A Look at the Expos’ Place in Nationals History

Photo courtesy of
‘my trusty, soon-to-be-retired expos hat’
courtesy of ‘permanently scatterbrained’

The Nationals announced Tuesday afternoon that the team will be honoring 2010 Hall of Fame inductee Andre “The Hawk” Dawson, who played for the franchise in Montreal with a tri-colored Expos cap atop his head from 1976-1986, on August 10 at Nationals Park.

It’s easy to fall victim to making a quick comparison between the Washington Nationals and the Washington Senators since those are the only two ball teams to play in the District, but they’re not one in the same. In fact, they’re far from it.

The Senators were an American League team. The Nationals are a National League team. The only common ground is the city in which they played.

Here’s a closer look at the Nationals’ history and how the Expos fit into that.

Expos Cap, Nats Shirt
Nats Fan at The Bullpen on June 5, 2010 with an Expos Cap/Photo by Rachel Levitin

Nationals season-ticket holder and 10 millionth fan – as dubbed during a 2009 Nats-Red Sox game – thinks Washington should look more to the Expos than the Senators when delving into the team’s heritage. “I really do think that we need to remember that we truly are a National League team and our heritage is the Montreal Expos which is not that great either but hey, it’s a heritage.”

“I really don’t mind them doing the Washington Senators,” Strattner explained, “but I do think it would be nice every once in awhile to talk about the Montreal Expos, to bring a few of the Expos player to town to remind people that we aren’t a new franchise.”

While it’s not necessary for the Nationals to take it upon themselves to commemorate a team that is no longer in existence, it couldn’t hurt. The Expos weren’t what anyone would call a top big league team during their tenure in Major League Baseball, but their roster did help cultivate the careers of some of the game’s best players. Dawson is among that elite crop.

“[…] It will be a little strange when Dawson steps onto the field on August 10, being recognized in a city where he never played a game,” MASN Sports writer Ben Goessling wrote Monday. He’s right. It will be strange. Some fans, the younger ones in particular, are likely to not understand why it’s such a big deal. But in context, the timing couldn’t be better.

The Washington Nationals are currently in last place in the National League East. Although it should be noted that they’ve showed improvement when compared to the last two seasons in which they compiled over 200 losses. Stephen Strasburg is just about the only buzz word in MLB talks around the country besides trade rumors regarding the upcoming deadline and Matt Capps getting a K off David Ortiz with the National League’s first All-Star win in his name in 13 years.

The District is six years into a new era of baseball and there’s still no obvious reason for fans to devote themselves to a team who appears to be relying on a 22-year-old ace who’s only played nine games.

Generating talk of historical accomplishments and acknowledging the Nationals context within MLB history and their franchise’s history might give fans another reason to attach their passion to the sport in this city.

Passion is like any sort of relationship or romance and is often based on an unconditional love — if you know where someone comes from, you know where they’ve been, and have an idea of where they might be going, then the love, passion, and appreciation can only grow.

Photo courtesy of
‘Andre Dawson’
courtesy of ‘Thomas Duchnicki :: Location Scout’

Poor Andre Dawson is a Hall of Fame orphan. The team in which he was inducted for exists only in memory and Cooperstown apparel. Just because the Expos are no longer an active nickname among today’s MLB roster of teams doesn’t mean their place in baseball history should ignored.

Look at the Dodgers — they honored the 1955 World Series championship team in L.A. even though the team won the ring in Brooklyn decades ago. Who’s to say the Nationals shouldn’t conduct some similar business on their home turf?

Patrick Reddington of SB Nation DC dug up some great quotes on the topic. Dawson’s fellow Hall of Famer of Expos fame and former teammate Gary Carter told the New York Times, “That’s really the sad part [that Nationals Park doesn’t acknowledge the Expos]. At least recognize and embrace the fact that they were in Montreal for 36 years.”

“Dawson was one of the best players in this franchise’s history,” Nats News Networks’ Dave Nichols told Reddington. “Why wouldn’t the Nationals want to honor him as he’s inducted into the Hall of Fame? There are other non-D.C. based Hall of Famers on the columns on the concourse around Nationals Park–why not honor part of this franchise’s history by putting up murals of Dawson and Carter, Hall of Famers that actually played for this franchise?”

The District was without baseball for over 30 years. It must have been hard for kids and adults alike who cherished the game to not have easy access to a team within their city limits. But imagine living with a team to root for and then having it taken away? Sure, that’s what happened when the Senators became the Texas Rangers*, but that’s also what happened to Montreal.

“As Washingtonian baseball fans, we need to remember how truly lucky we are. For years our city was without a baseball team to call our own,” Will Yoder of The Nats Blog wrote.

“Many, like myself, grew up rooting for out of market teams just so we could have baseball in our lives. Then in 2005 we were given the gift of baseball from the MLB, and as recipients of any gift we should be both grateful and mindful. Grateful to the MLB for choosing our city, and mindful to the sacrifices made to make that happen. Montreal fans had their passion taken from them…the Nationals owe it to Expos fans, as well as the city of Montreal to recognize the history of their franchise.”

All strangeness of what this situation could lead to aside, the Nationals didn’t come into existence out of nowhere. They’re a franchise with a history. People often forget or overlook the fact that the Washington Senators were an American League team. That means the only tie the Nationals and Senators share is the location of their ballparks.

Baseball history in the District might stem from the Senators but they weren’t the forefather’s of Nationals baseball. The Nationals were an expansion team that came to live in our Nation’s capital after the Expos time in the MLB came to a close. To ignore that piece of baseball history in a town full of history in its own right seems oxymoronic albeit ironic.

*Author’s Note: The Texas Rangers did not respond to my request to comment on whether or not they have commemorated the Washington Senators in any capacity during a game day event or inside their ballpark. If updates become available, that information will be posted.

Rachel moved to DC in the fall of 2005 to study Journalism and Music at American University. When she’s not keeping up with the latest Major League Baseball news, she works on making music as an accomplished singer-songwriter and was even a featured performer/speaker at TEDxDupont Circle in 2012. Rachel has also contributed to The Washington Examiner and MASN Sports’ Nationals Buzz as a guest blogger. See why she loves DC. E-Mail: rachel@welovedc.com.

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19 thoughts on “A Look at the Expos’ Place in Nationals History

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention A Look at the Expos Place in Nationals History » We Love DC -- Topsy.com

  2. @WFY Thanks for sharing the counterpoint! While our stances do differ, I see your point.

    You’re right by saying there is very little linking the Nats back to the Expos other than a spot in the NL East. That’s true.

    My personal opinion is that there’s so much more to gain from being a baseball fan by knowing the history of the game. But again, that’s just a personal opinion based on growing up five minutes from Wrigley Field with a baseball obsessed father. My vantage point is by no means the stance of other We Love DC Sports writers, that’s why I always love to hear whatever everyone else has to say. It makes for quite a lively and interesting conversation :-D

    Keep the insightful posts coming! I’ll continue to give them a read!

  3. Baseball is all about history. In this case, we have histories to consider, the city’s baseball heritage and the current franchise. While it’s very necessary and logical to acknowledge DC’s long baseball past with markers and monuments all over the ballpark, from the statues to the signage to the pennants over the scoreboard, I always found it sad that the Nats haven’t acknowledged the team itself, which has a rich history all its own. Players like Steve Rogers, Gary Carter, Rusty Staub, Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, Tim Wallach, Dennis Martinez, Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez, Vladimir Guerrero, and others had some great years and careers with the Expos, toiling away in the remote outpost that was Montreal. Nor do they remember the playoff run in 1981 or the bitter disappointment of the strike ending perhaps its greatest season ever in 1994. Maybe many of the fans don’t know or appreciate the contributions they made to the franchise they now root for, but it’s because the team hasn’t educated its fans about them.

  4. Teams that were created by a franchise shift often struggle with this. Some embraced the franchise history, some were lukewarm about it, some mostly ignored their past. In some cases, it took decades before it seemed they did the right thing.

    In the Nats case, I think the average fan is more interested in Washington baseball history, but you are right that the Nationals could do more reaching out to the Expos legacy. They’ve been very busy with other things so they can be forgiven for a lack of action, but going forward, I agree with you they need to try and address the situation.

    Good write up by the way, not an easy subject to talk about.

  5. Actually, there is a bit more linking the current Nationals to Washington’s baseball past.

    The original American League Washington Senators were actually called the Washington Nationals. That was the official name of the franchise until the late 1950’s when team officials changed it to the Washington Senators to correlate with the more popular nickname of the team used by the press and fans. That team actually appeared in three World Series and won one, but moved shortly after the name change to Minnesota, where it became somewhat more successful. Still, the original Nationals had players like Eddie Yost, Harmon Killebrew, Mickey Vernon and Joe Cronin, who are remembered fondly to this day, not to mention, the greatest pitcher of all time, in Walter Johnson.

    The second Washington American League team was always known as the Washington Senators and played in DC from 1961 through 1971. They were generally terrible in DC and then moved to Texas, becoming the Rangers, where they have been, almost certainly, the worst franchise in the history of American sports.

    Leave it to Bob Short, the owner, to find the one place in America, actually hotter than Washington D.C. to move his team to. That team was never known as the Nationals, and with the exception of Frank Howard and Ted Williams, has little to commend to memory.

  6. @Phil & @Jay thanks for the kind words and for reading, I appreciate you sharing your insight.

    @William — thanks SO much for pointing this information out. I’m sorry I missed it the first time around but what you’ve provided is quite informative and I’m glad to know it now!

  7. Let me add one thing.

    The second incarnation of the Washington AL team may have been known as the “Nats” informally, as a carryover from the first team. They were, however, never formally named the Washington Nationals Baseball Club, as the first team had been until the 1950s.

    Washington came very close to getting an NL team in 1973, which was seemingly why the area did not fight very hard against the move. The Baltimore Orioles in fact, did fight the transfer to Texas and voted against it, I believe, because they feared having a National League rival during the days when the National League was seen as superior.

    The irony is that, thirty plus years later, at the point where the Orioles had almost been accepted as DC’s team, with a new DC friendly ballpark, Montreal implodes, and DC gets its NL team.

  8. Just out of curiosity, how many of the people advocating the Expos history be embraced are from the D.C. area?

  9. There aren’t that many instances of a team moving to a market that already has an established history of that sport in its city. Usually, teams are off to try some place new.

    I grew up here and went to Senators games with my dad to see Howard, Epstein, Bosman, etc. That’s what’s dearest to me.

    But the franchise has a 36-year history in Montreal which cannot be ignored or lopped off and left behind.

  10. The best metaphor for describing the relationship between baseball and a city is marriage. Baseball and Montreal were married, until they got divorced and baseball took up with its next wife, Washington. But the kids from baseball’s marriage to Montreal got left up in Canada when that happened, and are still associated with the first wife, Montreal. If these were people and not institutions we were talking about, how much recognition does the first wife ever get in the house of the second wife? Zero. Zip. Nada.

    But before marrying Washington this time around, baseball had actually shacked up with Washington in an earlier life and had some progeny. Those progeny of the earlier baseball and Washington relationship still have a place of honor in the Washington household, as they should.

    That sucks for the poor abandoned Montreal kids, but that’s the way of the world. It will never change.

  11. As a Montreal Expos fan (and I think I speak for most) the team died in 2004.
    I wouldn’t be the least bit offended if the Nats never mentioned Montreal again. I certainly want nothing whatsoever to do with Washington Baseball (or MLB in general these days.)
    BTW Montreal WAS one of MLB’s most successful franchises (both on and off the field) for most of the 1970’s and, particularly, from 1979 to 1983.

  12. I was just in Montreal recently and made a pilgrimage to Olympic Stadium. Montreal is a great, great city, but Olympic Stadium was not a good place to watch baseball. Why a city with such great such great summer weather played indoors, I don’t really understand.

    I think the strike of 1994 basically killed the Expos, as they were having their best season ever, and the season and play-offs ended up being canceled. The fans never returned after that, and I don’t blame them.

    I don’t think anyone in Washington wanted to “steal” Montreal’s team, but the fact was that baseball, at the time, was intent upon contracting by two teams, and was running the Montreal franchise. It was pretty much, DC, or cease to exist, with respect to the Expos.

    That is why I think DC can honor the Expos without it being something bitter, as with the Ravens and Cleveland, or the Hornets and Charlotte in other major league sports, but most DC fans will always look back to the original Nationals.

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  14. I enjoyed watching baseball at Olympic Stadium. So did an average of 20 894 people per game from 1977-1997 (1998 was the first of the lame duck franchise years.) This despite only one meager playoff appearance, the threat of moving looming every year after 1990, 7 losing seasons, 2 .500 seasons and horrible spring weather in the pre-roof days.
    Montreal Expos 1969-2004.

  15. I am all in favor of Montreal getting another team. I just thought Olympic Stadium seemed awfully dark with the roof on. Baseball purports to be this international sport, and it is, but Canada deserves more than one franchise.

    To me, it seemed that the strike of 1994 killed the Expos. If there are other explanations, I would be interested in hearing them. I will always remember Rusty Staub, Tim Foli, Gary Carter, Pedro Martinez, Bill Lee, and Andre Dawson, among others.

    I will always remember the elegance of the new vocabulary, circuit for home run, jardin for outfield, receveur for catcher.

    The Alouettes are back and winning. Who knows what the future for baseball in Montreal, where Jackie Robinson got his start, might hold?

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  17. I saw a game in montreal in 2003. Had a blast. A big loud crowd for dollar hot dog day (35k I think) and wil cordero hit a walkoff homer. I’d take a spos game over a marlins game any day.

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