By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Back in 2009, just prior to the 40th anniversary of the first regular season game in Montreal Expos’ history, I found myself thinking about that 1969 Expos squad.
I wasn’t alive when they played, but I had heard stories about original Expos like Rusty Staub, Mack Jones, Coco Laboy and Ron Fairly, and I wondered who had hit the first regular season home run for the club.
And the answer wasn’t who I thought it would be.
Not only did workhorse left-hander Dan McGinn appear in a team-high 74 games for the Expos in their inaugural season, but he also hit the first regular season home run in franchise history.
Yes, you read that correctly, Dan McGinn, a pitcher, clubbed the first regular season home run in Expos’ history.
On April 8, 1969, with Tom Seaver on the mound for the New York Mets, McGinn stepped to the plate with one out in the top of the fourth inning 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,” McGinn told me in a phone interview back in March 2009. “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.
That first week in Expos history 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.
Chosen in the 21st round of the MLB draft by the 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 Expos 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 by the Expos 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.
After posting a respectable 3.94 ERA with the Expos in their first season, McGinn returned to Montreal for two more seasons.
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.
Following his playing career, McGinn worked in sales & marketing for AT&T for 24 years, before becoming a scout with the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2000, he started working as a pitching coach for the University of Nebraska.
*For the record, the first position player to hit a home run for the Expos in a regular season game was Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Rusty Staub who belted one four innings after McGinn in the franchise’s first game.