Monday October 19, 1981. Where were you?
Like a lot of baseball junkies in their early twenties I was at home, frozen with anticipation and excitement over the moment we’d been waiting 12 years for, a chance to go the World Series, against the Yankees of all teams.
Only a bowl of chips stood between me and the CBC crew of Dave Van Horne, Duke Snider and Ernie Afaganis. Phones were yanked out. (No cell phones to turn off, not even a VCR to record the moment.) Blinds were drawn shut. I was in my own world, no friends or workmates were going to get in the way on this day.
I had started to work for CFCF Radio about one month earlier. Hired by Jeff Rimer following a cross country trip to Vancouver, followed a month later by a trip across America, from Berkeley to Boston. Before I left I had been working at CKO Radio, Montreal’s first all-news outlet but the Kerouac bug finally got to me. I had mentioned to Barry Wilson (currently in news management at CTV Montreal) that I’d be back in town in September and to drop my name if he heard of any job openings. If not, I was prepared to go back to school (coast) for awhile.
One day back in Montreal and the phone rings. It’s early in the AM and I’ve still got my mind on the beauty and beauties of San Francisco.
“Mitch? It’s Jeff Rimer at CFCF-I hear you’re looking for work!” (He sounded way too excited for me. Think Joe Bowen. But I’m sure glad he called)
Rimer was the new Sports Director at CFCF Radio, somehow wrestling the title away from Dick Irvin, who remained in television. Jeff had been given the go ahead to expand the sports department. He was looking to hire a young, intelligent, good looking kid to provide sports updates throughout the weekend, fill-in for the weekday anchor (Doug Smith), compile occasional field reports, and, as I eventually discovered, to take his constant barrage of phone calls; morning, noon, night, all night, every night. Sometimes middle of the night.
I’ll never forget the first time I met Jeff. Mike Boone had written a piece in the Gazette about CJAD’s Bob Dunn, whom Boone described as Montreal’s best sportscaster. When I met Rimer, he was waving the newspaper in front of me, yelling “Do you think Bob Dunn is the best in the city?!?!”
With my future perhaps at stake, but not wanting to lie, I responded that maybe Boone and Dunn were good friends. Not good enough for Rimer.
“Yeah, but what do YOU think?!?!” he growled while glaring at me.
Thinking he was going to fire me before I had even been hired, I managed a sheepish shrug and said that I had just returned to town and hadn’t listened to local radio for months. (Not entirely true. I was a hardcore radio junkie who thought the world of Bob Dunn. He first impressed me as a writer on the Expos beat before he moved into radio. Less than a year after I was hired by CFCF, Bob Dunn rescued me from Rimer. To this day, ever thankful that Jeff was the first to give me a sports job, it was Bob Dunn who taught me what it took to be a journalist.)
Anyway, we finally got around to talking about the job. It was mine. I would make $200 a day doing the weekend shifts. Saturday and Sunday mornings (6-10) with Dave Fisher. Saturday and Sunday afternoons (2-7) with Dean Hagopian. $400 for the weekend. I rented a 1 1/2 in the McGill ghetto. Slept most of the week, worked and played all weekend. It was a great time. Until my phone started to ring. Two, three, four times an hour. Rimer calling. The guy was a phone addict. (I was told that while traveling with the Expos he used to have himself paged in hotel lobbies).
1981 was the best and worst time to be an Expos fan. The strike knocked off an entire summer of baseball (that’s why I took off in the first place) but because of the ridiculous split season approach to ending the dispute, the Expos would be in the post season for the first time. The St Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds actually compiled the best total won-loss records in the National league in 1981, but who’s counting?
After knocking off the Phillies in the divisional series, with Warren Cromartie celebrating on the field at Veteran’s Stadium by waving a huge Canadian flag, the Expos and Dodgers split the first two games of the NLCS in LA.
Back home , Friday October 16th was a night to remember. The first playoff game ever in Montreal. Over 54 thousand on hand watched Steve Rogers pitch a gem while Jerry White hit a three run homer off Jerry Reuss in the bottom of the sixth. NBC host Bryant Gumbel complained about the cold weather (I don’t care how many awards the guy has won. He was, and is, a smug dickhead. Greg’s the good Gumbel) but it was one of the warmest nights in the history of Montreal sports.
Saturday afternoon, October 17th. Bill Gullickson vs Burt Hooten. 54,499 watched another pitcher’s duel until LA broke it open in the 8th, eventually winning 7-1.
Sunday October 18th. It was wet. But not all day. The Yankees were waiting. I was in the studio at CFCF, waiting for a game that had to start. Doing sports updates, when all anybody listening wanted to hear was the time of the first pitch. I remember leaving hours later, after the game had been postponed by NL President Chub Feeney, wondering what the heck had just taken place. There was no rain. Not even a single puddle.
The air was a lot warmer than it had been two nights earlier. With more rain in the forecast for Monday, and the World Series scheduled to start Tuesday in New York, I felt the first of what would be numerous paranoid pangs over the years.
Re-scheduled for Monday afternoon, October 19. Fernando Valenzuela, who would go on to rob Tim Raines of the 1981 Rookie of the year award, would get a crucial extra days rest. Even though about a third of the season had been wiped out, Valenzuela had thrown nearly 200 innings and a ton of pitches, constantly going deep into counts.
I called Rimer Monday morning, asking him if they needed me at the stadium or at the station. He assured me they did not and would not. That’s when my phone came out of the wall.
Sure enough, it was raining when the game was supposed to start. But there would be only a slight delay. And there were a lot less than 54 thousand on hand. Ray Burris looked sharp. Fernando didn’t. Tim Raines doubled to lead off. Rodney Scott, bunting to move Raines to third, executed perfectly. The Dodgers tried to get Raines but missed. Scott safe at first. The crowd was noisy. Bobby Castillo started to warm up in the Dodgers bullpen.
Expos had runners on 1st and 3rd with nobody out and the meat of the order coming up. Andre Dawson, in the most important at bat in Expos history, hit into a 4-6-3 double play. Raines scored. Gary Carter, up next, delivered a too-late flyball to center. End of inning. End of scoring for the Expos.
Burris was flawless to the 5th when LA put a couple of hits together and scored on a Fernando ground out. Expos went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 5th. I have no explanation for what happened next, other than the possibility of extra innings had me wondering if perhaps there would be a change of plans at the station. I re-connected my phone.
Following another clean 6th inning, my nerves were shot. I longed for a beer, or something stronger. Then the phone rang. It was Rimer.
“Change of plans!” he yelled over the between inning organ music of Fernand Lapierre.
“Whaddya mean, change of plans?” I had no clue what he was up to.
“We’re all flying to New York right after the game with the team!” yelled Jeff. Which is exactly what his original plan was anyway. “But they (he) want you in the station when I leave. You’ll get to finish up my post game show…you’d better hurry! I’ll talk to you from New York!”. Click.
It was the longest 30 seconds of my life. The way Burris and Valenzuela were pitching the game could be over by the time I arrived at 405 Ogilvy Avenue. Didn’t he think of this possibility when he made his travel plans to begin with? He was now taking me out of my comfort zone. I was running around the apartment, missing at bats, taking a shower, getting dressed, calling a cab, no longer connected to an event I had waited years to see.
I waited outside my apartment. And waited. And waited. Even the cabbies were watching the game. Finally, a Diamond pulled up with its windshield wipers moving. There was a mist in the air. It was grey. Dark. Oh, for some sun, to lighten the mood. By the time he took off with me in the backseat, the Expos were batting with two outs in the 7th. Listening to the French radio broadcast, Jacques Doucet described a Larry Parrish double.
In my Chomedey best broken French I pleaded with the driver to hurry. “Moi, j’ai payez le ticket! Go! Go! Go!”
I thanked Tommy LaSorda for walking Jerry White intentionally. Cromartie struck out. I didn’t thank Cro.
We finally pulled into the parking lot at CFCF in the bottom of the 8th. Getting out to pay I realized that in my rush to get dressed I had forgotten my wallet. So I had to get security to call the newsroom to come down and pay with a taxi check.
Naturally, nobody was going to move while the Expos batted. So, with the meter still running I sat back down in the back of the cab and listened while Tim Wallach, pinch hitting for Burris, tapped out meekly 1-3. And then Raines flied out to end the inning.
Top of the 9th, 1-1 tie, deciding game of the NLCS, the winner to move on to New York to play the Yankees in the World Series, and I’m sitting in a cab in a parking lot. What should have been the greatest day of any Expos fan on the planet had deteriorated into an episode from The Twilight Zone.
Finally, somebody from the newsroom rushed downstairs to pay for me. I bolted out of the cab, ran up a couple of flights of stairs, walked briskly into the newsroom where everybody was glued to 3-4 different monitors, just as Ron Cey took Steve Rogers (Rogers??) deep to leftfield. I thought it was a home run. But the thick air must have hung it up. Raines caught the ball with his back brushing the left field wall. The silence in the newsroom was broken. “What the heck is Rogers doing in there?” “Where’s Reardon?” “Forget Reardon, how ‘bout Fryman or Bill Lee to face this guy?”
‘This guy’ was Rick Monday.
Cast of Characters from October 1981: (*Oct 19, 2015 update)
Dave Van Horne : Radio voice of Florida Marlins. Owner of 2003 World Series ring.
Duke Snider: Retired, living in LA; recently turned 80. *Died Feb 27, 2011
Ernie Afaganis: ? Apparently became a vocal cheerleader during last spring’s run by the Edmonton Oilers.
Jeff Rimer: Stayed in Montreal through the 1984 season. Fought with Pete Rose in Expos clubhouse. Got a job in Baltimore. Became hockey voice of Florida Panthers. Still a hockey voice, now with Columbus Blue Jackets. Doesn’t have my cell number.
Jack Kerouac: Dead since 1969 but remains spiritual advisor to restless souls everywhere.
Joe Bowen: Loud voice of Toronto Maple Leafs.
Doug Smith: No clue. Last seen during Montreal-Calgary Stanley Cup Final in 1989. Might be fishing with Dan McGarrity.
Mike Boone: Never replaced as TV-Radio columnist at Gazette. Funniest man at the paper. Should be in the sports department. *Somebody was listening. He ended up in the sports department before “retiring” to full-time Habs hockey blogger.
Bob Dunn: Moved to Vancouver in the 80s to work for West Coast Lottery Foundation. Haven’t seen him since Forum closed 10 years ago. Along with Ted Blackman and Mike Farber, was best baseball writer in the city.
Dave Fisher: Still in radio. Still working weekends. Might have put on a pound or two.
Dean Hagopian: My all time favourite radio host. Can still be seen/heard as actor/voice. Long suffering Black Hawks fan. *No longer suffering with Chicago winning 3 of the last 6 Cups.
Steve Rogers: The best pitcher in baseball sept/oct ’81. Blew out his shoulder three years later. Works for MLB Players Association.
Jerry White: Made final out of “Blue Monday” with tying run on 2nd. First base coach for Minnesota Twins. *Fired by Twins In Oct 2012.
Jerry Reuss: Pitched in the majors until he was 41 in 1990. Worked briefly as a pitching coach in the Expos system. Became a broadcaster with the Angels. Currently works Dodgers broadcasts along side Rick Monday. Grrrrr.
Bryant Gumbel: Emmy Award winning host of “Real Sports” on HBO. Scheduled to do play by play for NFL Network. Has feuded with Letterman.
Bill Gullickson: Diabetic pitcher who once struck out 18 Cubs as a rookie, traded to Cincinnati where manager Pete Rose refused to bet on games he started. Played in Japan before returning to pitch for Tigers. Won 20 games for Detroit in 1991. 20 year old daughter Carly has been a pro tennis player since 2003.
Burt Hooten: Pitched in majors until 1985. Was Astros pitching coach during Larry Dierker years.
Chub Feeney: Remained President of National League until 1986. Resisted campaign to add DH to NL. Died in 1994.
Tim Raines: Toughest out in Expos history. Traded to White Sox in 1991 for Ivan Calderon & Barry Jones. Hit .444 for Sox in 1993 ALCS. Won World Series with Yankees in 1996. Returned to Montreal in 2001 and hit over .300 before going to Baltimore to play on same team as his son Tim Jr. Won World Series ring as coach for White Sox in 2005. Fired as coach by Ozzie Guillen last week. Don’t fret, earned $35 million during his career. Should be in Hall of Fame.
Fernando Valenzuela: “Fernandomania” lasted just six years before his left arm went dead. Made numerous comebacks, pitching well into his 40’s. Named to Baseball’s All-Latino team. Coached for Mexico at 2006 World Cup. Broadcaster on Dodgers Spanish network.
Rodney Scott: Released by Expos in May of 1982. Bill Lee went nuts. Remains forever “Cool Breeze”.
Bobby Castillo: Taught Valenzuela to throw screwball. Career ended in 1985. *Died June 30, 2014
Andre Dawson: Also went cold for Cubs during 1989 NLCS vs SF (2-19, .105). Won bogus MVP award in 1987. One of only six players with 300 career homers and 300 career steals. *Inducted into Hall of Fame July 25, 2010.
Gary Carter: Expos claim he asked to be traded following 1984 season. Simply not true. Won World Series with Mets in 1986. Great clutch hitter with Expos and Mets. Scapegoated for Expos failures ’81-84 by owner Charles Bronfman. First Expos player enshrined at Cooperstown. Can be annoying. *Died Feb 16, 2012. His death reignited baseball passion in Montreal.
Fernand Lapierre: Brought back to Jarry Park last summer for charity softball event for Quebec chapter of ALS. Still sounds and looks great.
Jacques Doucet: Still in search of a World Series ring. Came close to Hall of Fame status. Spent last summer as voice of Quebec Capitales of Northern League.
Tommy LaSorda: Over-worked Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser, among others. But won two World Series. Once said Pedro Martinez did not have the stamina to be an effective starter. So they traded him. Wonderful promoter for baseball but more so for himself. How is he in the Hall of Fame and not Dick Williams? Great bootleg tape of Tommy after a game dropping more F-bombs than Joe Pesci in “Goodfellas”. *Dick Williams was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008. He died July 7, 2011.
Larry Parrsih: Jim Fanning blamed drug use for the demise of “The Team of The 80’s”. Steve Rogers blamed the trade of Parrish to Texas for Al Oliver. Rugged leader who played with pain. Finished career in Boston in 1988. Started coaching career in Tigers organization in early 90’s. Won championships at Double A and Triple A before joining Detroit staff under Buddy Bell in 1997 & 98 before replacing Bell for rest of ’98 season. Fired as manager and replaced by Phil Garner in 2000. Returned to manage Triple A Toldeo Mud Hens in 2003. Won championship and manager of the year award in 2005. Still with Toledo. *Retired following 2015 season.
Tim Wallach: Replaced Parrish as Expos thirdbaseman in 1982. Under- appreciated three time gold glove winner. Also won two silver slugger awards. Bill James called him “A poor man’s Brooks Robinson”. Good call. If Wallach had made it and starred in a World Series…Power numbers were severely hampered by Olympic Stadium. Was hitting coach for Dodgers until Grady Little took over as manager. Worked two Expos broadcasts with Elliott Price. Great guy. *Current bench coach for the Dodgers.
Warren Cromartie: Was in on deck circle when “Blue Monday” ended. Took off for Japan in 1983 where he starred for seven seasons. Wrote colorful book “Slugging it out in Japan”. Managed an all-Japanese team in independant California League in 2005. Still loves Montreal. And Rush. Worked more than two Expos broadcasts with Elliott Price. *Founder and President of Montreal Baseball Project. Public face to the driving force attempt to get MLB back in Montreal.
Ron Cey: “The Penguin” paid visit to Expos clubhouse, along with Davey Lopes, following win on “Blue Monday”. Went on to share World Series MVP honors with Steve Yeager & Pedro Guerrero. Also played for Cubs before finishing up in Oakland in 1987.
Woody Fryman: Very effective relief pitcher into his 40’s until his arm fell off in 1982. Still on his farm in Ewing, Kentucky but no longer producing tobacco. *Died Feb 4, 2011
Bill Lee: NL All Star lefty (16-10) in his first year with the Expos in ’79. Injuries derailed him in 1980. Was very effective out of the bullpen in ’81. Released along with Rowland Office shortly after Rodney Scott in May of 1982. Author of “The Wrong Stuff” and “Have Glove, Will Travel”. Baseball vagabond still bringing the junk in a ballpark near you. Host of daily “Answers From Space” radio show during baseball season since early 90s. Why is he not in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame? *Pitched a complete game for an Independent League team – the San Raphael Pacifics – in August 2012, becoming the oldest pitcher to start and win a game in professional baseball history. The subject of a Brett Rapkin produced documentary “Spaceman (A Baseball Odyssey)” in 2006. Rapkin has wrapped up production of a motion picture tentatively titled “The Wrong Stuff” starring Josh Duhammel as Lee. Released his own brand of wine, “Spaceman Red” in 2012.
Rick Monday: Still a very dangerous hitter at age 36 in 1981, Monday had homered 11 times in just 130 at bats that season. Has been a Dodgers broadcaster since 1985. Rick ———– Monday”