Les Expos son las: A 1970 tale of what was baseball Montreal-style recalled

MLB Network’s re-broadcast of old games is very entertaining as well as informative. It’s very interesting watching the past come to life in real time so to speak.

One of the recent encounters recounted was a Sept. 2, 1970 matchup between Les Expos and the Pirates. The game in, and of itself, was fairly mundane. I’m perplexed why MLB Network chose it since it was a routine exercise in which the Expos John Boccabella hit a home run in the bottom of the 9th Inning to win 10-7. Well, Boccabella only hit 24 home runs in his career, but hey now, nothing special throughout.

Yet, the contrasts and similarities from even a routine game seen almost 40 years later yielded a great deal of insight into the overall game and some of its great players.

This was the Expos’ second year, playing at Parc Jarry. Crazy small, Jarry wasn’t much larger than some of the newer AAA parks or spring training stadia.

Hal Kelly and Don Drysdale called the game for CBC TV. Kelly was better known as a hockey announcer, yet did a fine job. Drysdale, who had retired the previous year due to shoulder ailments, was a bit raw, but OK.

Craig Morton v. Bob Moose. Morton had a tremendous 1970, winning 18 games on a last place Expos team that lost 89 games. Moose was part of what manager Danny Murtaugh called his “butcher shop” accompanying fellow hurlers Bob Veale and John Lamb.

The Pirates reached the NLCS that year losing to the pre-Big Red Machine, but the Pirates were the Reds equal, and went to the World Series in 1971 to boot. This team was loaded. Dock Ellis, Mudcat Grant, Steve Blass et al, all well and good, but the lumber, unbelievable. Clemente, Stargell, Oliver, Sanguillen, Robertson, Hebner, Cash, even Mazeroski, Alley, Pagan, and the diminutive Patek.

Kelly told a great story about a brawl the Pirates had the previous year with the Expos. The monster 6-foot, 8-inch super-reliever Dick Radatz was winding up his career with the Expos. During the brawl, Kelly said, he grabbed the 5-foot, 4-inch Patek, lifted him up and said, “I’ll take you on and a player to be named later.”

Being an expansion team, The Expos were much less endowed than the Bucs. They did have Rusty Staub, who, believe it or not, cut a svelte figure. Staub may have put on a few pounds later, but he was thin, quick and, actually, played a tremendous right field, a true 1970 superstar. During this game, he reached over the 4-foot wire-mesh outfield fence to take away a Pirate home run foul ball.

The broadcast was black-and-white, but the television standards weren’t that bad. They used mainly an overall infield-type shot with frequent close shots of the mound, a technique which probably should be used more today, and employed an occasional replay.

The broadcast even miked up Expos manager Gene Mauch — You thought Fox Sports invented this? — and replayed some mound conversations. They had to cut the mike later, however, when Mauch went berserk on a checked swing call that went against the Expos’ Adolfo Phillips, and was ejected. Too much caffeine probably, because the call looked just fine. Interestingly, Phillips violently threw his bat to the ground, but was not ejected. He certainly would be today. As well, the umpires gave the argument much more latitude than the chip-on-their-shoulders crews of today.

Some other oddities compared to today truly stood out in this typical 1970 game. The bats were gigantic compared to today’s models, all the bats. Players went Michael Jackson-style, wearing one glove only while batting, and it was on the top hand. I’m not sure why, because if I were using only one glove, I would put it on the bottom hand. These gloves resembled golf gloves. Staub put on his glove only after he batted to run the bases. Huh?

Other Montreal features included the giant scoreboard with state-of-the-art graphics and an organist who, for some unknown reason, played almost constantly, pausing only while a play was in progress and then immediately resuming. Almost as annoying as the Indian drum guy or the Rays screamer, who, thankfully, seems to have disappeared this season. And let the door slam on your obnoxious butt on the way out, loser. But, I digress.

A few times Kelly started calling Clemente “Bob”, which we all know Clemente hated, but quickly corrected himself, and called him Roberto. Stargell displayed that trademark bat twirl before each pitch. I always loved that as a kid. Hebner and Oliver each looked young and great.

Then, there was the inimitable, rubber-armed Mike Marshall coming in to relieve Morton. Of course, Dr. Marshall went Cy Young with the Dodgers in 1974 and today teaches revolutionary, and controversial, pitching techniques. Kelly had to explain the mysteries of the screwball to oh, Canada, but Marshall threw great, even if he coughed up the lead. Other than maybe John Bateman and Staub, most of the Expos position players were somewhat obscure although Coco LaBoy and Ron Fairly were on the bench. Of the pitching staff, Bill Stoneman, Ken Johnson and Claude Raymond were most notable probably for future generations.

And yet, for all the changes baseball has witnessed in the 40 years since the game, most remarkable was how similar that game was to, say, the Nationals-Mets game yesterday. In fact, this post-steroid period may have returned the game more to its proper balance and roots than we could have imagined for the on-field action in September 1970 seemed virtually indistinguishable from today’s games.

Yes, the players were less bulked up, but the pace, balance and execution were similar to a game played yesterday, today and probably tomorrow. I find that somehow reassuring, comforting and pleasurable. Too bad the Expos, and Montreal, who got screwed in the 1994 player strike and then succumbed, couldn’t be around in 2009 to enjoy this in person.

5 Comments

The broadcast was actually a black-and-white kinescope. Because of its sharpness, I’m guessing that it originally was in color, especially considering that the CBC made the conversion in 1966. Hal Kelly was actually most famous for being the brother of Hockey Hall of Fame broadcaster Dan Kelly, who was the radio play-by-play voice of the St. Louis Blues on KMOX for many years.

It should be mentioned that the CBC also televised the World Series in 1970. How do I know this? When the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) opened for business a few years ago, some of the first programs it showed was the NBC telecasts of each of the five matches of that Fall Classic. The first four contests were black-and-white kinescopes, but the Game 5 clincher was the original in color. The broadcasts of Games 1 & 2 that were shown were interrupted various times by CBC News bulletins concerning the kidnapping of two government officials by a Quebec separatist group.

One interesting aspect of that Expos/Pirates game from 1970 was the classic uniforms worn by both teams. Even though the Expos wore the most colorful caps in the game’s history, the batting helmets were solid royal blue, a concept that would return in the 1990s. The helmets wouldn’t match the caps until the late 1970s. As for the Pirates, they wore what I consider the best uniforms in that franchise’s history. I don’t care if they were polyester doubleknits with no buttons or belts. They were worn during the first half of the team’s most successful decade, and were unique, especially the old gold caps with the black bill, button and “P.”

Another thing to consider were the starting pitchers. Carl Morton ended that season as the NL Rookie of the Year. Bob Moose was one year removed from throwing a no-hitter over the “Miracle Mets.” Unfortunately, both left the world much too soon. Moose died on his 29th birthday in 1976, Morton seven years later at 39.

When it comes to vintage telecasts, this is exactly what MLB Network should be showing. They don’t all have to have any major historical significance. After all, how many times does one have to watch Bobby Murcer winning one for the late Thurman Munson in 1979 before eyeballs start popping out of our heads and we die from boredom? History is not only about the heroic & famous. It’s about the ordinary, too!

Wow, temendously insightful comment. I didn’t consider the kinescope aspect at all. Also, I meant no disrespect by the ordinary game comment. In fact, I am trained as a historian — Ma-Wisconsin, BA-Rice, former associate curator and oral historian at the Tulane University Jazz Archive — and totally agree with you on all points.

Very nice post. Happened on it by chance. Good to hear talk of the Montreal Expos. Indeed unfortunate that they are not around today. That game is quite a bit before my time. Still, good to hear the insight into it indeed. As a Montrealer, and Canadian, I follow the Jays now, but still would like to see ball in Montreal again someday. I believe the city deserves it. Anyway, I have an mlblog at http://bluejaysoutsidethedome.mlblogs.com. It is relatively new. I have had a Expos (and baseball) blog going for a while, at http://baseball363.blogspot.com.

Carl Morton. Not Craig. We had seasons tickets and Carl Morton used to sit in front of us a lot when he was on the disabled list and chart the games. He was a friendly guy. Jim Fanning also used to sit right next to us, and he was good friends with my father.

Yeah, you’re right.

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