Author’s Note: In March 2009, I found myself pondering who might have hit the first home run in Montreal Expos history. The answer was not a player I would’ve expected. Here’s the article I wrote in April 2009 about the player who belted that historic homer:
For Montreal Expos trivia buffs, Dan McGinn is a name to remember.
Not only did the workhorse left-hander appear in a team-high 74 games for the Expos in their inaugural season, but he also hit the first home run in franchise history.
On April 8, 1969, with Tom Seaver on the mound for the Mets, McGinn stepped to the plate and belted a pitch from the future Hall of Famer over the right-centre field wall at Shea Stadium.
“It was just one of those deals where I hit the ball hard,” recalled McGinn, now the pitching coach at the University of Nebraska. “I remember I was rounding first and I was just going to take a left turn and go back to the dugout. Then I looked towards second base and the second base umpire, Augie Donatelli, was waving home run. I looked at him and said, ‘What?’”
Unfortunately, the former Expos hurler wasn’t able to retrieve the ball.
“I’ve got a bunch of pictures that show me touching home plate and then going into the dugout. Rusty Staub, Maury Wills and Gene Mauch are all laughing,” he said.
McGinn’s solo shot, the only homer of his big league career, turned out to be the difference in the Expos’ 11-10 win in the franchise’s first game.
And if that performance wasn’t memorable enough, the Nebraskan lefty was also the winning pitcher in the Expos’ home opener six days later. After the St. Louis Cardinals had plated seven runs, McGinn relieved starter Larry Jaster in the fourth inning in front of 29,184 enthusiastic fans at Jarry Park. The versatile southpaw held the Cards scoreless for the rest of the contest, and the Expos rallied to win 8-7. With the win, McGinn became the first big league pitcher to record a victory outside of the United States.
“It was a day when I was on and everything was working,” recalled McGinn.
That first week in Expos history, 40 years ago, was an exciting one for McGinn, who was selected by Montreal in the 1968 expansion draft. An excellent all-around athlete in high school, McGinn starred on the baseball, basketball and football teams. He also played baseball and football at the University of Notre Dame.
Selected in the 21st round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1965, McGinn opted not to sign and finished his degree at Notre Dame. In 1966, Cincinnati drafted him and this time he inked a deal with the Reds.
He made his major league debut in September 1968, and it was during that late season stint with the Reds that he first encountered his future skipper, Gene Mauch.
“At the end of the season with the Reds, we were in Los Angeles, playing the Dodgers and I got in in relief three days in a row. After the third game, I’m walking up the runway and there’s a distinguished gray-haired man standing there and I walk by and he says, ‘Hey, nice job.’ I said, ‘Thanks.’ And I kept going and then I said to someone, ‘Who is that guy?’ And they said, ‘That’s Gene Mauch. He’s going to be the manager of the new Montreal club.’ And I said, ‘Oh really.’ I’m sure that he was looking for players because he knew that they were going to draft right after the year,” recalled McGinn.
After reporting to the instructional league that fall, McGinn discovered that he had been selected in the expansion draft.
“When I got to Expos training camp in 1969, it was just like the first day of college. Everybody was new. You knew who some guys were; you knew who Rusty Staub was. But there were a lot of rookies like myself who had only had part of a year in the big leagues,” he said.
Rooming with Bill Stoneman, the modest McGinn evolved into Mauch’s go-to lefty out of the bullpen during the 1969 campaign.
“At one time, we had lost 20 in a row. We couldn’t do anything right. It was so tough because we were shipping guys in and out and the front office was trying to make trades. It was a long, tough year, but Gene Mauch stuck with everybody and he did a good job of instructing guys. He put younger guys in situations that on an established ball club, they probably wouldn’t have experienced,” said McGinn.
After posting a respectable 3.94 ERA with the Expos in their first season, McGinn returned to Montreal for two more seasons. On May 11, 1970, he again conquered Tom Seaver, when, filling in as a starter, he tossed a complete game shutout against the reigning Cy Young Award winner.
“Gene Mauch gave me the lineup card from that game. It’s really funny because Gil Hodges was the Mets manager and on the lineup card when he signed Seaver’s name as the pitcher, for the S he put the dollar sign through it. Seaver was their ‘money’ guy,” he said. “I’ve still got that original lineup card.”
McGinn split the 1971 season between Montreal and the team’s Triple-A affiliate in Winnipeg, before landing with the Cubs in 1972. He retired after Triple-A stints in the Cubs and Cardinals organizations in 1973.
“I thought, I’ve got my degree and I’m not going to bounce around. Because at that time, the money was OK in baseball, but it wasn’t like it is today. Today, guys hang on forever. They can’t afford not to,” he said.
Following his playing career, McGinn worked in sales & marketing for AT&T for 24 years, before becoming a scout with the Phillies. In 2000, he started his current post as pitching coach for the University of Nebraska.
The last time McGinn, now 65, returned to Montreal was for an old-timers’ game in the ’90s, but he stays in touch with former Expos teammates Steve Renko, Gary Sutherland and Bill Stoneman.
He enjoyed his time with Canada’s first big league club and was saddened when the club departed for Washington after the 2004 season.
“It was just too bad they couldn’t figure out a way to support the team better,” lamented McGinn, 40 years after he slugged the franchise’s first homer. “You would’ve loved to have seen the Expos get in a World Series.”