Dave Van Horne says it would be easy for him to claim that his famous “El Presidente, El Perfecto!” call after Dennis Martinez recorded the final out in his perfect game on July 28, 1991 was a spontaneous exclamation, but that wouldn’t be the truth.
“I was working the telecast with Ken Singleton and in the commercial break prior to the bottom of the ninth inning, we both just kind of looked at each other and sat back in our chairs and I remember we both also took our headsets off for a moment and talked to each other about what a special moment this was about to be,” recalled the legendary Montreal Expos broadcaster.
“That was a very brief exchange, maybe 20 seconds or so. And we had about a minute to go during the break and I was thinking to myself, This is Dennis Martinez’s moment, and I kept telling myself, Van Horne, don’t get in the way of this. This is not your story. This is Dennis Martinez’s story.
“Then I thought back to listening to games as a youngster, mostly out of Philadelphia because I grew up not too far from Philadelphia. I listened to both the A’s broadcasts and the Phillies broadcasts and occasionally the broadcasts out of New York. And it suddenly dawned on me that one of the sponsors of games back then was El Producto cigars. And all of a sudden the thought just went through my mind about Dennis’s nickname El Presidente and instead of El Producto . . . I just suddenly thought El Perfecto. And that happened with about 10 seconds to go before the bottom of the ninth inning and I thought to myself that if he does this, that’s exactly what I’m going to say.
“And when the final out was recorded and I said, ‘El Presidente, El Perfecto!’ both Ken and I just pushed away from the monitors and the desk and let the director tell the story with pictures and the crowd reaction. I think we might have gone a minute or so without either one of us saying a word. It was a wonderful moment for Dennis and a great moment for the franchise.”
Van Horne shared this story on Monday afternoon in a Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame conference call that introduced the ball shrine’s class of 2014. Van Horne will be inducted into the Canuck ball hall along with long-time Expos third baseman Tim Wallach, former Expos general manager Murray Cook and late Toronto Blue Jays scout Jim Ridley in a ceremony in St. Marys, Ont., on June 21.
These days, Van Horne calls games on the radio for the Miami Marlins, but for hundreds of thousands of Canadians, he’ll always be the voice of the Expos. The Easton, Pa., native was performing radio play-by-play duties for the Richmond Braves (Atlanta Braves’ Triple-A affiliate) from 1966 to 1968 when he first met John McHale (then the Atlanta Braves president). When McHale became president of the Expos, he offered Van Horne his first big league radio gig in 1969.
Behind the mike for the Expos’ first game on April 8, 1969 until the end of the 2000 season, Van Horne became known for his smooth baritone and trademark catch-phrases like “Up, up and away!” when the Expos hit a home run.
“One of my biggest thrills [in working with the Expos] to this date, was watching all of the people responsible for that franchise put together a tremendous farm system during the 1970s and seeing those players come together in 1979 and win 95 games for the first time to thrust the Expos into the possible playoff picture and certainly into the bigger picture as a power in the National League,” recalled Van Horne on Monday. “I’ve never seen the likes of a farm system since then that has come up with so many top quality players that were future Hall of Famers the way the Expos did during that time.”
In Van Horne’s 32 seasons with the Expos, the club only made it to the post-season once, but he remembers that season fondly, despite the heartbreaking way it ended.
“The strike of ’81 really set up a dramatic finish to that season, and when play did resume, the Expos played some of the best baseball in the franchise’s history to get to Game 5 of the National League Championship Series . . . only to lose in that game [to the Los Angeles Dodgers] that we call Blue Monday, when Rick Monday hit the home run off of Steve Rogers,” recalled Van Horne.
“It was devastating . . . because of how difficult it is to get to that point and I remember seeing John McHale in the offices about a week after Blue Monday and he still had a look on his face of total devastation. And I talked to him and he said, ‘You’ve got to understand that these chances don’t come easily and they don’t come often, so you have to capitalize on them when you have the opportunity.’ To that degree, ’81 was a tough, tough season, but . . . I really have fond memories of 1981 in spite of the bitter pill that was dealt out by Rick Monday.”
Van Horne also remembers the dominance of the 1994 Expos. That club owned Major League Baseball’s best record and was six games ahead of the Atlanta Braves in the National League East on August 12 when a players’ strike began and eventually wiped out the rest of the season.
“Going back to ’94, as that possible strike approached, I just didn’t believe it was going to happen,” said Van Horne. “I thought the powers that be would save the season and, of course, Montreal had the best record in baseball and they were getting better day after day, and at the same time that was happening on the field, there was a movement to build a downtown, baseball-only stadium for the Expos. So not only did the season go down, but that attempt to build a new stadium went by the board and that was just devastating.”
Following the 1994 campaign, Van Horne stuck with the Expos for six more seasons, before accepting the radio play-by-play position with the Florida Marlins in 2001. Fittingly, however, Van Horne was on hand on September 29, 2004 to call the final home game in Expos history from the visiting radio booth.
In 1996, Van Horne received the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Jack Graney Award for broadcasting excellence and 15 years later, he was the recipient of the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s equivalent honour, the Ford C. Frick Award. Van Horne is set to become the second Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee (Tom Cheek is the other) to have won both the Jack Graney and Ford C. Frick Awards.
“This is a great honor,” Van Horne said of his upcoming induction. “I had spent over half my adult life as the Expos radio and TV announcer and it’s very gratifying to know those years were appreciated and remembered.”
Now heading into his 46th season of broadcasting major league games, Van Horne has no plans to retire.
“A lot has changed at the major league level, but once the game starts in between the white lines, it’s the same game that we played as kids . . . and I think that keeps you young,” said Van Horne. “And I made myself a promise years ago that as long as I continued to look forward to going to the ballpark every day, I would be able to maintain my enthusiasm for the game. I’ve still been able to do that.”