This isn’t a story about a team that won it all, it is a story of a supremely talented baseball team that never got a chance to take its place among the greatest teams of the 1990s.
In the field, the 1994 Expos had one of the most diverse and Uber talented rosters in the majors.
Though they weren’t the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, they held a solid collection of Black and brown talent.
Among the 16 position players on the roster, four were Black and four were Latino. Starters Marquis Grissom (CF) and Cliff Floyd (1B) were two of five Montreal starters to hit .280 or better.
Lenny Webster and Rondell White were solid reserve options for manager Felipe Alou.
Strike Three, MLB Out
On August 12, 1994, Major League players went on strike. The strike eventually led to the cancellation of nearly 1000 games, including the playoffs and World Series.
Prior to the shutdown of the season, it seemed that two teams were on a collision course to meet in the Fall Classic, the New York Yankees and the Montreal Expos. While the Yankees were rising from a nearly two-decade funk, the Expos had quietly put together one of the most exciting young cores in baseball.
By 1994, Montreal had strung together consecutive winning seasons; winning 87 games in 1992 and 94 in 1993.
The 94 wins were the second-most in franchise history but still weren’t enough to reach the postseason.
The Expos had generally been good, but never great over the first 24 years of the franchise’s history. Between 1979 and 1993, Montreal had finished .500 or better 12 times.
Then came 1994.
Montreal was stacked. The pitching staff led the NL in wins (74), winning percentage (.649), ERA (3.56), saves (46), and only allowed three more runs than the Atlanta Braves, who were in the middle of the Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz era.
On offense, they scored more than five runs per game with a well-rounded offensive attack.
The Expos’ .278 batting average made up for the fact that they finished ninth in the league in home runs with just 108.
Montreal tore up the basepaths with 137 steals and punished the gaps, racking up 246 doubles and 30 triples.
Then there was the defense.
The Expos were second only to the San Francisco Giants in defensive efficiency and finished second to the Braves in runs allowed per game at just under four. In other words, they had no holes. They could beat any team in any way you could think of.
Five Expos made the All-Star team, including pitcher Ken Hill, who led the National League with 16 wins.
— Expos Baseball fans (@MEBF_ExposFans) December 14, 2016
Hill was the ace of a staff that included a young Pedro Martinez, who had been traded to Montreal for Delino DeShields, Jeff Fassero, and John Wetteland. Ironically, Wetteland would join the Yankees the next season and win a World Series with them in 1996.
As the negotiations began to break down between the Players’ Union and the owners, Montreal kept playing like a team on a mission, winning 20 of their final 23 games before the strike. The Expos were on pace for 106 wins, which would have tied for the seventh-highest total in baseball history at the time, and the most ever in a 162-game season.
Then, just over a month later, any dreams the Expos had of claiming their first championship were gone when Bud Selig announced that the remainder of the season would not be played.
The expos got shafted in 1994. That team was great. Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez, Moises Alou, John Wettland, Marquis Grissom..sad.
— Mike Alexandre (@MikeAlexandre17) January 30, 2014
What should have been the beginning of a potential dynasty, with Montreal only having two players on the roster over 30, was really just the beginning of the end for the Expos.
Walker, Grissom, Hill, and Wetteland were all gone by the start of the next season. Floyd got hurt, and the team finished 66-78 in 1995.
The Expos had only three winning seasons in their final decade in Montreal, as crowds began to get smaller and their home field, Olympic Stadium began to fall apart.
In 2005, they made the move to Washington, D.C., and rebranded as the Nationals.
In 16 seasons, the Nats have made five trips to the postseason, including a World Series championship in 2019, but none of those teams were as talented or as dominant as the ‘94 Expos.
It was disappointing that the Nationals didn’t include some of those Montreal greats, including the players who helped build the franchise up from its expansion roots, like Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, and Warren Cromartie.
Many of the top players from that 1994 team did go on to find their own success elsewhere. Grissom won his championship with the Braves in 1995.
Floyd and Alou collected their own with the Marlins in ‘97. The Marlins also had a Black catcher named Charles Johnson who is the last #MLBbro backstops of note in MLB history.
Martinez became the ace of the Red Sox in 2004 when they broke the Curse of the Bambino.
The 1994 Montreal Expos were one of the greatest teams ever, and no one remembers them.
Maybe now they will.