This series of articles will celebrate (or laugh at) some of the worst professional sports teams of all time. I will focus on teams within my lifetime so expect the worst from the 1970s to present day.
1976 was a special year for the city of Montreal. The Summer Olympics came to the city, marking the first time the Olympiad would be hosted by a Canadian city. The city’s beloved hockey team, the Montreal Canadiens resumed their dominance of the National Hockey League, winning the first of their four consecutive Stanley Cups in 1976. Finally, Montreal was still considered Canada’s largest city in 1976, but was soon usurped by Toronto.
But if there was a blight to the largest French-speaking city outside of Paris, it was their baseball team. The Montreal Expos were horrid that season finishing with a record of 55-107, 46 games behind the first place Philadelphia Phillies.
What made this even worse was that there were high expectations for the Expos that season. Some were expecting the team to finish over .500 for the first time in franchise history. With new manager Karl Kuehl replacing Gene Mauch, the Expos were ready to take the next step. Instead they tripped and fell down hard.
The Expos had many problems in 1976. They were last in runs scored, (531) last in hits, (1,275) last in RBIs, (507) and last in ERA (3.99). In other words, they couldn’t score, couldn’t hit, couldn’t hit with runners in scoring position and couldn’t pitch. Other than that, everything was fine.
The offense wasn’t helped that the Jarry Park, the Expos home field at the time, was considered a pitcher friendly park. The left and right field foul poles were 340 feet from home plate while a home run to centre field had to travel at least 420 feet. So it is surprising that the Expos weren’t last in home runs, but they didn’t have one particular player that scared an opposing pitcher either.
Third baseman Larry Parrish led the team with a mere 11 home runs and 61 RBIs. Parrish did see his numbers suffer, thanks to the large dimensions of his home park.
Rookie centre fielder Ellis Valentine showed glimpses of his ability, hitting .279 with 7 homers and 39 RBIs, while showing off a tremendous throwing arm from centre field. Valentine was expected to be the future superstar for the Expos franchise, but battles with substance abuse, injuries and erratic behaviour derailed his career.
Gary Carter went through the dreaded sophomore jinx. After a solid rookie season in which he batted .270 with 17 home runs and 68 RBIs, “The Kid” hit a wall in 1976, batting .219 with only 6 homers and 38 RBIs. Carter battled various injuries as well, which hindered his development and hurt the team
In fact, injuries decimated the Expos outfield in 1976. (Carter played right field before switching to catcher in 1977.) Only one outfielder played over 100 games in 1976. Jerry White played in 114 games but his light-hitting ways were a detriment to the club. Valentine appeared in 94 games. Pepe Mangual was a part of 66 games. Del Unser saw action in 69 games. Bombo Rivera appeared in 68 games. Jim Dwyer was on the field 50 times. The Expos outfield could have been used as extras on M*A*S*H instead of a being on a baseball field.
Then there was the pitching. The Expos battery of arms were battered and bashed around in 1976. Steve Rogers led the team with a 3.21 ERA and 150 strikeouts but still lost 17 games. Woodie Fryman was the only starting pitcher that did not have a losing record, (13-13) yet he surrendered 14 home runs, the most of any Expo pitcher. The rest of the staff, Don Stanhouse, Don Carrithers, Dan Warthen and Clay Kirby will live on as some of the most forgettable players in baseball history.
Dale Murray did record 13 saves which led the club. He also led the club with 8 blown saves. That equals a 62% save percentage. A reliable closer he was not. Part of that problem was that Murray was overworked as well. He led the majors with 81 appearances for a pitcher. Added to that Murray appeared in 113.1 innings. Granted, closers appeared in more innings back in the day, usually needing to pitch 2-3 innings to record the save. However, an overuse of a pitcher does nothing but harm the team. Lack of depth in the bullpen plus poor starts by the rotation led to Murray being overused and worn out.
I mentioned earlier that Montreal hosted the 1976 Summer Olympics. While the Olympics provided great thrills (and even greater debt) to the city, it served as a distraction to the Expos. Surprisingly, the Expos did play home games during the Olympics but saw the crowds decline thanks to all the other events that surround the Olympics.
On July 18, the first full day of competition of the Olympics, the Expos hosted a doubleheader against the Houston Astros. Only 11,641 people bothered to show up at Jarry Park that Sunday afternoon. The Expos lost the first game 7-6 then were simply destroyed by the Astros 14-1.
With a team this bad, someone had to pay the price. That man was Kuehl who was fired after compiling a 43-85 record. Charlie Fox replaced Kuehl for the final month of the season and the Expos went 12-22 under Fox to close up the season. Fox was let go and replaced by Dick Williams in time for the 1977 season.
The Expos did bid farewell to Jarry Park following the 1976 season and moved to the space age Olympic Stadium in 1977. The likes of Andre Dawson and Warren Cromartie rose up from the minors and made major contributions. Veteran Tony Perez came over from Cincinnati and provided leadership. The Expos continued their rise all the way to their only playoff appearance in 1981, five years after posting the worst record in baseball. But the good times didn’t last. The Expos faltered following the 1981 season. The Olympic Stadium, once considered modern was crumbling after many botched renovations. The fans stopped showing up. Even a brief glimpse of glory in the 1994 season was wiped out thanks to the strike that wiped out the World Series that year. The Expos had the best record in baseball when greed triumphed over the sport. 2004 was the last year of baseball in Montreal. The franchise relocated to Washington, D.C, and were christened the Nationals in time for the 2005 season. Sacre bleu!
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