On August seventh Bartolo Colon made history, earning his 246th win, and passing Dennis Martinez for the most victories by a Latin-born pitcher. Both men played well into their forties, made four all-star appearances, and both had a lasting impact on the Montreal Expos – one for the good, and one for the irreversible bad.
Dennis Martinez (“El Presidente”)
The Nicaraguan hurler pitched eight seasons in Montreal, earning 100 wins (second in franchise history), with a 973 strikeouts (sixth all-time), and a 3.06 ERA (tied with Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez for fifth all-time).
El Presidente’s career was on the decline before he came to the Expos at 32. Despite success in Baltimore, Martinez struggled with alcoholism, and after three seasons of above five ERA, the Orioles traded him to Montreal in 1986.
Expos manager Buck Rodgers saw Martinez as a long inning/ spot starter option, certainly not as the team’s future ace.
“I needed a change of scenery (from Baltimore),” he said. “Montreal always had great scouting reports and those guys did an outstanding job to keep the Expos as competitive as they were.
“They scouted me and thought I had a chance to pitch a couple of more years in the big leagues, and they were right. It was a case of being in the right place at the right time for me to rejuvenate my career, and what better place than Montreal?”
After the trade, Martinez went onto pitch 373 MLB games (239 as an Expo) over 12-seasons, retiring at the age of 44.
His best performance for the ‘rouge, blanc, et bleu’ was on July 28, 1991, when he threw the first prefect game in franchise history.
Martinez stayed with the team until his age 39 season and has nothing but praise for the city of Montreal and Expos fans.
“The country did a lot for me,” he said. “As soon as I got (to Montreal), for some reason I felt at home.
“I had no pressure and it was a laid-back type of atmosphere in Montreal. I was able to be at peace for myself and I was looking for that type of environment then.”
El Presidente is also one of the many former Expos that wants baseball to return to Montreal.
“I hope baseball comes back,” he said. “I know a lot of things are going on and a lot of people are talking about getting the Expos back in Montreal.
“I think it would be great to have baseball back in Montreal. To me, it’s a great baseball city. I hope they get their wish and I will be rooting for them.”
Martinez was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016.
Bartolo Colon (“Big Sexy”)
The 45-year-old Rangers starter earned his record setting victory, as Texas beat Seattle 11-4.
Although Colon pitched well in Montreal, the trade would go down as one of the most lopsided deals in baseball history and is a symbol of the rapid demise of Canada’s first franchise.
During the 2002 season, Montreal was on the brink of folding (along with the Minnesota Twins) and Expos GM Omar Minaya felt the pressure to make a playoff push.
In his 2014 book Up, Up, & Away, Jonah Keri sums up the predicament Minaya and the Expos found themselves in.
Minaya didn’t give a damn. His mandate was to win, and win now. If the team got contracted at year’s end, Phillips, Lee, and Sizemore wouldn’t be ready to become stars in the big leagues anyway…And in Minaya’s mind, maybe, just maybe, a miracle playoff run could turn the tide in Montreal.
No miracle run materialized. The Expos ended the season 83-79, well back of the Giants for the NL Wild Card, and Colon left for the White Sox in the off season.
To make matters worse Sizemore, Phillips, and Lee would all have great careers – combining for 10 all-star appearances, six Gold Gloves, two Silver Sluggers, and one Cy Young Award. They also traded three time all star Jason Bay that year, in another ‘win now’ deal.
The Expos would stay in Montreal for two more seasons, before moving to Washington.
Colon ended his Expos career with a 10-4 record and a 3.31 ERA, but his legacy in Montreal will always be overshadowed by the huge package sent to Cleveland.
Martinez V. Colon in the Montreal context
As similar as Martinez and Colon are, their Expos experience could not be any different:
El Presidente came to Montreal as an after thought – Colon came in as one of the best pitchers in baseball.
Martinez would become a fixture of the organization, perennially throwing 200-plus innings – Colon simply made a pitstop.
Colon was a rare example of the team going for it – Martinez was the standard buy low Expos project.
It took Martinez 692 games and 3,999.2 innings (239 and 1,609 innings as an Expo) to get to 245 wins. Colon took 559 games and 3,438.2 innings, only 17 and 117 innings in Montreal.
Martinez continues to promote baseball in Montreal – Colon serves as a reminder to Expos fan of that failed 2002 season, and the beginning of the end.
Colon is the last former Expo playing in the MLB. At 45, he will likely not see a return of baseball to Montreal but as long as he’s still pitching, Expos fans will have a painful reminder of that 2002 club.
The two winningest Latin-born players both had a major impact on the history of the Expos.
(Top Photo: STEVE SCHAEFER | AFP/Getty Images)