USA TODAY US Edition
Martinez still thinks of Nats as Expos
WASHINGTON – Pedro Martinez’s call to the Baseball Hall of Fame came in 2015, laying the groundwork for another, less renowned bit of enshrinement likely to come his way.
Along the facade at Nationals Park is a blue-lettered nod to the franchise’s fun and fickle and occasionally glorious past in Montreal, where former Expos Gary Carter, Andre Dawson and Tim Raines are honored for their meritorious contributions to another red, white and blue squad uprooted by MLB to Washington in 2005.
The Expos are defunct, and while baseball in Montreal isn’t dead, it certainly resides in purgatory, dependent on the whims of MLB’s expansion desires and a revenue-hungry owner in the Tampa Bay area willing to claim dual-citizenship for his franchise.
For Martinez, 48 and the only Cy Young Award winner in Expos’ history, the Nationals’ first World Series in franchise history instills him with pride and hope for the game’s future in Quebec.
“When I see ‘Nationals,’ I can’t help but think, ‘Expos,’ ” Martinez, now a MLB Network and TBS analyst, told USA TODAY Sports before Saturday’s Game 4. “And I know this is Washington and this will probably never go away, particularly with all the things they’re doing here, but at the same time, I think Montreal deserves another crack at seeing a World Series.
“And I know most of the Montreal fans are rooting for the Nationals to do it, because they feel that somehow, this is their franchise. I actually feel bad for Montreal because when I won it in ’04 with Boston my first thought was, ‘Where are the people in Montreal?’
“We were so close. We were going to be the franchise to beat for the next few years and it didn’t happen.”
Martinez speaks of the 1994 squad, his first in Montreal after a fateful trade from the Dodgers for second baseman Delino DeShields, and a year that ended in August with the Expos a staggering 74-40 and six games clear of the field in the National League East.
But the players’ strike that followed
“And I know most of the Montreal fans are rooting for the Nationals to do it, because they feel that somehow, this is their franchise.” Pedro Martinez Expos’ pitcher from 1994 to 1997
waylaid both the Expos’ title hopes and baseball’s future in the city, aided and abetted by neglect from ownership and the team’s status as an orphan under MLB’s rule.
Martinez’s 1997 trade to the Red Sox accelerated the malaise, and though he became a World Series champion and eventual Hall of Famer in Boston, the deal created significant trepidation.
“I was not aware of the entire history in Boston,” he says. “I did not expect to be exposed at that moment to so much history, so much adversity for the Boston franchise.
“And now, I don’t regret it one bit. But at first, I wanted to be in a contending team that was going to give a chance like I had with Montreal in the ’94 season.”
That chance never came for the Expos, who are rarely remembered in D.C. The Nationals had a celebration honoring the 50th anniversary of the Montreal franchise in July, but it was the first time the team had ever worn Expos throwback uniforms.
Martinez will be more than happy to return and add his name alongside Carter and Raines and Dawson. He doesn’t expect many more nods to Montreal with what remains in the franchise.
Yet he certainly believes it wouldn’t be bad for business.
“If they do it, they do it. If not, I have Montreal in my heart,” he says. “It’s not their duty to (promote Montreal), because the closest thing to a Montreal Expo is (original Nationals draftee) Ryan Zimmerman. But at the same time, I must say, there’s a connection. And we are so close to Montreal from here.
“And they should make a balance, of the fact that a lot of Montrealers feel they came to Washington and root for the home team. So they probably should be promoting a little bit more the fan base in Montreal and try to seduce them to come over and be part of this franchise.”