“It still hurts.”
That’s the response you’ll get from Montreal Expos fans like myself when you mention “Blue Monday” because those sinister words force us to relive the events of Monday, October 19, 1981.
It was on that chilly fall day that the Expos and Los Angeles Dodgers played the fifth and deciding game of the National League Championship Series at Olympic Stadium.
The contest turned out to be a pitchers’ duel between Dodgers ace Fernando Valenzuela and Expos starter Ray Burris and the teams were deadlocked 1-1 late in the game. After sending Tim Wallach to the plate to bat for Burris in the bottom of the eighth, Expos manager Jim Fanning summoned ace Steve Rogers to make a rare relief appearance in the ninth.
After retiring Steve Garvey and Ron Cey, Rogers faced outfielder Rick Monday who proceeded to belt a 3-1 pitch over the right-centre field wall for a go-ahead home run. The Expos would threaten with two runners on base in the bottom of the inning, but Jerry White grounded out to second base on the first pitch he saw to end the game, leaving Expos players and fans stunned and heartbroken.
Despite the team’s strong core of young talent that included future Hall of Famers Tim Raines, Andre Dawson and Gary Carter, the Expos never returned to the post-season. This explains why 37 years later “Blue Monday” continues to torment the team’s faithful.
And it’s the indelible impact this moment has left on Expos fans that inspired Danny Gallagher’s excellent new book, Blue Monday: The Expos, the Dodgers and the Home Run that Changed Everything. A long-time beat reporter and author of four previous books about the Expos, Gallagher is clearly in his element with this work.
Drawing on the extensive pool of contacts that he has built during his 40-plus years of sportswriting, Gallagher fastens together a compelling and definitive narrative of Monday’s heartbreaking homer that offers context leading up to it, as well as its after-effects.
The tenacious scribe conducted 75 interviews, as well as exhaustive secondary research, to complete this engrossing 256-page tome which includes a Foreword by 1981 Expos third baseman Larry Parrish.
Most importantly, Gallagher tracked down and conducted extensive interviews with the two principals of “Blue Monday” – Steve Rogers and Rick Monday. The author should be applauded for getting both of them to talk so thoroughly and candidly about the home run.
After reading the book, you can’t help but respect Rogers, who despite being the greatest pitcher in Expos history, continues to be dogged by questions about the home run. The Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer is his usual generous and forthright self in the book, and any knowledgeable Expos fan knows that without Rogers, the Expos wouldn’t have been in the NLCS.
To his credit, Gallagher also carried out what’s likely the most detailed interview ever with Rick Monday on the subject. The resulting pages gives us a fascinating glimpse into the person, a man that despite breaking my heart as an Expos fan, I now find more difficult to dislike. After his playing career ended in 1984, Monday began a broadcasting career with the Dodgers and he reveals that he still experiences animosity from Montrealers. Over the years, Monday has been approached in public washrooms, kicked out of restaurants, subjected to secondary searches at customs and verbally assaulted on social media.
Of course, the great debate still being waged by Expos fans is whether manager Jim Fanning should’ve brought Rogers into the game as a reliever (For what it’s worth, I would’ve done the exact same thing as Fanning.). There are those that feel that Fanning should’ve opted for closer Jeff Reardon who was also warming up. Over the years, there have been several different explanations offered as to why Reardon, who had posted a 1.30 ERA in 25 games with the Expos during the regular season, didn’t get the nod. The most common is that he had a tender elbow, but former Expos trainer Mike Kozak reveals in the book that Reardon had a chronic back problem. Reardon, however, tells Gallagher that he was ready to pitch that day.
“All of this stuff about me not being available is not true,” Reardon told Gallagher. “All of this stuff saying I wasn’t available was something I found out after the fact. But I told the Expos I was ready for Game 5. I had a strained muscle, but it wasn’t in my back, it was in my arm. I had a bad back every time I pitched.”
Revelations like this are one of the major strengths of this book and it’s a credit to Gallagher’s interviewing skills that he’s able to get the players to talk so openly.
Another asset of the book is that Gallagher managed to hunt down some of the most obscure Expos from the 1981 squad like Steve Ratzer, Dave Hostetler and Dan Briggs, who have probably never been quoted about that season before. Their input adds valuable context to the story.
Several chapters are also devoted to individual players on the 1981 squad. One of the most captivating details the demons (mostly drugs) that plagued one-of-a-kind talent Ellis Valentine, who was dealt to the Mets for Reardon on May 29th that season.
“I tell you, with Ellis . . . Andre Dawson went to the Hall of Fame, and to me, Ellis had more talent than Andre Dawson. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do,” Expos third baseman Larry Parrish told Gallagher.
Much is also included about the prickly and polarizing personality of Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams who would be fired and replaced by Fanning on September 7 prior to the start of the post-season. The brash skipper often criticized Rogers and the former Expos ace talks candidly about his fractured relationship with Williams.
Other highlights in Gallagher’s excellent new book are the fascinating details that he is able to share from his interviews with Expos players like Ray Burris, Wallace Johnson and Jerry White. For example, we learn that to this day, White agonizes over the fact that he swung at the first pitch and grounded out for the final out of the game. White has the newspaper photo of him trying to leg out his grounder (which he nearly did) on his office wall.
“From that day to this day, I look at it [the newspaper photo],” White told Gallagher. “I think of it. You have to get over it. I’m trying to get over it. It’s failure. It’s tough.”
It’s these types of disclosures that make Blue Monday the compelling and insightful read that it is. And it’s a credit to Gallagher’s compelling prose, exhaustive research and finely tuned interviewing skills that this book, despite being about one of the most painful memories in Expos history, was an interesting and pleasurable read for a long-time Expos fan like myself.
Sure, we Expos fans will still lament Monday’s home run, but after reading this book, I don’t feel as “blue” about it anymore.
Blue Monday is available in bookstores across Canada or you can order a copy through the Amazon website here.