Blue Monday: one of the most unforgettable days in Canadian baseball history.
Danny Gallagher leads readers up to that infamous day in October 1981 when Rick Monday of the Los Angeles Dodgers hit a home run off of Montreal Expos pitcher Steve Rogers in the ninth inning, giving the Dodgers a berth in the World Series. Readers will be taken back to 1976 when a five-year plan for winning the National League championship was set in place by the Expos with the hiring of experienced manager Dick Williams. Gallagher examines old narratives about Blue Monday and talks to all the key players involved in the game, unearthing secrets and stories never before told.
About the authors
Danny Gallagher is a freelance writer, author, and Montreal Expos historian. He began covering the Expos in 1988 for the Montreal Daily News. He is the author of four previous books on the Expos. In recent years, he has been a regular contributor to the Canadian Baseball Network website. He lives in Uxbridge, Ontario.
Larry Parrish is a former Major League Baseball third baseman and manager. He played for the Montreal Expos, Texas Rangers, and Boston Red Sox during his career and was a two-time All-Star.
Excerpt: Blue Monday: The Expos, the Dodgers, and the Home Run That Changed Everything (by (author) Danny Gallagher; foreword by Larry Parrish)
Chapter 1: Expos Sign Williams, Pursue Jackson
When the rubble of the Expos’ disastrous 1976 season had settled, team president John McHale and sidekick Jim Fanning didn’t look that far in searching for a new manager. Career minor-league manager Karl Kuehl had been a disaster in 1976, and McHale said it was a mistake to have fired Gene Mauch, who managed the team from 1969 through 1975.
So where did the Expos cast their eyes? To a former Toronto Triple-A Maple Leafs skipper, who had been manager of the Boston Red Sox in 1967 to 1969, of the Oakland A’s that won three consecutive championships from 1972 to 1974, and then of the California Angels in 1975 and ’76.
Dick Williams was considered a turnaround maestro. He guided the Maple Leafs to two consecutive International League titles in 1965 and 1966 and took the Red Sox “Impossible Dream“ team led by Carl Yastrzemski to the 1967 World Series before they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals. He had spunk and didn’t care if he ruffled a player’s feelings.
Fanning and McHale were familiar with Williams because he had been the Expos’ third-base coach under Mauch in 1970, a brief respite for Williams after he was let go by the Red Sox following the 1969 season. When he joined the Expos in 1970, Williams had sat back and retooled his thinking strategies while watching the tactician Mauch — that is, when he wasn’t hitting fungoes before games or flashing signals to runners and batters during them. The Montreal job gave him a different perspective on managing.
So when Williams left the Angels after his stint with them ended in 1976, Williams called the Expos and asked that he be given the job. He didn’t wait for the Expos to approach him. That’s how aggressive he was. He felt confident that he would be hired, and he was.
Williams was given a five-year contract. Hiring Williams was the beginning of the rejuvenation of the Expos after a 55–107 season in 1976.
“Dick was a known manager. He was feisty and we weren’t a feisty club,” ex-team owner Charles Bronfman said in 2017.
McHale figured Williams would light a fire under his charges much like he did with the Boston, Oakland, and California squads, which were known to have a few players who would fight on occasion with each other or almost come to blows with Williams himself.
The attempted remodelling of the Expos didn’t stop with Williams. McHale went so far as to try to entice superstar free agent Reggie Jackson to come to Montreal. Jackson had been one of Williams’s players in Oakland and the two helped steer the A’s to glory. Jackson had spent the 1976 season with the Baltimore Orioles, a brief stopover during his splendid career.
“Reggie was available,” former Expos secretary-treasurer Harry Renaud recalled. “He was such a superstar. We flew him into Montreal. We organized a reception for him — the whole weekend. We met with the media, the pooh-bahs, including the mayor, Jean Drapeau.
“Reggie was late. He came down to the stadium and arrived with an entourage; a bunch of them came in a trailer. There were all these hangers-on. It was a travel party. I couldn’t figure that out. They were all smoking dope. It was kind of strange with his stature. We had such a big party at Charles’s place. There were about 50 people involved.
“The party ended on a Saturday night,” Renaud said. “Reggie departed very suddenly. Next thing, he just up and left. There were no goodbyes. That was the end of the story.”
The next night, Jackson and Bronfman’s close friend Leo Kolber, a member of the team’s board of directors, tried to hammer out a deal. McHale and Kolber offered Jackson a five-year deal for just under $5 million.
Apparently, Jackson came to the meeting looking and feeling like death warmed over. “Reggie had a terrible hangover,” Kolber said. “He needed a hair of the dog.”
Rather than seeking another alcoholic drink, Jackson looked at Kolber’s son Jonathan and said, “Hey, kid, make me a milkshake, but it has to have eggs in it.”
Jackson also met with the media while he was in Montreal and said he was very interested in the Expos, especially since he knew Williams from their days in Oakland. Williams even took Jackson on a tour of Olympic Stadium as it was being prepped for the Expos’ first season there in 1977.
“I want to know if these gentlemen want to build a contender. There’s a lot more than signing for a lot of money,” Jackson told the reporters surrounding him. “If Dick Williams hadn’t been here, I wouldn’t be here. People tell me that you have the most beautiful girls in the world here.”
The enthusiasm both sides showed prompted Bronfman to tell the media, “I think we are pretty much in agreement on fundamentals.”
As one of the game’s biggest stars, Jackson was also drawing a lot of interest at that time from the Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, and San Diego Padres.
Ultimately, Jackson accepted a much less lucrative deal with the Yankees: five years for about $3 million plus a Rolls-Royce.
As Renaud said, there are different versions as to why Jackson spurned the Expos. “It had something to do with crossing the border. He was held up by customs at the border. Apparently, he had an unregistered gun. Phone calls were made to Marc Lalonde, the minister of justice, and Reggie was allowed into the country,” Renaud added.
One report suggested that he was held up at the airport in Ottawa, not at Montreal’s Dorval Airport, because some marijuana was found in his clothes. Another report said Jackson was simply upset that customs people were rummaging through his clothes, period. McHale had told reporters that he and other team officials discussed Jackson’s drug case and came away satisfied that he was “not a historical user of drugs” and that he had talked things over with the police. No charges were laid.
Those who were Expos fans or followed the team during its existence will want to pick this up to learn a little more about the man who broke Canada’s heart, Rick Monday. Gallagher’s interviews and writing about Monday since that home run give the reader an inside glimpse into the man that many baseball fans have never seen.
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