At end, it was a crying shame

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:00 AM ET

MONTREAL -- Is that it? Finally? Really?

It was a decade coming down the tracks, but the train wreck finally happened.

The Expos in Montreal are dead.

The last life of Nos Amours was sucked away in the murky cesspool that has been their existence at the hands of scheming owners and Major League Baseball the last few years.

They turned the lights out on the Expos last night, a franchise that just 14 years ago was named the best in the game, stuck 'em in a box and nailed it shut.

Three more games in New York this weekend, the city where it all started in 1969, and a team that was such a big part of many lives becomes a trivia question.

Le Grand Orange, Jonesville, The Dancer, Parc Jarry, Stoney's no-hitters, Willie Stargell hitting them in the swimming pool, Ron Hunt getting hit by a pitch (again), Coco Laboy, Carl Morton, The Spaceman, Rodney Scott, Val-De-Ri, Val-De-Ra, the grace of The Hawk, the energy of The Kid, Stan Bahnsen, Mike Schmidt, The Rock, The BUS Squad, Gentleman Jim Fanning, Larry Parrish's batting helmet flying off (and him catching it behind his back), Eli Wallach, Blue Monday, Jeff Reardon, Cro, the strike of '94.

A rich history, for anybody who was paying attention.

BIG CROWD

A crowd of 31,395 turned out to say good-bye last night and, apart from a golf ball getting whipped on the field in the top of the third, they were relatively well behaved.

Some wept openly in the stands.

They hung around long after the last player had left, long after the players had all gathered in the middle of the infield after the final 9-1 home loss to the Florida Marlins, grabbed baseballs and threw them into the stands.

"It was a lot more emotional than I anticipated," said infielder Jamey Carroll, the former Ottawa Lynx star, who addressed the crowd after the game. "I was asked before the game if I'd like to speak. I wanted the people to know what was on my mind and in my heart. The fans have been great to me.

"This place made my dream a reality."

Carroll said it was difficult seeing people who are losing their job because of the move.

"You see the people you see every day and you know it was a tough day for them," he said. "When something is here for 36 years, it becomes a part of your life.

"Next year, when it comes to spring time, baseball won't be here. It's not fun when change happens."

SAD TRUTH

The sad truth is there are probably as many explanations for the slow demise of the Expos franchise as there were people in the stands for the first couple of games for the final homestand.

Take your pick:

- After original owner Charles Bronfman saw where baseball was going and sold the team in the early 1990s, a succession of owners under-capitalized the team, letting key players go and turning off fans.

- With the Expos riding high with the best record in baseball in 1994, the strike cancelled the season and the World Series, killing the prospect of an Expos-New York Yankees fall classic.

- The next spring, the Expos ownership was unwilling or unable to keep the team together. Canadian Larry Walker was allowed to walk as a free agent and, in the same week, stars such as Marquis Grissom, Ken Hill and closer John Wetteland, among the best players in the league at their respective positions, were traded. It is known here simply as "The Fire Sale."

- Too many promises that weren't kept. There was talk of an open-air stadium downtown, but it evaporated when the Quebec government refused to commit funding and the Claude Brochu ownership group didn't have deep enough pockets.

"It was a litany of things," Expos president Tony Tavares said yesterday. "You can't look at one event and say it's the reason. You can look at '94 as a big event. The stops and starts with the new stadium. Every time something was promised and then they didn't do it, it affected the fan base.

"There's a litany of reasons why there was never a spike in attendance, not the least of which is we were on life support."

Former Expo Tommy Hutton, a key utility player on the first Expos team to become a contender in 1979, probably has it right when he points out there is enough blame to go around.

'TOO CONFUSING'

"I've been coming in here for the last eight years and I've seen how bad it's been. I don't know what could have been done to save it," said Hutton, now a broadcaster with the Marlins. "It's just too confusing for everybody. It's ridiculous."

Now? It doesn't matter anymore.

Tom Hanks said there's no crying in baseball.

There was last night.


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