“So you need to put your golf balls in the oven and heat ‘em up,” Charlie explained to me back in
I’m gonna keep this short, because we have an awful lot to cover. It’s the mark of a great book that’s packed with “Come For/Stay Fors,” and Jonah Keri’s “Up, Up & Away” doesn't let us down. It’s not simply one of those baseball books that’s 225 pages of easily accessible game stats you could gather from a half-hearted dive into Baseball-Reference.com. You come for the inside scoop on the team’s infancy; you stay for a quick visit to Montreal's majestic world’s fair, Expo ’67, considered to be one of the most successful of all-time.
You come to learn more about the city’s love affair with Rusty Staub; you stay for the history lesson in radical Canadian politics found on page 98. You come for Keri’s examination of late 70’s Expos ballclubs who barely missed grasping the brass ring of greatness; you stay for zany Bill Lee stories. You come for his insightful look at the early years of Pedro Martinez; stay for Keri’s emotional diatribe against Reggie Sanders.
Faster than you can say Coco Laboy, you’re through 385 pages and swiftly surfing YouTube on the side, combining the two like some old-school book and record experience.
That’s the wonderful element to Keri’s work here. You find a passage, a chapter containing a compelling, game-related narrative, then consult your second-screen, track down the clip and you’re like, “Yup, Jonah nailed it.” I’ve posted a couple here, but I’ll let you discover the most touching moments. They’re all on Youtube, trust me.
I’m a little predisposed to wanting to like the book – Keri’s 2013 Grand Theft Baseball piece for Grantland is one of the finest multi-media, longform analysis in the past few years. I’m also predisposed to storytelling with its heart on the keyboard. Whether it’s recounting his affection for colorful,quirky figures such as the late pitcher Pascual Perez or his memory of going to Olympic Stadium with his grandpa and watching Gary Carter, I mean, if you’re a well-read baseball fan, you’re already aware of how much Keri loves the former Montreal franchise. After reading “Up, Up & Away,” you know it. Viscerally.
In addition to his deeply personal narrative, Keri brings his journalistic chops to the party as well. The former financial reporter scrutinizes the franchise's collapse, objectively, in much of the manner an Institutional Investor AA-ranked tech analyst would dig into the earnings report of a chip company. You’ll have insights to questions you thought you knew the answers – also the mark of a great book.
Keri has sat for a bunch of Q&As all throughout the web, especially this excellent chat with Deadspin commenters last week. We tried asking questions not found in the other conversations, thoughts and queries that may spark some fan dialogue. Hope you enjoy it. In the meantime, here’s some good stuff I think you should look out for when you buy "Up, Up & Away:"
• Could the Expos have hired an iconic Dodgers skipper at the end of 1975? (p.96)
• Bill Lee’s brilliant advice for managing a baseball club and possibly a company. (p.160)
• A comprehensive Oral History for Game 5 of the 1981 NLCS ((p.173-186)
• The day Bill Lee spaced out (p.191), which includes sage workplace advice from Woodie Fryman.
• Tim Raines’ nickname was not based on what you think it was, but there’s a whole section on that as well (p.192)
• The Pete Incaviglia story and how baseball should probably revisit this (p.217)
• The roots of the ballclubs’ development began with a baseball lifer you may never have heard of (p. 344)
• Russ Hansen’s outstanding color photography in the middle of the book
• The primary dilemma of owning a leisure enterprise in one country that conducts a majority of its business in another. (p.250)
• Highly successful Baseball GM Dave Dombrowski on why he left the club with sharp insights on the ballclubs' demise (p.261)
• An outstanding dissection as to why complete games are a thing of the past (p.302)
• Second owner Claude Brochu regarding the financial “what-ifs” had the Expos made the 1994 World Series (p.311)
• The Felipe Alou story of his rich friend that crystallized the state of Expos baseball in the late ;90s (p.333)
Let's get started.
INSTREAM: What's your all-time Expos starting Lineup?
JONAH KERI: RAINES LF, DAWSON CF, WALKER 1B, VLAD RF, CARTER C, WALLACH 3B, VIDRO 2B, BROOKS SS, PEDRO P
INSTREAM: Did Roberto Clemente leave enough of an impression during his time with the Montreal Royals to be embraced when the Pirates came to town? (p. 4)
JONAH KERI: My impression is that early-years Expos fans embraced opposing teams' stars because they didn't have their own. Haven't read anything that would suggest Clemente was any more beloved than Tom Seaver or anyone of similar caliber.
INSTREAM: You look at the Rusty Staub trade. The Bob Bailey purchase. The 1969 mid-season swap for Ron Fairly. Singleton a few years later. These are guys that were known for high OBP. Do you think there was an almost visionary, organizational awareness of the importance for not giving away outs and getting on base?
JONAH KERI: Not really. I do think it's possible that OTHER teams overlooked those players' skills because OBP wasn't highly valued, which allowed the Expos to get them, though.
INSTREAM To look at that another way, the common denominator of Staub, Bob Bailey & Fairly is that they were all “Bonus Babies.” Is it possible the front office tried to scoop talented players that perhaps weren’t trained properly and were still young enough to possess potential?
JONAH KERI: Yes, definitely.
INSTREAM: Going back to the 1969 Staub trade, on Page 27 you talk about how Manager Gene Mauch “Went to meet with the Astros, leveraging contacts he had within the organization.” How difficult do you think it is for a GM or president to trade with other ballclubs in the absence of deep relationships? From 1976 to 1991, the Expos and Cincinnati Reds exchanged a total of 32 players. I know it’s 15 years and there’s a few GMs in there, but that’s a lot of trades.
JONAH KERI: That practice was rampant then, since we were years away from scouting staffs becoming more sophisticated, and particularly far away from using technology (both by generating reports on players via computers, or even having ease of communication like text). Thing is, though, teams STILL make more trades with other teams/GMs with whom they feel most comfortable. It's just human nature.
INSTREAM: In terms of the great color men that we remember and admire – the Mets with Ralph Kiner, the Phillies with Richie Ashburn. Where does Duke Snider stack among the memories of Expos fans like yourself?
JONAH KERI: Snider could spin old stories like those other guys, but he also offered real analysis, which I believe might've set him apart.
INSTREAM: Worst trade in the club’s history? Most might say the Carter deal, but in reality, he only had 2-3 years left tops, on those knees. (p.64)
JONAH KERI: If you look closely at the Carter trade, it actually WASN'T that lopsided. Arguably the worst deal the Expos ever made was when they traded Ken Singleton away. You could argue that jettisoning Staub was actually one of the team's better deals, given it brought back Singleton and more. But turning around and ditching Singleton so soon afterwards was a big mistake.
INSTREAM: You talk about the Expos inability to draft a decent player for 2b. Doing my own research, I noticed a slew of all-star 2B through the ‘70’s and ‘80s, we’re talking Paul Molitor, Bobby Grich, Willie Randolph, who were drafted as SS? Was there a time where 2B weren’t drafted high?
JONAH KERI: The best athletes usually play SS, and second-basemen are usually failed shortstops. It's always been that way.
INSTREAM: On Page 65, you talk about “late-round choices (draft picks) sometimes work out.” Based upon what you have observed through the years, is there something you can look for in those later rounds that could indicate big-league success? How do you find Keith Hernandez in the 42nd round?
JONAH KERI: Geography can play a big role. A kid pitching for a high-profile Florida, Texas, or California high school will get noticed before someone from Idaho or Nebraska.
INSTREAM: How long do you stay with a #1 pick until you cut bait, until you have to give up the ghost on a talent?? (p. 69)
JONAH KERI: There is no one set formula. If you're a team that's building and/or rebuilding, though, you're better off practicing patience -- and you have the luxury to do so, in a way that a team that needs to win now does not.
INSTREAM: Is it possible that Charles Brofman was the ONLY man who could’ve made the Expos happen in Canada? (p.71)?
JONAH KERI: No, it just turned out that way. Bell, Canadian Pacific certainly could've made the Expos work. They chose not to.
INSTREAM: What was the main difference between the January draft and the June draft? (p.79)?
JONAH KERI: June draft tended to produce better talent.
INSTREAM: Do you think the Expos could’ve possibly won the underwhelming NL East in 1973 with a full season of Steve Rogers? (p.86)
JONAH KERI: I doubt it. They finished three games out. Seaver in his prime might be worth an extra three wins over half a season, but very few others are. And that's leaving aside Rogers being enormously lucky that year once you get into advanced stats like strand rate and batting average on balls in play. It's quite possible that he would've pitched much worse over a full season, given his relatively high walk rate and relatively low strikeout rate (the latter even by Rogers's low standards).
INSTREAM: Which manager type in your mind produces superior results – the “players’ guy” or the disciplinarian? Does it even matter if you have a talented enough roster? (p.110)
JONAH KERI: Again, no one set formula. If one of those two is a great tactician, that can sometimes trump the culture fostered in the clubhouse, for instance.
INSTREAM: You had an interesting quote from Steve Rogers on page 205: “You can’t be a leader to your peers.” Not sure what I think about that.
JONAH KERI: That was him trying to justify the team coming up short again and again in the late 70s and early 80s. The Expos failed because their support cast usually stunk, not because they lacked 40-something stiffs like Pete Rose grounding out to second four times a game.
INSTREAM: On page 251, you go into the initial conversations between the Expos and Jeffrey Loria, saying “Turned out he was a tough and stubborn negotiator.” Reading through many business books, I see this line often, yet the common denominator always appears to be that person holding all the cards. In your mind, do you think there are other elements outside of leverage that play into being a smart negotiator? How much does charm play a role?
JONAH KERI: The best way to succeed in business is to have more information coming into a situation than your counterpart does (or more guts). Loria's partners either didn't realize they'd have their equity stake diluted if they failed to answer cash calls, or they were too stubborn and cheap to care.
INSTREAM: Do you think the Expos’ ownership group suffered from an issue of having too many Indians (minority owners) and not enough chiefs?
JONAH KERI: No. I think they were stubborn, stupid, or both.
INSTREAM You go into fine detail regarding Tom Runnells' struggles as Expos' skipper in 1991 (p.269). What does it take to succeed as a manager in 2014, especially a sub-40 year-old skipper?
JONAH KERI: An even-keeled personality, an open mind, and a knack for understanding the finer points of the game.
INSTREAM: Why did the Expos’ attendance base skew young? (p.301)
JONAH KERI: Lack of business support.
INSTREAM: Aww, come on, that’s a triple and an error, no? (p.307)
INSTREAM: Who is the artist of those wonderful sketchings found throughout the book?
JONAH KERI: Terry Mosher, who goes by the pen name "Aislin" and is probably the greatest editorial cartoonist in Canadian history.
INSTREAM: Are there any personality traits that Charles Bronfman possessed that perhaps could have aided Brochu in saving the Expos? Do you think Bronfman could have convinced the minority owners to cough up more cash? (p.343)
JONAH KERI: It's possible. But it's a tough parallel universe to imagine, because Bronfman himself gave up on owning the team due to feeling disenchanted with the financial structure of the industry.
INSTREAM: On Page 339 you talk about the Montreal Canadiens of the NHL and their money woes. At what point does the city’s fan base (if not the Montreal economy) play a part in the blame?
JONAH KERI: It was the economy.
INSTREAM: Do you think Loria buys the Expos without assurances of a new ballpark? (p.350)
JONAH KERI: Sure. Cheap opportunity to fulfill his long-standing dream of owning a team.
INSTREAM: When did the Pearson Game Cup (the mid-season exhibition between the Blue Jays & Expos) end and why? (p. 365)
JONAH KERI: It ended because it disrupted both teams' schedules and because people lost interest in it.
INSTREAM: You made an interesting statement regarding a hypothetical Montreal baseball team as of January 2014 (p. 382, you’ll have to read to find out). Is this the problem? Has it always been the problem?
JONAH KERI: If you mean that Montreal hasn't had an owner that's both very wealthy and very committed to the team's well-being since Bronfman, then yes, that was indeed the Expos' problem from the time Bronfman sold until the end.
INSTREAM: Last one, can I tell everyone the Reggie Jackson** story? You know what - scratch that. Pages 112-115. The story alone is worth the price of admission.
**Thanks to Andrew Woolley for his artwork on the Reggie card
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