You might say that Boots Day was destined to be a Montreal Expo.
After all, his first big league at bat – a walk against Mike Wegener – came against the Canadian club on June 18, 1969, and his first major league hit was recorded off of Montreal reliever Carroll Sembera on April 18, 1970.
It was fitting then that just a few weeks following his first hit that Day was dealt to the Expos for catcher Jack Hiatt.
“For me, the trade to Montreal was a great thing. I got the opportunity to play a lot more than I probably would’ve with the Cubs or the Cardinals,” said Day, in a recent phone interview from Alberta, where he served as a coach with the Golden League’s Calgary Vipers in 2010.
It was in Quebec that Day would enjoy his finest big league seasons, evolving into a sparkplug leadoff hitter who patrolled centre field at Jarry Park from 1970 to 1974.
A career as a major league outfielder was not initially in the plans for 5-foot-9, Ilion, New York native. A standout southpaw pitcher at his high school, he only lost one game during his scholastic career.
Nicknamed Boots by his sister when he was just six months old, Charles Frederick Day grew up a St. Louis Cardinals fan idolizing Stan Musial. So it was a dream come true when his grade school principal Bart Shelley, who doubled as a scout, signed him for the Cards in 1966.
In the Cards’ system, Day was transformed into a full-time outfielder and played with future big league stars Ted Simmons and Jose Cruz. He would make his major league debut on June 15, 1969, when he ran for Vada Pinson in the eighth inning of a Cards’ win.
After failing to record a hit in six at bats with the Cardinals in 1969, Day was dealt to the Cubs, where he would crack the club’s opening day roster in 1970, before being dealt to the Expos on May 12, 1970.
After a brief stint with the Expos, he was shipped to Triple-A Buffalo in June 1970.
“I got sent down the day the Buffalo team went under,” he recalled. “We had to go on the road for 17 days until they got the field fixed in Winnipeg, so the team could move there. But Winnipeg was fun. Playing there was a good time.”
On the strength of his .294 batting average and 10 homers with Winnipeg, Day was recalled by the Expos in August and would become a valuable contributor to the club over the next four seasons.
In 1971, he batted .283 in 127 games and slugged his first major league homer on May 11. It was a blast off of Swift Current, Sask., native Reggie Cleveland that cleared the right-centre field fence at Jarry Park.
“Reggie was a teammate of mine in St. Petersburg in the Cardinals system in my second year,” recalled Day. “Reggie was a good guy. I still have that home run ball. A grounds crew guy went and got it for me.”
In 1972, Day hit just .233 but was in centre field for Bill Stoneman’s no-hitter on October 2, 1972. It was Stoneman’s second career no-hitter and the first major league no-hitter thrown outside of the United States.
The tenacious outfielder rebounded to hit .275 in 101 games in 1973 and help the Expos make a surprising run at the National League East pennant. The underdog Expos would ultimately finish fourth in a four-team battle for first, but they were in contention until the last weekend of the season.
After the 1973 campaign, the Expos acquired centre fielder Willie Davis from the Dodgers, and Day found himself on the bench and then in the minors for 21 games in 1974. The next season he joined the Detroit Tigers organization and toiled in their minors for five seasons, before ending his playing career in 1980.
Day just celebrated his 45th year in professional baseball. In his post-playing career, he has coached, managed and scouted for several major league organizations, including the Tigers, Indians, Royals, Yankees, Nationals and Cardinals. He has spent the last two seasons as a coach with the Golden League’s Calgary Vipers. Remarkably, during his four-and-a-half decade baseball odyssey, he has never had more than a one-year contract.
Some of Day’s fondest baseball memories are from his tenure with the Expos.
“I liked Jarry Park. It was quaint. The fans were close to the field,” he recalled. “We had great crowds there and the fans were outstanding. They didn’t boo anybody.”
During his coaching career, he has run into several of his former Expos teammates, including Bobby Wine, Dan McGinn and Steve Renko. And though he hasn’t been back to Montreal since the late ’80s, he still feels a kinship with the city and was disappointed when the Expos moved to Washington.
“It was a shame. I felt bad for the city, because over the years when I was there, the fans really supported the Expos. I was sad to see the team go,” he said.