1985 Montréal Expos
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Managed by Buck Rodgers
Awards and Honors
- All-Stars: Tim Raines, Jeff Reardon and Tim Wallach
- Player of the Year: Tim Raines
- Best Rookie: Tim Burke
- NL Rolaids Relief Award: Jeff Reardon
- NL Gold Glove: Andre Dawson (OF) and Tim Wallach (3B)
- NL Silver Slugger Award: Hubie Brooks (SS) and Tim Wallach (3B)
- Players of the Month:
- Minor League Player of the Year: Bill Moore, Jacksonville (AA)
- Minor League Pitcher of the Year: Floyd Youmans, Jacksonville (AA) and Indianapolis (AAA)
The 1985 Montreal Expos were starting over. With the team sputtering to a sub-.500 record in 1984, the top brass cleaned house, firing manager Bill Virdon and general manager John McHale with a month left in the season. Young Murray Cook, fresh from a short but tumultuous stance as the general manager of the New York Yankees, was hired to replace McHale on September 5th and given a mandate to make the team competitive again, but within a stringent budget.
Cook's first move was to find a new manager - Jim Fanning had taken the job on an interim basis after Virdon's firing - and he did not have to look far. Buck Rodgers, who had guided the Milwaukee Brewers to the post-season in 1981, had just been named the Minor League Manager of the Year after guiding Montreal's AAA farm team, the Indianapolis Indians, to the American Association title. Rodgers was given the job on November 14th, and would prove to be an excellent choice, keeping the Expos competitive over the next six seasons in spite of payroll restraints. Rodgers in turn chose two coaches who had worked alongside him in the Expos minor league system: Rick Renick, who had managed the team's AA franchise, the Jacksonville Expos of the Southern League, and Larry Bearnarth, the team's minor league pitching coordinator. He also brought in Ron Hansen who had served under him as a coach in Milwaukee. Holdovers Joe Kerrigan and Russ Nixon completed the staff.
With the management team now in place, Cook went to work improving the team. The 1984 edition had been marred by huge holes in its line-up, particularly at shortstop, at second base and in left field. Cook took one of the most momentous decisions in team history to address this when he decided to trade the team's most popular player, future Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter for a package of young players who could step in to strengthen the team now and for future years. The trade was not motivated by money: Carter was signed to a long-term contract, which while not cheap given his status as one of baseball's elite players, was not excessive either. He was however the team's most valuable trading chip and Cook pulled the trigger on December 10th, sending Carter to the New York Mets for four younger players: Hubie Brooks, Mike Fitzgerald, Herm Winningham and Floyd Youmans. Brooks had been a bit of a disappointment as the Mets' third baseman, hitting for decent averages but with little power or run production, and the Expos already had one of the game's best young third basemen in Tim Wallach; what made Brooks appealing was that over the last weeks of the 1984 season, he had played shortstop, his former position at Arizona State University, and shown he could handle the job. Fitzgerald had had a good but unspectacular rookie season as the Mets' regular catcher and was a good handler of a pitching staff. Winningham had been in the Expos' sights for years, having been previously drafted by the team in the 1980 amateur draft; he was considered a top-notch prospect after hitting .281 in AAA and .407 in a September call-up, able to hit for average with tremendous speed and excellent defense in the outfield. Finally, pitcher Floyd Youmans was considered the second-coming of Dwight Gooden, a fire-throwing youngster from Florida who was coming off two outstanding seasons in the Mets' farm system. If you must trade a Hall of Famer in his prime, then this was not a bad return.
Murray Cook had pulled another major off-season deal three days earlier, sending infielder Bryan Little and relief pitcher Bob James to the Chicago White Sox for Vance Law, the Sox's regular third baseman the previous two years, and relief pitcher Bert Roberge. Law, like Brooks, would have to move to fit into the Expos' line-up, going to second base. After the two trades, commentators were making a few jokes about the Expos fielding an infield composed entirely of third basemen (first baseman Dan Driessen had also started his career at 3B, but had been playing his current position for a decade), while fans lamented the departure of the beloved Carter, a reminder of the equally traumatic trade of local favorite Rusty Staub to the Mets in spring training in 1972.
When the season opened on April 8th against the Cincinnati Reds at Riverfront Stadium (Boxscore), only two players remained at the same position in the line-up from 1984's opener: Andre Dawson in right field and Tim Wallach at third base. Tim Raines moved back to left field to allow Winningham to patrol center field, while the newly-acquired Brooks, Law and Fitzgerald took their positions at SS, 2B and C respectively. Driessen, who had been acquired midway through 1984, played first base, while veteran Steve Rogers, who had started 1984 on the disabled list, was back on the mound for a ninth opening day assignment. Rogers was only a shadow of his former self, however, having lost miles off his fastball to his previous season's injury and struggling with his control. Charlie Lea, who had been the opening day starter and the team's best pitcher the previous season, was now himself on the disabled list, victim of a muscle tear in his shoulder that would require surgery in May, and keep him out of Major League Baseball until September of 1987. Rogers stayed in the rotation for the season's first five weeks, giving the team a 2-4 record in 7 starts, with a 5.68 ERA. In early May, Cook had worked out a tentative deal with the Houston Astros which would have sent Rogers there in return for Mike Scott, who was about to experience his break-out year. Rogers, as a 10-year veteran with five consecutive years with the same team, vetoed the trade however. The Expos released him on May 20th, ending a career in which he had become the team's all-time leader in all important pitching categories.
Even with Rogers not contributing, the Expos came out of the gate very well. They went 12-8 for April and stayed within three games or less of first place over the next few weeks, eventually claiming first place on June 15th after a 3-2 win over the Mets gave them a 36-25 record. They would remain in first place until the end of the month, before falling into third place behind the Mets and St. Louis Cardinals at the All-Star break. They remained there for the entire second half, even though they gradually lost ground to the two teams ahead of them. They ended the season with a record of 84-77, well ahead of what anyone would have predicted for a rebuilding team.
The greatest contributor to the team's success was left fielder Tim Raines. He had one of his very best seasons as the team's lead-off hitter, finishing third in the National League batting title race with a .320 average along with 81 walks, leading him to score 115 runs while stealing 70 bases for a fifth consecutive season. He also added 30 doubles, 13 triples and 11 home runs to his hitting, showing the increasing power that would eventually push Rodgers to move him to a run-producing spot of the line-up two seasons later. Andre Dawson experienced a bit of a rebirth after a dreadful 1984, hitting .255 but driving in 91 runs with 23 home runs. Three of those came in one memorable game played on September 24th against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field (Boxscore), when he went deep twice in the 5th inning off Ray Fontenot and Jon Perlman, driving in 8 runs en route to an epic 17-15 victory over the Cubs. Dawson's seasonal numbers were helped by a strong month of September, when he hit 9 home runs and drove in 23 runs, but he had at least proved that he could still be a productive hitter. Shortstop Hubie Brooks took full advantage of having Tim Raines on base ahead of him so many times, driving in an even 100 runs thanks to 24 September RBIs, four of which came on a pinch-hit grand slam off the Pittsburgh Pirates' Lee Tunnell on September 19th. Tim Wallach also had an outstanding season, hitting .260 with 36 doubles, 22 home runs and 81 RBIs and earning his first Gold Glove at third base, joining Dawson in that category. Vance Law was also solid, hitting .266 with 75 runs scored, while the team received unexpected production from outfielder Mitch Webster. A minor league veteran blocked by the Toronto Blue Jays' outstanding corps of outfielders, he was picked up for next to nothing and gave the Expos a .274 average with 11 home runs and 15 stolen bases in 212 at-bats.
On the disappointing side of the ledger, catcher Fitzgerald had difficulty filling Gary Carter's huge shoes. His handling of pitchers was fine, but his throwing arm would always be well below average, and that season he only hit .207 with little power. The Expos gave some playing time to four other catchers that year - veterans Sal Butera, Steve Nicosia, Mike O'Berry and Ned Yost - but none of them hit either, Butera topping the group with an even .200 batting average. At first base, Dan Driessen showed definite signs of aging, seeing his power fall off to a mere 6 home runs and 25 RBI in 312 at bats before he was traded on August 1st. Rookie Andres Galarraga tried to take over for him, but hit only .187 in 24 games, so the position fell by default to Terry Francona, who hit .267 but with no power and a poor on-base percentage. Winningham was also a disappointment, fielding well but hitting only .237 with 14 extra-base hits in 312 at-bats and losing increasing playing time to Webster as the season advanced.
The Expos' pitching was a concern coming out of spring training, given Charlie Lea's unavailability and Steve Rogers' poor form. However, Buck Rodgers, a former catcher, assisted by two extremely able pitching coaches in Larry Bearnarth and Joe Kerrigan, managed to shape a very solid staff. Bill Gullickson was the staff leader and, in spite of spending three weeks on the disabled list while the Expos were atop the NL East in late June, posted a record of 14-12, 3.52 in 29 starts. As the season went along, he was pushed aside as staff ace by Bryn Smith, who posted an outstanding 18-5 record with a 2.91 ERA and a team-leading 127 strikeouts in 32 games. Veteran David Palmer, who had missed the entire 1981 and 1983 seasons to arm injuries and was used very carefully in 1984, was left to take his regular turn in the starting rotation and responded with a 7-10 record despite a solid 3.71 ERA in 23 starts before breaking down once again in early August. That proved to be the last straw between Palmer and the Expos, and it allowed Floyd Youmans, who had been pitching outstandingly in the minor leagues, to take his place in the starting rotation. Youmans went 4-3 with a 2.45 ERA in 14 games, earning himself a spot in the next season's rotation in the process. The fourth starter was Joe Hesketh, who had been outstanding in a month-and-a-half spent in Montreal in 1984. He continued to excel, posting a great ERA of 2.49 in 155 innings, along with a 10-5 record; unfortunately his season came to an early end on August 23rd, when he broke his left leg sliding into Los Angeles Dodgers' catcher Mike Scioscia. The fifth starter was left-hander Dan Schatzeder, who almost hit more home runs (2) than he won games (3) in a season also marred by two stints on the disabled list. The best pitching performance of the year, however, came from a very unlikely quarter. On June 5th (Boxscore), Mickey Mahler, making his first start since 1979, threw a superb one-hit shutout of the San Francisco Giants for his only win of the season. As for the worst performance, there is little competition: when Dan Driessen was traded to the Giants on August 1st, the Expos received in return Bill Laskey, who was having a rough season - he was 5-11, 3.55 at the time - but who had been a solid and durable starter the previous three years. He imploded completely upon reaching Montreal, however, posting an 0-5 record over 7 starts, with an ungodly 9.44 ERA, and each start seemingly worse than the last; he ended the season in the deepest reaches of the bullpen.
That bullpen was otherwise quite solid. Jeff Reardon had an excellent season as the team's closer, earning a trip to the All-Star Game thanks to a team-record 41 saves with a 3.18 ERA. He was ably seconded by rookie Tim Burke, who had been one of Rodgers' starters at Indianapolis in 1984 and a non-roster invitee to spring training. He made the team as the staff's tenth man, but quickly worked his way up to the position of Reardon's principal set-up man, appearing in 78 games, a NL rookie record, pitching 120 innings with a 2.39 ERA, 87 strikeouts a 9-4 record and 8 saves. Gary Lucas was the bullpen's top left-hander, with a 6-2 record and a 3.19 ERA in 68 innings, while Bert Roberge contributed a 3.44 ERA over the same number of innings. Rookie Randy St. Claire, who took advantage of all the injuries to earn a call-up to the big leagues, posted a 3.93 ERA in 69 innings, while Jack O'Connor had a 2.05 ERA in 22 relief innings marred by one disastrous appearance as an emergency starter in Pittsburgh on June 26th (Boxscore), when he gave up a team-record 9 runs - 8 of them earned - in less than two innings in an 11-2 loss. That one performance sunk his year's ERA to 4.94 and obscured his excellent work out of the bullpen. Rodgers called on catcher Sal Butera to pitch the 8th inning of that game, the second time he had used a mystery pitcher that year (utility-man Razor Shines had pitched one inning on April 30th); he would become the most frequent user of that peculiar strategy over the following seasons. Still, it was an outstanding group pitching effort, that kept the Expos in just about every game they played that season.
For a rebuilding year, 1985 went so well that by the end of April, everyone had forgotten that the Expos were not supposed to be competitive. Obviously, the Expos could not keep pace with the Mets and Cardinals, who would dominate the National League East until 1988, and ended the year 16 1/2 games back of the pennant-winning Cardinals, but the season was a success. The team was competitive again, the pitching had been outstanding, Buck Rodgers had proven to be an inspired choice as manager and an excellent public relations man, and there was once again young talent coming in the pipe-line, with Floyd Youmans and Andres Galarraga the two most prominent names. Murray Cook could say: "Mission accomplished!".
- Tom Heinlein: "Dawson Hits Three Home Runs; September 24, 1985: Montreal Expos 17, Chicago Cubs 15 At Wrigley Field", in Norm King, ed.: Au jeu/Play Ball: The 50 Greatest Games in the History of the Montreal Expos, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2016, pp. 76-78. ISBN 978-1-943816-15-6