Blue Monday by Danny Gallagher
Next year (2019) will mark the 50th anniversary of the Montreal Expos’ inaugural season, which made them the very first Major League Baseball franchise to originate from outside the U.S.
During its 36 seasons, the Expos nurtured a number of excellent players that have ever donned its red, white and blue uniform (before they went to greener pastures – and salaries – with other MLB teams), had experienced a number of memorable moments and seasons; and in turn, had undergone its share of days of infamy.
There’s the Expos losing the chance to win the National League East Division titles in 1979 and 1980 to the Pirates and the Phillies (in which both teams went on to become World Series champions); how about the 1994 season, when the Expos has the best record in baseball and had a strong chance of getting to the World Series …only to have it dashed when the season was cut short by a players’ strike?; then there’s owner Claude Brochu’s “fire sales”, when many of the Expos’ top players were traded off en masse because the team couldn’t afford the rising salaries of their rising stars; and of course, that day in October 2004, when after it was decimated by thenowner Jeffrey Loria, the Expos pulled up stakes and moved to Washington, D.C., where they became the Washington Nationals.
But the one day of infamy that still resonates deeply with Expos players and fans alike was October 19, 1981. That was when, during Game 5 of the National League Championship Series (NLVCS) at the cavernous Olympic Stadium, that Rick Monday of the opposing L.A. Dodgers hit a home run off of pitcher Steve Rogers (who was on the mound as a relief pitcher for starter Ray Burris), thereby winning the game for the Dodgers, and painfully robbing the Expos of their one and only chance of competing in that year’s World Series against the American League pennant winners the New York Yankees.
That Expos day of infamy has been forever known as “Blue Monday”, and is still regarded as probably the best remembered “might-have-been”s in the team’s 36-year history. Journalist and author Danny Gallagher, who has penned four books on the Expos’ baseball legacy, adds to his Expos canon with a thorough look at that fateful day of infamy in October of 1981 with Blue Monday.
This thoroughly researched book (which also includes 73 interviews with many of the players and coaches from both teams who were a part of this dramatic NLCS) tells the complete story about “Blue Monday” the events that led up to it, that fateful pitch, and its wide-ranging aftermath.
According to Gallagher, the roots of “Blue Monday” can be traced back to 1977.That’s when veteran manager Dick Williams (who led the “Impossible Dream” Boston Red Sox to the 1967 World Series and the Oakland A’s to two consecutive world championships in 1972 and 1973) became the Expos’ manager after a disastrous losing season in 1976. Although his methods as manager were at times crude and controversial, Williams somehow nurtured the talents of players like Gary Carter and Steve Rogers, and thanks to the efforts of Jim Fanning and his team of scouts, introduce up and comers into the Expos fold like Andre Dawson, Tim Raines,Warren Cromartie and Jeff Reardon. The end result was winning seasons in 1979 and 1980, and that split season pennant run in 1981.
Besides offering detailed, blow-by-blow descriptions of some of the crucial games and series during the Expos’ drive to the World Series in 1981, Gallagher gives a balanced look at what happened during that NLCS from both benches, with an emphasis on some of the unknown stories (like Tim Raines’ father, who was promised by his employers an all expenses paid trip to the World Series if the Expos beat the Dodgers) and some of the unsung heroes (such as Jerry White, whose home run off Jerry Reuss won Game 3 for the Expos).
Gallagher also gives his due to the two players who faced off against each other that culminated in that fateful game 5 home run: Steve Rogers and Rick Monday.“The book is intended to give scope, depth, exposure, and added recognition to Rick Monday, not only for what he did that day, but outside that day,” he writes. “Equally, the book pays tribute to Steve Rogers, who coughed up the home run to Monday. He has graciously faced the music ever since.”
And Gallagher certainly succeeds in that respect. Thanks to his quest for scope and a sense of balance, we learn that Rick Monday was a player who was at the twilight of a 19year career in the Majors, was the very first pick of the very first MLB draft of amateur free agents in 1965, served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, and prefers to remembered for his feat during a game at Dodger Stadium in 1976, when he rescued an American flag from being burned by two spectators.
As for Steve Rogers, we find out about a pitcher who was drafted in 60th place, was never a favorite of Dick Williams (he was called a “fraud” by the manager), and was building up an impressive career as one of the best pitchers in the majors during his career with the Expos.And fortunately, he has found a sense of peace with himself following that Game 5 (he willingly wanted to pitch in relief during that game, not only because Jeff Reardon was sidelined with back problems, but as a sense of duty and loyalty to the team). However, he is no longer seen as a goat for delivering that home run pitch to Monday; many of Rogers’ teammates and fans see it as an example of bad judgement on Fanning’s part.
Blue Monday further cements Danny Gallagher’s reputation as an authority on the history of the Expos, and has effectively kept the team’s legacy alive through his books. Although Gallagher is one of the many who firmly believes that Major League Baseball will return to Montreal one day, we can thank him and his books for keeping alive those fond memories of the Montreal Expos, and how “Nos Amours” gave us so any good reasons to catch them in action at Jarry Park and the Olympic Stadium, no matter how many might-havebeens and days of infamy we were unsuspectingly served up.