Thursday, 25 October 2018


Through a Sepia Lens, Darkly

No sport on Earth can compete with baseball when it comes to perpetuating its own mythology and disseminating its lengthy history. Ballparks may be bandboxes or cathedrals, sometimes both. The game has seduced writers, musicians, painters and filmmakers. I’m aware that my perception of baseball is the result of these various methods of subliminal indoctrination. Every baseball photograph I’ve ever seen, whether in a newspaper, magazine or book cried out to be rendered as a daguerreotype; I crave the intoxicating mercury vapour whiff of a pastoral nostalgia that I’ve been led to believe existed before I was born.

The modern game has oozed into a tedious stasis. Nine innings can stretch 54 outs into four hours. Defense is strikeouts; offense is home runs. Baseball’s much more fun to watch when the ball’s live, in the field of play. Still, this October’s World Series has an old-timey quality about it whatever the twenty-first century analytics. The competing teams are virtual strangers with long histories but not with one another. The Red Sox and the Dodgers have not faced off in inter-league play since 2004. The last time they met in the World Series was 1916. Babe Ruth was a Red Sox pitcher.

When I was a kid growing up in Montreal a couple of generations of our family gathered annually for summer holidays by the ocean in Maine. New England was Red Sox turf. An old family friend who now lives in Connecticut says his state’s unofficial demarcation between Red Sox and Yankee fans is Interstate 91 which stretches between Hartford and New Haven. Since the Expos did not begin play in my hometown until 1969, I cheered for the Red Sox who lost the 1967 World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals who would eventually provide the opposition for the Expos’ inaugural home opener.

The Brooklyn Base Ball Club variously known as the Robins, Superbas and Bridegrooms in its early days did not adopt the Dodger nickname officially until after the Great Depression had gripped the globe (the Red Sox began life in 1901 as the Americans but have gone by their current moniker since 1908). Brooklyn had a connection to a Montreal I was born too late to know, their AAA International League affiliate played up north as the Royals. That all changed when the major league club decamped for Los Angeles before the 1958 season. Like most baseball fans, I was entranced by Roger Kahn’s elegiac ‘The Boys of Summer’ which chronicles the Dodgers’ final years in their New York City borough. I own a Brooklyn cap.

Strings and threads remained. Duke Snider, one of the best there ever was and a Flatbush legend, drawled laconic and droll insight into the grand old game from the Expos’ broadcast booth. I once helped him find the raisins in a grocery store and took the opportunity to ask him about ‘The Boys of Summer.’ Difficult to discern what annoyed him more, my question or the book’s contents. By this time the Los Angeles Dodgers had long been regular visitors to Montreal.

The Montreal Expos were always cursed by short pockets stuffed with lint and maybe a few singles of Canadian currency. One of those small market teams that always stood to benefit from owners playing hardball with players. The cure was temporary, an ineffectual salve which prolonged the agony of a fatal disease. The payrolls of the 2018 editions of the Red Sox and Dodgers are beyond obscenity by millions.

The 1981 major league season was interrupted by labour strife. The solution was to steal a ploy from the minor leagues, a split season; two sort of equal halves to keep disgruntled fans engaged. The Expos qualified for the jury-rigged post-season bracket. The hockey Canadiens were in decline, here was an opportunity for the city’s baseball team to establish itself as an equal in Montreal’s sporting scene; winning is the only reliable sports marketing strategy. The Expos’ World Series aspirations were crushed by the Dodgers on October 19, ‘Blue Monday.’

In 1994 the Expos sported the best record in baseball when play was cancelled. There was no World Series. Why speculate about what might or might not have been? So many leagues, so many teams, so many heartaches and frustrations because ultimately only one can win. My team no longer plays in Montreal. I had a ‘Blue Monday’ ticket but I gave it to a good friend because I was scheduled to bag groceries at the A&P following a morning university classes. I’ve made an incalculable number of poor decisions through the course of my life and that one ranks right up there.

I’m typing this post with a Red Sox hat on my head and this is weird because I always cheer for the National League, where the Expos played, in the World Series: Boston’s a bit against the grain as I’m not reaching for those idyllic days in Maine because I’m 58 now, not eight. I believe the American League’s introduction of the designated hitter in 1973 was the first misguided step toward the boring games fans must endure these days. Specialization got really specialized. But I cannot bring myself to hope for the Dodgers because I believe they were the original Expo killers.

Game three is tomorrow night. Red Sox versus Dodgers, 102 years in the making and it matters to me on some level. Don’t know why.

Copies of my new novel The Garage Sailor are still available and ready to ship. Get aboard at

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