A snowy Series in Montreal? No problem, Expos say
I hate to bring this up, and if the Expos' won-lost record wasn't so good I wouldn't even consider it, but what if half of next October's World Series were to played in Montreal?
Get out the snowshoes? Call in the Mounties? Hire helicopters to drop food packages to the fans? Borrow a fur coat from Elizabeth Taylor? Requisition an electric blanket for Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn?
"Frankly, it wouldn't be like that at all," grinned Expo Manager Dick Williams, a World Series veteran with Boston and Oakland. "Montreal's weather in October is a lot like Boston's and definitely is better than Minnesota's. Oh , sometimes it gets a little cool in the evening, but nothing that a baseball fan couldn't handle. Believe me, there would be no cases of frostbite!"
That established, Williams turned to the more serious issue of whether Montreal could sustain the brand of winning baseball over a 162-game schedule necessary to capture a pennant. It would mean finishing ahead of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the defending World Series champion, in the National League East , plus continued success in the playoffs.
"All I can tell you at this point is that we are a better team right now than we were last year at this time," Williams explained. "We've got more balance, our pitching is better, and we've improved our depth.
"Because this franchise had never even played .500 ball before. I think we were a little awed by the pressure at the end of last season when Pittsburgh beat us out of first place by two games," Dick continued. "But now that we've been through something like that, it's going to take more than just experience to beat us again."
Asked how he viewed the National league East overall,Williams replied: "Coming out of spring training, I figured it was going to be a four-team race among Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and ourselves. In fact, it looked so close to me that maybe the team that could capitalize on a break here and there would win it.
"Take St. Louis for example. To me they can put eight men on the field that, talentwise, are probably the equal of any team in baseball. But when the Cardinals couldn't get their pitching squared away, they took themselves out of the race.
"and maybe I'm wrong; maybe it's not too late for St. Louis to come back. Whitey Herzog [the Card's new manager] will get them going eventually, and I'm sure they'll win a lot of games in the second half of the season. But they're not just fighting the three of us now, they're also fighting the clock."
Although most people have forgotten by now, on May 11 of this year the Montreal Expos actually had the worst record in baseball, yet one month later were leading their division.
"I wish I had answers for all the strange things that happen in baseball, and our poor start was certainly one of them, but I don't have a logical explanation ," Williams said. "We had some injuries and lost some one-run games during that bad stretch where a hit at the right time could have turned things around. But so did a lot of other teams. sometimes you just don't know why teams or ballplayers suddenly streak in different directions."
One thing Williams hopes he has sold to his troops is the fact that it's always better to control your own destination; that any other approach is worthless.
"Players who think they can base their season on what some other contender may or may not do are asking for trouble and will surely find it," Dick said. "You can't keep hoping that Philadelphia will knock off Pittsburgh and vice versa. You try to win them all and when you don't, you try to come back strong the next day.
"We've got a lot of guys on the Expos with exceptional speed; guys who can run; who can take the extra base; who can force an opposing infielder to huury his throw and perhaps make an error," he continued. "It's a dimension a lot of ball clubs don't have, and over a 162-game schedule it can be a significant factor."
Montreal, under Williams, finished fifth in 1977; fourth in '78; and second in '79 (winning 30 more games than it lost).
Dick, whose mustache makes him look more like a Western desperado than a baseball manager, is in the final season of his Expos contract. He is asking for a new five-year pact.
Williams probably will get it anyway, but a World Series appearance by Montreal might cut his negotiating time to as little as 30 seconds!