could put a team there now, you'd make me very happy."

That is a matter for the 10th commissioner, Rob Manfred. But many Montreal fans in Cooperstown, resentful of Selig's part in their team's exit, booed him during the ceremony.

"He played a role in their demise," said Dave Kaufman, a radio host in Montreal and a member of Expos Nation, the group that is trying to bring a team back to the city. "He's not the only one, but he's one."

Kaufman added: "There was a lot of discussion among the groups from Montreal coming here about how Selig would be greeted here. It's the Hall of Fame induction, and we want to be respectful. But it just sounds like they're trying to soften us all up by telling everyone it's his 83rd birthday. Next, they'll be saying he saved a bunch of puppies."

Raines is likely to be the penultimate player to enter the Hall as an Expo. There is a very good chance that the next vote will send Vladimir Guerrero to Cooperstown and that, despite his time with other teams, he will be inducted as an Expo.

At one time or another, Gary Carter and Andre Dawson, who are also enshrined as Expos, have expressed a desire to have the cap of another club on their plaques — the New York Mets for Carter, the Chicago Cubs for Dawson.

That was not the case with Raines, who has been lobbying for Montreal to get a new team.

"We don't have one yet," he said, "but here's hoping."

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