Book Review: Always Remembered: New revelations and old tales about those fabulous Expos
By Danny Gallagher
Reviewed By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
It’s only fitting that in Danny Gallagher’s sixth book about the Montreal Expos that some of his most fascinating interview subjects were players that wore the No. 6 for the club.
For his recently released, Always Remembered: New revelations and old tales about those fabulous Expos, the veteran author spoke with Wallace Johnson, Nikco Riesgo and Brad Wilkerson, all of whom sported the No. 6 during the franchise’s history. Gallagher also includes stories and tributes to late Canadian Baseball Hall of Famers Jim Fanning and Rusty Staub (in 1979) who also donned the digit for the club.
Wilkerson figures prominently in one of the book’s most moving chapters titled “The last home game” about the Expos’ final contest at Olympic Stadium on September 29, 2004. One of the most famous photos from that game features an emotional Wilkerson being comforted by hometown Expos icon Claude Raymond. In the book, Wilkerson shares with Gallagher that at that moment he was thinking about the people that would lose their jobs with the team departing.
“They employed a lot of people. It’s basically not fair in a lot of ways. When you look at someone (employees) who gave their heart and soul to the organization, it was the culmination of all those emotions coming out at once,” said Wilkerson of his tears.
And speaking of emotions, Gallagher also garnered some passionate responses from another No. 6 when he tracked down Riesgo, a little-known outfielder who played four games with the club in 1991. According to Gallagher, the overly enthusiastic Riesgo “boasted a passion and intensity that some of his teammates didn’t like.” Riesgo would sit on the bench with his helmet on and shout and it rubbed many teammates, including the mild-mannered Tom Foley, the wrong way. So one day in the clubhouse Foley took a bat to Riesgo’s helmet.
“I’m one of those players who can’t shut up,” Riesgo told Gallagher. “My heart beats the game. I had a ferocious passion for the Expos . . . When I saw my helmet was shattered, it violated every sacred thing in my soul. The helmet was for me, a part of my strength.”
Riesgo, who was a Rule V pick from the Philadelphia Phillies, fought with Foley in the clubhouse. The fisticuffs was quickly broken up, but Riesgo was returned to the Phillies the next day.
“It was the wrong decision,” Riesgo fumed of being let go by the Expos nearly three decades later.
Tracking down and interviewing obscure Expos like Riesgo is one of the strengths of Gallagher’s excellent new book. And it’s a testament to the author’s tenacity and passion for the project that he would go to the lengths that he did to find these lesser-known players. The end result of the author’s determined digging is that we are rewarded with stories and “revelations” from these forgotten players that have never been published before.
Gallagher conducted close to 100 interviews, as well as exhaustive secondary research, to complete this engrossing 256-page book, which is a strong addition to his already impressive portfolio. And it’s a credit to Gallagher’s interviewing skills that he’s able to get the players, executives, team personnel and fans to talk so openly about their experiences.
Another example of a standout never-published-before story in this book is that of Bill Seagraves, one of the Expos’ first draft picks, whom Gallagher tracked down. Seagraves would play two years at the University of Florida before reporting to Expos’ spring training in 1971. The Florida native was a third baseman and after he was told that spring that he would have to learn to play first base and that he was going to be assigned to the Expos Short-Season class-A affiliate in Jamestown, N.Y., he decided to quit baseball and return to his family’s septic tank business.
“I still have dreams about whether I should have pursued baseball, but I made the right decision,” Seagraves told Gallagher. “In the long run, it was best to dive into the family business. I was born into the family business. I grew up in it. When I wasn’t playing baseball, I was digging up septic tanks with my dad.
“I was 22 at the time and I already had two kids. At the time, there weren’t many people in the business making $100,000 a year. I figured it out: I was going to be making $550 a month playing baseball but I would be making $650 a week in the family business.”
Another interesting chapter is devoted to Ottawa native and former Pittsburgh Pirates and Montreal Expos outfielder Doug Frobel, who, like Seagraves, retired to a family business. Once considered the heir apparent to Dave Parker in right field for the Bucs, the left-handed hitting Canadian enjoyed only modest success in parts of five big league seasons. Gallagher tracked him down sitting in a small booth in one of the parking lots his family owns in the nation’s capital.
“I’m sitting in what was my father’s chair. Even when I was in the major leagues, I was helping out with the parking lots,” Frobel told Gallagher. “I chit-chat with the customers. I gab too much. My brothers and I work together. We have a great relationship. We’re proud of what we’re doing. It’s in our blood.”
The health challenges that former Expos right-hander Bob Sebra is attempting to overcome are another memorable story from the book. Today Sebra, who pitched with the club in 1986 and 1987, is in an intensive care unit in a Miami hospital fighting for his life after undergoing a multi-visceral transplant. In March 2019, in what was likely Sebra’s last public interview before he underwent the procedure, he told Gallagher that 90% of the patients that undergo the operation survive one year, but added “there’s not enough data to get a prognosis of life span.”
“It’s going to be a tough year but anybody that knows me knows I’m going to go down fighting. I will fight my ass off,” Sebra told Gallagher before the surgery.
And Sebra is still fighting.
One star in the book is former Expos trainer Ron McClain. McClain doesn’t hold back his opinion on a number of subjects, but his most scathing remarks were reserved for Expos speedy but light-hitting second baseman Rodney Scott, who was released by the club in 1982.
“Scott barely wanted to come to the ballpark,” McClain told Gallagher. “Instead, he wanted to get high and party. He didn’t work at his hitting. Damn, if the manager [Dick Williams] didn’t like him. If he came to the park late, he knew Williams was behind him. If he came to the ballpark late, he’d still be in the lineup. He might have been a really good player if he had the attitude of Raines, Dawson and Carter and guys like that. One time before a game started, he went on the field and said to one umpire, ‘How are you doing, fat boy?’ He was thrown out before the game even started.”
The tenacious Gallagher also managed to track down former baseball commissioner Bud Selig to discuss the demise of the Expos. Many Expos fans – fairly or unfairly – place significant blame for the team’s move to Washington on Selig. And to the author’s credit, he wasn’t afraid to ask the ex-commissioner some tough questions on the topic.
“We were going nowhere in Montreal. There were no plans for a ballpark,” an animated Selig would tell Gallagher. “It broke my heart to see the Braves leave Milwaukee. That’s why I helped Milwaukee get the Brewers. Nobody really wants to lose a team. The ballpark (Big O) was a disaster. We couldn’t find anybody (an owner), so what are the fans mad at? We were criticized for not moving fast enough (to relocate the team). Understand the points I’m trying to make? We kept trying and nothing was happening. We didn’t get anywhere. Moving Montreal was difficult, frustrating and disappointing but left us with no alternative. There was no future when you can’t find local money. Will all of the anger and so on and so forth, they (fans) don’t know what they’re talking about.”
And as is the case with all of Gallagher’s Expos books, this book is rich with Expos trivia. For example, Gallagher notes that 92-year-old Roy Face, who made 44 relief appearances for the Expos in 1969, is the oldest living former Expos player. It’s a fact that Face himself, when contacted by Gallagher, was tickled to learn.
And did you know that that the Expos tried to trade Tim Raines to the Boston Red Sox in a straight up deal for Mike Greenwell in 1989? Or that Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer was invited to Expos spring training in 1991 for a comeback attempt that didn’t materialize? These are just a small sampling of the fun facts that Gallagher divulges in the book.
The book also isn’t short on star power. It includes detailed and compelling chapters on Expos superstars like Staub, Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, Dennis Martinez, Steve Rogers, Vladimir Guerrero and Larry Walker.
It’s the stories about these legends, combined with those about some of the more obscure Expos, that make Always Remembered an insightful and enjoyable read. And it’s a credit to Gallagher’s exhaustive research and finely tuned interviewing skills that, six books in, he is still able to uncover fascinating new stories and revelations that will further educate even the most ardent Expos fan.
You can purchase Always Remembered: New revelations and old tales about those fabulous Expos at indigo.ca or by emailing the author at firstname.lastname@example.org