The history of the Montreal Expos is not a happy one.
This is pretty easy to assume, considering that they have been gone for over a decade now, leaving Montreal for Washington, DC, and now call themselves the Nationals.
It can be debated as to whether Major League Baseball in Montreal was a success or a failure, in the end. Those who saw the final days of the Expos, with laughably minuscule crowds in the grotesquely expansive Big O (Olympic Stadium), perhaps the worst ballpark in the majors, may assume that the city was always neglectful of their team, and that they deserved to have them pull up camp and head for Washington.
Montreal loved the Expos. Passionately. There were the good times, when the team was consistently competitive (even getting a game away from a World Series appearance), and the Big O was packed. Players became local legends, and there was even a time where it could be argued that the Expos surpassed the legendary Canadiens as the most popular team in town.
But there were too many failings that forced the team to leave.
Following the tragedy of the players strike in 1994, which wiped out the Expos best chance at winning it all (the team was the best in the MLB at the time of the strike, and they were absolutely an incredible team, just look at that roster!), new owners decided that they needed money, and completely stripped the team in a Florida Marlins-esque fashion. It truly was the death knell for the team. Cheap owners, the abandonment from corporate Montreal, and some questionable decisions by the league made it impossible for them to stay.
In Up, Up and Away, we are provided with the complete history of the team, from their hilariously thrown together inception in to the league, to their final days before leaving. It is a story of ups and downs, of a city falling for a bunch of underdogs, and finally rejoicing when they were good for real (that ’94 team remains possibly the greatest “what if” team in baseball history), readers are provided with a much clearer understanding of the last franchise that was forced to relocate, and the first one who had to do so in the previous four-plus decades.
There are plenty of great stories in here provided by author Jonah Keri, a die-hard fan of the team. He brings to life the characters that put on the baby blue uniforms and questionable caps of the Expos. He talks about the great players that went through, and the minor ones that are barely remembered. He discusses the fever that the city would get whipped into when the Expos would be challengers for a pennant, and we are taken to a time when they really were Canada’s team, before the Blue Jays came around and stole most of the coverage the Expos received.
While the book is not perfectly written, and often takes us into too many details of trades, it does a good job of helping us remember the scrappy team that ended up being abandoned by everybody in Montreal. The stories of the terrible ballpark and the failed attempts to get a new one. It is easy to tell that Keri writes with passion, on occasion bringing us into his personal experiences of fandom. Personally, I felt that parts of the book could have used a more personal touch, but as it stands, Up, Up and Away will stand as the most definitive history of the team that we have in book form.
For fans of baseball, this is a good read. For those of us who remember the Expos, it is incredibly interesting to read about, and remember, the plethora of great players that went through that city on their way to massive, Hall of Fame careers.
And it makes us sad, because what could have been in Montreal. With only a couple of breaks here and there, either on the field or off of it, we could be looking at a completely different history of the team, one who could still possible reside in La Belle Province.
And that is what makes the Expos such a tragic team.
What could have been.
Up, Up and Away is a good read, and belongs in the pantheon of the many great baseball books out there.