1981 National League Championship Series
Mort could still visualize every detail of that terrible moment: The lanky, mustachioed Expos ace leaning toward home plate to read the catcher's signs, straightening up, cupping ball and glove under his chin. Mort could still feel the anticipation in his bones, the calm before the wind-up, an interlude just long enough for a prayer to be silently uttered. - B. Glen Rotchin: Halbman Steals Home, pp. 40-41.
The 1981 National League Championship Series opposed the Los Angeles Dodgers, managed by Tommy Lasorda, to the Montreal Expos, managed by Jim Fanning. The two teams had reached this stage not by winning their division, but by winning a first round of playoffs - the Division Series. In fact, neither team had finished with the best record in its division, this having been accomplished by the Cincinnati Reds in the National League West and by the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League East, but both of those teams were excluded from the play-offs for failing to finish first in either half of the season under the split season playoff format adopted after the 1981 strike. The Dodgers had finished on top in the first half, while the Expos had edged the Cardinals in the second half.
In the Eastern Division Series, the Expos had defeated the first-half champion Philadelphia Phillies by 3 games to 2, thanks to two superb pitching performances by Steve Rogers who outduelled future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton on both occasions, including the series' deciding game. The Dodgers' route through the Western Division Series against the Houston Astros was equally difficult, as they had to come back from a 2-0 deficit to overcome the Astros, thanks to a 4-0 shutout thrown by Jerry Reuss against another future Hall of Famer, Nolan Ryan, in the deciding game.
If the two teams' paths to the Championship Series had been similar, their history was not. The Dodgers had reached the World Series in 1974, 1977 and 1978, losing all three times, and were one of the most storied franchises in the National League, tracing their history back to the 19th Century and the Brooklyn Dodgers. In contrast, the Expos had only started play in 1969 and their first round encounter with the Phillies was the first playoff experience in the team's history. However, Montreal had hosted the Dodgers' top farm team, the Montreal Royals, from the late 1930s to the early 1960s, and Dodger Manager Lasorda had spent nine seasons with the Royals as a pitcher in the 1940's and 1950's.
The Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers were a team of glamorous stars, but a certain sense of failure hung around them, because the had been unable to secure a World Championship Ring. The team was defined by its remarkable infield, which had been first put together in 1974 and had been become the longest-running in Major League history, taking the team to three World Series in the process; it comprised 1B Steve Garvey, 2B Davey Lopes, 3B Ron Cey and SS Bill Russell. Other long-time figures were C Steve Yeager and LF Dusty Baker, and they were complemented by a few youngsters, most notably OF-3B-1B Pedro Guerrero, who enjoyed his first productive season in 1981, hitting .300 with 12 home runs, and CF Ken Landreaux, acquired before the season in a block-buster deal with the Minnesota Twins. This was a team whose offensive production was no longer up to the reputation of its members, however: the team's leading home run hitter had been Cey, with 13, and its leading run producer Garvey, with 64; even with one-third of the season lost to the strike, these were not impressive numbers.
In fact, there was a sense that the team was getting old fast and that these playoffs were their last kick at the can, as it were. Already, young players who would form the core of the next good Dodger teams, 2B Steve Sax, OF Mike Marshall and C Mike Scioscia, were on the roster, completing a bench dominated by seasoned veterans such as OF Rick Monday, PH Jay Johnstone and utilityman Derrel Thomas.
If the Dodgers' hitting was suspect, their pitching was not. The team was led by a trio of starting pitchers who had maintained an ERA below 2.50 during the regular season: Cy Young Award and Rookie of the Year Award Winner Fernando Valenzuela, who had started a wave of Fernandomania in Southern California and Mexico during his remarkable rookie season, and veterans Burt Hooton and Jerry Reuss, who were just as solid even if further removed from the limelight. Things were iffy beyond those three mainstays however, as fourth starter Bob Welch had been undependable, and swingmen Dave Goltz and Rick Sutcliffe had had wretched seasons. The bullpen was also not as air-tight as Lasorda would have liked; after 1980 Rookie of the Year Steve Howe, he had to rely on three promising but untested youngsters, Dave Stewart, Tom Niedenfuer and Alejandro Pena, and veteran free-agent bust Terry Forster.
The Montreal Expos
In contrast to the Dodgers, the Expos were a young team with very little post-season experience among its core members. However, this had not stopped them from defeating the defending World Champions Phillies in the first round, and their core of young players was the envy of the League. Most importantly, the two table-setters in their line-up, LF Tim Raines and 2B Rodney Scott, two of the best base stealers in baseball, were back in action after missing the first round. Behind them came CF Andre Dawson, who had become one of the league's most-feared hitters in 1981 although he had ended the season in a slump, C Gary Carter, already a super-star after finishing second in the MVP Ballot in 1980 and hitting two home runs in the 1981 All-Star Game, 1B Warren Cromartie, 3B Larry Parrish and SS Chris Speier, who, although a light hitter during the regular season, had had an outstanding series against the Phillies. In RF, a position which had been unsettled all year, Manager Fanning decided to go with veteran back-up Jerry White over a platoon of rookies Tim Wallach and Terry Francona. The bench included a collection of players who were either untested - Wallach, Francona, 2B Jerry Manuel, 3B Brad Mills and C Bobby Ramos - or over-the-hill (John Milner, Mike Phillips and Rowland Office). This weak bench would seriously reduce Fanning's margin of manoeuvre.
On the mound, the Expos were at a disadvantage since their main strength - having five quality starting pitchers - was of little value in a short series. Fanning decided to go with only three starters, ace Steve Rogers, second-year man Bill Gullickson, and veteran Ray Burris, leaving Scott Sanderson and Bill Lee without a role. On paper, the bullpen was more solid than the Dodgers', led by young closer Jeff Reardon, with help from veterans Woodie Fryman, Elias Sosa and Stan Bahnsen, but in practice Reardon was slowed by back pain, while the other three had been ineffective of late, another factor that would come back to haunt Fanning.
Game One - October 13
|October 13, 1981 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA (Attendance: 51,273)
Game One was played at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. The Expos sent Bill Gullickson, who had outpitched Dick Ruthven in Game Two of the NLDS, to the mound to face veteran Burt Hooton, who was playing in his seventh post-season series and had pitched an outstanding game against the Astros in the other NLDS. Both managers started their regular line-ups, with Lasorda using Mike Scioscia as his catcher over the veteran Steve Yeager, and Fanning inserting Jerry White in RF. The Dodgers got to Gullickson early, scoring two runs in the second inning on a single by Steve Garvey and a run-scoring double by Ron Cey; after an out and another single, Bill Russell laid down a perfect squeeze bunt to score Cey from third base. Both pitchers breezed through the next few innings, with the Expos stranding runners in scoring position in the 5th and 6th, while the Dodgers did the same in the 3rd, 5th and 7th innings. In the Expos' 7th, White hit a double after one out but was doubled off when Chris Speier lined out to right fielder Pedro Guerrero, ending the threat. Gullickson was removed for a pinch hitter in the 8th, and after Tim Raines reached first on a single, Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda replied by bringing in Bob Welch to replace Hooton, and he got the next two batters out to end the inning. Jeff Reardon was brought in to start the 8th, but after two quick outs, he allowed a single to Cey followed by back-to-back home runs by Guerrero and Scioscia to put the game away. The Expos tried to mount a comeback in the 9th, when Gary Carter and Larry Parrish opened the frame with consecutive doubles. Lasorda brought in his closer Steve Howe, and Warren Cromartie greeted him with a single to put runners at the corners with nobody out. Howe then proceeded to force White to pop up and Speier to ground into a game-ending double play, giving the Dodgers a one game to none lead.
Game Two - October 14
|October 14, 1981 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA (Attendance: 53,463)
Playing in front of his admirers, rookie Fernando Valenzuela faced veteran Ray Burris in the second game of the Series. Valenzuela had been the toast of baseball throughout the season, ending the year with a 13-7 record and a 2.48 ERA after opening the year with five complete-game shutouts in his first seven starts. For his part, Burris had been a solid pitcher on very bad Cubs and Mets teams over his career and had taken full advantage of his signing by a winning team, going 6-2, 3.01, for the Expos over the second-half, even if he had lost his only previous post-season start after his bullpen had let him down in Game Three the NLDS. On this day though, it was the unheralded Burris who would shine, shutting out the Dodgers on five hits, allowing only two Dodgers to reach second base all game (one of them on an error by Speier). The line-ups were unchanged, except for Expo manager Jim Fanning moving left-handed hitting 1B Cromartie down to seventh in the line-up against the Dodgers' left-hander. The Expos got to Valenzuela after one out in the second inning, when Parrish and White hit consecutive singles followed by a run-scoring double by Warren Cromartie and a two-out single by Raines with Cromartie being thrown out at home trying to score a third run. The Expos added an insurance run in the 6th on consecutive singles by Andre Dawson and Carter, the second of which was misplayed by LF Dusty Baker, which allowed Dawson to score. The Dodgers mounted their only threat in the 9th when Garvey singled after one out, and Speier let Cey's grounder get by him to put two runners on. The next batter, Guerrero, hit a line drive straight at Speier, who redeemed himself by catching Garvey off the bag to end the game and even the series.
Game Three - October 16
|October 16, 1981 at Stade Olympique in Montreal, QC (Attendance: 54,372)
The Series moved to Canada after a day's rest, with the two teams facing off in Stade Olympique. Both starting pitchers, Jerry Reuss for the Dodgers and Steve Rogers for the Expos, were coming off series-clinching shutouts in their respective NLDS. Both teams kept the same line-ups as in Game Two, with the Dodgers opening the scoring in the 4th on singles by Baker and Garvey and a ground out by Cey. The Expos struck back after two outs in the bottom of the 6th: Dawson singled, Carter walked, then Parrish singled to tie the score and White followed with the crippling blow, a home run to left field that put Montreal ahead 4 to 1 and made Fanning look like a genius for putting him in his starting line-up. In the 9th, the Dodgers put their first two batters on base with singles but Guerrero followed with a double-play grounder. Rogers then struck out Scioscia to earn his third win of the playoffs, giving the Expos a two-game to one lead in the series.
Game Four - October 17
|October 17, 1981 at Stade Olympique in Montreal, QC (Attendance: 54,499)
The two Game One starters, Bill Gullickson and Burt Hooton, returned to face each other in Game Four. Tommy Lasorda tweaked his line-up, which had only scored a single run over the previous two games, by benching CF Ken Landreaux, moving Guerrero from RF to CF and inserting veteran Rick Monday in RF; in addition, SS Russell moved from the eighth to the second spot in the line-up. These were moves that could really hurt the team's defense, but Landreaux's bat had been inert since the beginning of the playoffs, prompting Lasorda to try to shake things up. The Dodgers absolutely had to win the next two games against the Expos or face a bitter return to California, and he was willing to gamble with the defensive side of the ledger in the hope of putting a few additional runs on the board. For the Expos, Fanning kept the line-up he had used in winning the previous two games, even though logic would have dictated that he move Cromartie back up to 5th in the line-up with a right-hander on the mound.
The Dodgers opened the scoring in the 3rd, scoring an unearned run when Russell reached on an error by Parrish and was driven in by Baker's double. The Expos tied the score in the bottom of the 4th with an unearned run of their own. Carter was the beneficiary of an error by Cey; with two outs, White walked and Cromartie singled, scoring Carter, with both runners advancing an extra base on the throw home. After Speier was walked intentionally to load the bases, Hooton struck out Gullickson to end the inning without further damage. The score remained tied at 1 until the 8th when Baker singled with one out and Garvey followed with a two-run home run. The Expos placed two runners on in the bottom of the inning, but Lasorda brought in Welch who retired the next two batters to snuff the threat. The Dodgers then got to the soft underbelly of the Expos' bullpen in the 9th, scoring four runs while feasting off relievers Woodie Fryman, Elias Sosa and Bill Lee, with the biggest blow a two-run single by Baker off Fryman. The Series would go to a deciding game.
Game Five - October 19
|October 19, 1981 at Stade Olympique in Montreal, QC (Attendance: 36,491)
Game Five was originally scheduled to be played on Sunday, October 18, but a steady cold, drizzling rain fell throughout that day, preventing play. Years later, Expos broadcaster Rodger Brulotte, who was the team's travelling secretary that year, revealed that he had been told by Fanning that he was concerned about pitching Ray Burris with only three days' rest against the rubber-armed Fernando Valenzuela. Fanning knew that his bullpen was shaky and wanted to get the most innings out of his starters, and therefore instructed Brulotte not to show excessive zeal in getting the game started. Brulotte explained that he called the airport weather office around 6:30 - five hours after the game should have started - and was told that the rain was expected to clear within an hour; however, Brulotte reported back to the umpiring crew that there was no prospect of the rain letting up, and the game was postponed until the Monday afternoon.
There had been a capacity crowd of over 50,000 people milling around Stade Olympique on the Sunday, waiting for the game to begin, but there were only 36,491 spectators on the cold Monday afternoon to watch what would turn out to be the most important game in the history of the Montreal Expos. Burris and Valenzuela were the two starters, with both teams using the same line-up as in Game Four. The Expos gave Burris an early run when Raines led off the first inning with a double. Rodney Scott laid down a sacrifice bunt, but the Dodgers tried unsuccessfully to get the speedy Raines at third base. Andre Dawson had a chance to break the Dodgers' backs but instead grounded into a double play, and the Expos had to content themselves with a single run. Monday led off the 5th inning with a single for the Dodgers, then Guerrero moved him to third with another single. Scioscia lined out to second base for the first out, but Burris threw a wild pitch while facing Valenzuela, moving Guerrero to second, even if Monday was unable to score. What should then have been an inning-ending double-play grounder by Valenzuela ended up driving in Monday to tie the score. Things remained tied at one until the 8th when Fanning made his first fateful decision: with one out and nobody on, he lifted Burris, who had shown no particular sign of fatigue, for pinch-hitter Tim Wallach, who hit a weak grounder back to the pitcher. The Expos failed to score and now had to bring in a relief pitcher.
There were two pitchers warming up for the Expos in the bullpen, Jeff Reardon and Steve Rogers. Reardon said that he was certain he would come in, but instead Fanning brought in his ace, Steve Rogers. This turned out to be the most controversial managerial decision in Expo history, and one of the most discussed in the history of Major League Baseball. Reardon had been hit hard in Game One, had lost Game Four of the NLDS by giving up a pinch hit home run to George Vukovich in extra innings, and his back was bothering him. Rogers had pitched in relief just two times in his nine-year career. Fanning has been blamed relentlessly for his choice of Rogers over Reardon, his critics forgetting that Rogers had earned saves in both of his lifetime relief appearances, had pitched in relief in two All-Star Games with similar success, and had been absolutely dominating over the previous three weeks. In any case, what happened next is very well known: after two routine outs, Rick Monday lifted a long fly ball to center field which Dawson thought he could catch easily, but the ball kept on carrying until it landed just beyond the fence. The Expos then put two runners on via bases on balls with two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning. For the third time in the Series, Bob Welch was called in to intervene at a critical juncture, and this time he forced Game Three hero Jerry White to hit a ground ball to Davey Lopes at second on the first pitch he threw and the game was over.
Conclusion: Blue Monday
The Los Angeles Dodgers were off to their fourth World Series in eight years, where they would face the New York Yankees. In the Dodgers' long and glorious team history, the series against the Expos is just a footnote, capped by a dramatic game-winning home run, on the way to a long-desired World Series victory ten days later. Pitcher Burt Hooton, who had won picked up two of the Dodgers' three victories by completely shutting down the Expos offense, was voted the Series' MVP. For the Montreal Expos, and especially for their fans, the game that became known as Blue Monday has become something of an obsession, being continually re-played in people's minds and striking a cultural cord similar to that of the Kennedy Assassination in the USA. Every baseball fan in the province of Quebec who was alive in 1981 knows where he was on Blue Monday and how he heard about the result (a large number of fans were either at school or at work and couldn't follow the game live). Songs and poems have been written about the game; memoirs of lost innocence centered around it have become a literary sub-genre, in both English and French.
What is most interesting about this shared trauma is that it didn't ingrain itself on the collective psyche immediately. After all, the Expos had perhaps lost that series in dramatic fashion, but they were still regarded by everyone as one of the best teams in baseball. Their successful pennant race in the second half of 1981 and their impressive victory of the Philadelphia Phillies in the first round of the playoffs were still fresh in fans' memories. Surely there would be plenty of occasions for the team to redeem itself. Well, except there weren't. The Expos never played another post-season game after that heart-breaking Monday. The next few editions of the team would become synonymous with unfulfilled potential. As the chances of seeing another World Series come to Montreal became more remote, the pain of that missed opportunity grew sharper. The term Blue Monday had been used in the immediate aftermath of the game, notably by sportswriter Thomas Boswell; there had been other monickers given to the game, such as "Monday on a Monday". But when previously little-known British rock band New Order had one of the biggest hit singles of the 1980s with a song called Blue Monday in 1983, there was no going back. The game would forever be known as Blue Monday and would remain the most heart-breaking moment in the team's history, and the day when the love affair between Montreal and its team started slowly to unravel.
Mort remembered how after Monday, October 19, 1981, "Blue Monday," as it would be forever known in Montreal, the Sunday morning discussions around the Snowdon Deli table would never be the same. - B. Glen Rotchin: Halbman Steals Home, p. 41.
- Thomas Boswell: "Indecent Exposure", in Why Time Begins on Opening Day, Penguin Books, New York, NY, 1984, pp. 275-286.
- William Brown: "Blue Monday", in Marc Robitaille, ed.: Une vue du champ gauche, Les 400 Coups, Montréal, QC, 2003, pp. 20-27.
- Daniel Caza: "Le championnat (1981)", in Les Expos du Parc Jarry au Stade Olympique, Les Éditions de l'Homme, Montréal, QC, 1996, pp. 186-194.
- Danny Gallagher: "Jim Fanning, le bon soldat", in De Jackie Robinson à Felipe Alou: souvenirs de Montréal, de baseball et des Expos, les Éditions Mille-Îles, Laval, QC, 1998, pp. 155-160.
- Danny Gallagher: "Les bons et mauvais souvenirs de Jeff Reardon", in De Jackie Robinson à Felipe Alou: souvenirs de Montréal, de baseball et des Expos, les Éditions Mille-Îles, Laval, QC, 1998, pp. 123-126.
- Danny Gallagher: "Le jour le plus sombre", in De Jackie Robinson à Felipe Alou: souvenirs de Montréal, de baseball et des Expos, les Éditions Mille-Îles, Laval, QC, 1998, pp. 173-175.
- Danny Gallagher: "Blue Monday sank the Expos", in Remembering the Montreal Expos, Scoop Press, Toronto, ON, 2005, pp. 67-73.
- Danny Gallagher: Blue Monday: The Expos, the Dodgers, and the Home Run That Changed Everything, Dundurn Press, Toronto, ON, 2018. ISBN 978-1-45974-187-4
- Norm King: "Rogers Wins Game 3 of NLCS. October 16, 1981: Montreal Expos 4, Los Angeles Dodgers 1 At Olympic Stadium", in Norm King, ed.: Au jeu/Play Ball: The 50 Greatest Games in the History of the Montreal Expos, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2016, pp. 69-71. ISBN 978-1-943816-15-6
- Rick Monday and Ken Gurnick: Rick Monday's Tales from the Dodger Dugout, Sports Publishing LLC, Champaign, IL, 2006.
- Brodie Snyder: The Year the Expos Finally Won Something, Checkmark, Toronto, ON, 1981.
- Jason Turbow: They Bled Blue: Fernandomania, Strike-Season Mayhem, and the Weirdest Championship Baseball Had Ever Seen: The 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York NY, 2019. ISBN 978-1328715531
|Major League Baseball National League Championship Series