Blue Monday always lingers for Rogers

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:21 AM ET

They are so embossed on athletic careers that even amid the glow of an important milestone, their nasty little heads pop up.

They are the epic downers that visit the most remarkable of careers. So, when Steve Rogers joined three other inductees into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame yesterday -- including Dave Stieb -- his was there.

Blue Monday.

Fans of the old Montreal Expos will never forget.

The starting pitcher was 3-1 in the 1981 postseason with a glittering earned-run average and two complete games when he went on in relief in the ninth inning of the fifth and final game of the NL championship against Los Angeles in Montreal.

Rick Monday banged a solo homer off him and the Dodgers won 2-1 and Montreal's hopes for a World Series hit the dumper. Who can predict how history would have unfolded had they won it all?

"It was the best of times and the worst of times," Rogers said during a conference call involving the inductees.

He won the last game of the 1981 season to gain a tie, beat the Phillies' Steve Carlton twice in the mini-series and won the opener of the NL championship. But relief was no relief. "I didn't quite get the job done, but it's all part of the best of times," he said.

They were durable throwers, with long and productive careers. Rogers was more about guile and what he called "trickeration." Stieb was more about power.

To continue comparisons, Rogers was more about team, Stieb more about Stieb.

Stieb attributes his durability to not having used up his arm as an amateur (he became a pitcher late).

"I pretty much avoided injuries pretty much until the end of my career."

Rogers said he relieved himself.

"I was offered a bit of wisdom my rookie year," he explained. "(Manager) Gene Mauch told me I'm going to have to relieve myself and that didn't mean going to the bathroom. It was an era in which you were expected to get to the seventh or eighth inning. You didn't have the same stuff you had in the early innings, so you had to find a way to adapt when the slider's not sliding as hard to find ways to get guys out."

Nowadays, Rogers is an assistant to players' association chief Donald Fehr. He was the soul of discretion when asked his opinion of the labour strife that caused the cancellation of the NHL season.

"It's not my place to comment," he said. "I just hope they get back for the players and the staff."

Stieb, who hunts in the winter and golfs in the summer, spoke of the "bittersweet" departure from the Jays and how he felt he was discarded with no thought to loyalty. His early 1990s buyout carried through 1998 and went into an annuity that keeps him in the best of guns and golf clubs.

Rogers, Stieb and longtime British Columbia trainer Doc Younker all expressed joy at their inductions.

"It's far and away the greatest honour I'm ever going to receive," Rogers said.

Said Stieb, with what might be interpreted as basic Stieb: "It caps off a storied career."

Some of the untold stories involve Stieb's unpopularity with many teammates and a general surliness throughout his 15 Blue Jays seasons. Learning that Stieb's son is taking a university journalism course struck some sports writers as ironic.

The most memorable moment of Rogers' career, he says, is starting the all-star game with three Expos on the field with him and another on the bench in 1982, the year he won 19 games.

Stieb pointed to winning the first playoff game for the Jays and hurling a no-hitter after coming close several times.


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