In a previous blog entry of mine, you may have read how close the Montreal Expos came to signing Hall of Fame slugger Reggie Jackson. Well, in reading Dan Turner’s fine 1983 book “The Expos Inside Out,” I discovered that the Expos had the opportunity to acquire Nolan Ryan early in the 1969 season.
The Expos had selected power-hitting first baseman Donn Clendenon in the expansion draft the previous year. Early in the 1969 campaign, the Mets were sniffing around for a right-handed hitting first baseman to platoon with Ed Kranepool. Turner reports that on May 20, 1969 rumours that the Mets were offering Ryan for Clendenon were heating up. Now keep in mind that 1969 represented Ryan’s second big league season and he wasn’t a regular in the Mets rotation. It’s also important to note that the Texas fireballer missed the 1967 season with arm troubles and had been hampered by blisters on his pitching hand. These injury woes were the reason that the Expos would pass on the deal.
But trade discussions would resume between the clubs the following month and eventually Clendenon was shipped to the Mets for four players, the most prominent being a right-handed hurler named Steve Renko. Renko would evolve into a journeyman starter and win 134 games for seven different teams in his 15-year career.
When Clendenon arrived in the Big Apple in June 1969, the Mets trailed the Chicago Cubs by nine games in the National League East division. Serving in a leadership role, Clendenon would belt several key home runs for the surprising Mets, who would eventually surpass the Cubs and win the World Series. Clendenon would belt three home runs and hit .357 in the Fall Classic to win MVP honors. The right-handed slugger would play 12 big league seasons and finish with 159 home runs, before retiring to become a lawyer. He died in 2005, after a long battle with leukemia.
Ryan would struggle through two more, less-than-remarkable seasons with the Mets, prior to being dealt to the California Angels in December 1971 for an aging Jim Fregosi. Many regard this trade as one of the worst in baseball history. Ryan, of course, would achieve stardom on the West Coast and later with the Astros and Rangers. The Hall of Fame hurler finished his career with 324 wins, a record 5,714 strikeouts and seven no-hitters. The championship-calibre Expos teams of the late ’70s and early ’80s certainly could’ve used the Ryan Express.