Recently, I was told (or rather boasted at) by a Judge that he wasn't reading enough. He makes a point to try to read 30 books a year, and he wasn't on pace so far this year. He needed to catch up. I simply nodded and agreed that it's hard to find enough time. Truth be told (and I didn't volunteer this to the Judge), I rarely read books. Maybe two a year, tops. That's not to say I don't read. I subscribe to three newspapers, six magazines, and waste countless hours reading articles online. But I don't read many books, and I never read non-fiction. When I do read a book, it's almost always a biography and/or baseball related.
So placing a pre-order for a book is a rather rare event for me, but that's exactly what I did last April. I even bragged about it to the author on twitter. The delay in this review is not due to my delay in reading it. I burned through it in three days. I wasn't going to review it at all. But after passing it off on a friend, and having the obligatory "discussion" about it after it was returned (I assume people do this to prove they actually read it?), I've decided to share some thoughts.
As a preemptory matter, here's a link to purchase the book on Amazon (I believe it'll be available in paperback very shortly). I also want to stress, it's not a bad book. By all means, click the link and buy the book. As a historical accounting, I'm sure it's very thourough and accurate. So what follows may read like less than an endorsement, and I apologize to the author. It just wasn't what I was hoping for.
Obviously I was hoping for a lot of Tim Wallach content. He is after all the franchise all-time leader in hits and games played, as well as the first team captain in franchise history. Hell, do a google search of "Montreal Expos All-Time Records" and this is what you get:
So I don't think expecting a good amount of Wallach content in a book about the history of the Expos is asking too much. I'd go so far as to call him the face of the franchise. I was disappointed however, to find that there was very little. Not a single quote. Nothing on the alleged Galarraga rivalry, inside details on his view of Runnells as manager, Tim Raines sliding head first, or new insight on the trade to Los Angeles. There was a suggestion that trading Larry Parrish was a big reason the Expos never went back to the playoffs, which I found a little off-putting.
It wasn't just a lack of Wallach material that I found disappointing. My "Expo Fandom" was from around 1983-1992. A solid decade of reading every box score, and watching every pitch of every inning I could every time they played the Cubs, Braves, or Mets (teams whose games I could watch). That entire decade of Expos history is more or less glossed over. Which I understand to a degree. Obviously the teams inception, and rise to contender, peaking with the '81 season is going to dominate any history of the Expos. Naturally the ultimate move to Washington, with it's genesis at the '94 Selig caused strike will also demand a lot of attention. The middle sort of gets squeezed.
I understand all of this. But in my mind, when someone says "Expos catcher," I think Mike Fitzgerald, not Gary Carter. That's not a knock on Carter, or this book. It's a just a period of Expos history that I was hoping for more of. And I'm sure I'm not the only fan who has fond memories of that era.
My other mild gripe about this book is that it's just far too nice. Maybe it's a Canadian thing, or maybe every single player to ever put on the pinwheel hat really was a great guy, or a great guy who made a mistake but found redemption later. I know what the '86 Mets thought of Gary Carter after reading "The Bad Guys Won." This book isn't "The Bad Guys Won." I have no idea if many (or any) Expos felt the same way. I'd be very surprised if a single person named in the book could possible come away being offended by it. Which is fine. It's clear Mr. Keri loves the Expos, and if doesn't want to cast them in any sort of negative light, he has every right not to.
By all means, buy the book. It's a fun read. I have no problem putting mine on the same shelf as "Three Nights in August," "Ball Four," "The Bad Guys Won," "Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," "A Well Paid Slave," and the rest of my baseball books I try to push on unsuspecting relatives during the holidays.
Now, I'd like to use this book to post some Expos baseball cards of players in this book, because no team ever looked better on cardboard than the Montreal Expos.
Tim Foli 1975 Topps Mini: Foli was good fielding, terrible hitting shortstop for the Expos. There isn't a lot to be found on him, but there is a funny anecdote about a fight over facial hair. Foli didn't want to shave his moustache. This card suggest he did. Foli was before my time, but for whatever reason, he seems to be one of those guys whose cards I always came across. As kid, when I only had a handful of cards for each set in the 70's, I seemingly always had the Tim Foli, and it wasn't by design.
Gary Carter 1976 Topps: I've come full circle on Gary Carter. I liked him when I was very young and still with the Expos, couldn't stand him as a Met, then eventually got over it and he retired as one of my all-time favorites. He also has one of the coolest assortments of Topps cards ever assembled. You'll never convince me that there weren't competing Carter and Carlton Fisk fans working at Topps trying to produce a cooler card for their hero for the better part of a decade.
Warren Cromartie 1979 O-Pee-Chee: The 5th overall pick of the 1973 Draft, Cromartie put together a more than respectable career with the Expos batting .280 with 1,068 hits over nine seasons, while teaming with Andre Dawson and Ellis Valentine as part of a very formidable outfield.
Barry Foote 1975 Topps: The Expos took Foote with the 3rd overall pick of the 1970 Draft. A promising start to his Expos career was knee capped however by the emergence of Gary Carter and a surprisingly healthy knee. History shows the Expos made the right call, however the book is rather sparse in the details as to how well Foote took the news at the time.
Dave Cash 1978 O-Pee-Chee: Dave Cash was a star with the Pirates and Phillies, before spending three seasons as the Expos second baseman near the end of his career. I believe that was long enough to put him in the top 3 or 4 of most games at second base by an Expo to this day.
Steve Rogers 1980 O-Pee-Chee: Steve is probably the single most quoted player in the book. It seems he talked a lot during his career too. While not one of my favorites, I believe Steve Rogers to be one of the more underrated players of his era, a list that has more than it's fair share of Expos. Perhaps there is a correlation.
Ellis Valentine 1979 O-Pee-Chee: Valentine was supposed to have the career that Dawson went on to have. He put up some fantastic numbers for a few years with the Expos, before his off the field habits made him expendable. A few of the more colorful (though not nearly as colorful as I'm sure they could have been) antidotes in the book are about Valentine. If I have one takeaway from this book, it's that I'm now an Ellis Valentine fan.
Bill Lee 1980 O-Pee-Chee: I'll never get tired of Bill Lee stories and this book had a great one. It involves Bill storming out of the ball park after learning of a teammates release, and downing beers and shooting pool at a bar, in full uniform, while the game is on tv. There is a beer commercial to be made in there somewhere.
Larry Parrish 1982 Donruss: On the inside of the book sleeve, there is a picture of the author wearing a Tim Raines jersey. Based on the ball washing bestowed upon Larry Parrish throughout this book, I can only imagine his Parrish jersey was at the cleaners the day the photo was taken. On a side note, this is an awesome looking baseball card. And for what it's worth, I came away liking Larry Parrish far more than I previously did. By accounts he seems like a was a great teammate.
Charlie Lea 1982 O-Pee-Chee: The late Charlie Lea was always one of my favorites. He's barely mentioned in the book, but I'm not about to throw up a post full of Expos and not include Lea.
Rodney Scott 1981 Donruss: "Cool Breeze" replaced Dave Cash at the Expos revolving door of second basebman. He didn't hit much for average, but walked more than his share and stole a lot bases.
Jerry White 1981 Fleer: Jerry didn't play a lot, but he spent parts of ten seasons with the Expos, and was the subject of this awesome looking '81 Fleer card.
Tim Raines 1983 Topps All-Star: Tim Raines is my second favorite Expo. I loved the guy as a kid, and to this day he is one of my all-time favorite players. He belongs in Cooperstown, and I'll be there when he gets in. So I understand why the author didn't want to address whether or not his hold out in 1987 cost the Expos the NL East. They finished 91-71 and 4 games behind St. Louis (and a game better than the NL West champion Giants). They started the season picked to finish last, then went 0-5, and ultimately 8-13 before Raines rejoined the team. Of course, the real scapegoat should be the owners who wouldn't pay Andre Dawson.
1983 Stuart Andre Dawson: Another one of my favorite Expos as a kid. Dawson is the proud owner of Tim Wallach's 1987 NL MVP Award.
1990 Fleer Joe Hesketh: Don't ask me why but I was a big Hesketh guy when he was with the Expos. The guy had a knack for picking up wins, and in seven seasons with the Expos he never had a losing record. His name doesn't appear in the book.
1991 Upper Deck Andres Galarraga: The only Expo I ever actively rooted against. Very little details in the book to justify why I didn't like him.