Pull for the Yankees? Cheer the Braves? That's like rooting for Microsoft. Americans are supposed to love underdogs, so why not choose the most flea-bitten franchise of all? This year's Expos aren't your ordinary crappy ball club. They're a terrific crappy ball club.
After a heady 48 hours atop the National League East last week, Montreal lost three of four to the Mets to fall to 3-4. Still, there's no shame in losing to a club whose catcher, Mike Piazza, makes more than your starting lineup. Montreal's $17.6 million payroll, lowest in the majors, is $49 million short of the Mets' and $71 million behind the Yankees'. Montreal's 25-man roster makes $4 million less than the Orioles' outfield. The Expos are poster boys for small-marketosis, a degenerative illness that has left them unable to hold on to Pedro Martinez, Larry Walker, John Wetteland and scads of others. Even exchange rates work against Montreal, since the Expos' revenue is in Canadian money, but they must pay players in pricier U.S. dollars.
Tight money keeps general manager Jim Beattie and manager Felipe Alou scrambling. Still they have cobbled together a young team that has more élan than most big-market clubs. These guys (pronounced GEEZE) are good, and they're even experienced—at least compared with last year's 65-97 Expos, who opened the season with an average big league service time of 2.14 days. Start with the speed, upper-deck power and howitzer arm of 23-year-old cleanup frappeur Vladimir Guerrero. He might be the league's best young player, but the news isn't all Vlad. Kid closer Ugueth Urtain Urbina, a.k.a. Oogy, has a 100-mph rapide and a U-turn glissante. The Expos also have a sweet-swinging Rookie of the Year candidate in Michael Barrett. Then there's the man in the dugout. Alou, 63, spent 18 years climbing the managerial ladder whose top rung he now occupies. He's 538-500 in seven years with the penny-pinching Expos, and while his rivals for the tide of Best Big League Brain jump to World Series contenders, Alou sticks with the club that made him the game's first Dominican manager. You want loyalty? He married a Montreal woman and raised two trilingual kids. Last winter, when the Dodgers wanted him for megabucks, Alou said no, no, non. He chose the 'Spos.
Everyone who has ever griped about big-money sports and million-dollar prima donnas should do the same. So get with the programme, baseball fans. Expos yourself.