By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
“Never Forgotten” is a fitting title for Danny Gallagher’s new Montreal Expos book.
In this, his seventh offering to shine the spotlight on the Expos, the veteran author has put together another fascinating collection of stories about less-talked-about Expos players, coaches, executives and scouts. And for a longtime Expos fan and Canadian baseball history buff like myself, many of the anecdotes will, indeed, “never be forgotten.”
For example, I won’t forget the story of how early Expos catcher John Boccabella felt about the way Jarry Park P.A. announcer Claude Mouton emphatically introduced him at Expos games: “The catcher, No. 12, John Bocc-a-belllllll-a!”
“The way I announce your name, does it bother you?” Mouton once asked Boccabella, reports Gallagher.
“It doesn’t bother me, but I’m not Babe Ruth. I’m batting .105,” responded Boccabella.
Another story in the book that will stay in my memory is how all of those hit by pitches (50 of them in 1971 alone) and concussions Expos second baseman Ron Hunt suffered during his pro career may have had a detrimental effect on his long-term health. Hunt is 80 today and battling Parkinson’s disease and memory loss.
“I will tell you this,” said Hunt’s wife, Jackie, in an interview for the book. “There were a lot of concussions in high school. But the concussions he received in the pros were more severe than in high school.”
And then there’s the unforgettably candid Don DeMola, a former Expos reliever who’s one of the most colourful and memorable interview subjects in the book. Gallagher asks DeMola what he thought of his Expos manager Gene Mauch.
“I loved those days, but that prick Gene ruined my career,” DeMola bluntly replies.
It’s a credit to Gallagher’s interviewing skills that he’s able to get players like DeMola to talk so freely about their experiences. And it’s a testament to the author’s tenacity and passion for the project that he was able to track down players like DeMola. Fortunately for us, he did, and we are rewarded with many interesting stories about Expos that have never been published before.
In all, Gallagher conducted close to 70 interviews, as well as exhaustive secondary research, to complete this engrossing 264-page book, which is a strong addition to his already impressive portfolio. Never Forgotten is an excellent sequel to his 2020 page-turner, Always Remembered: New Revelations and Old Tales about those Fabulous Expos.
Among the most absorbing chapters is the one focusing on Ron LeFlore, who set the Expos’ single-season stolen base record in 1980 when he swiped 97 bases. Gallagher details how LeFlore would’ve easily eclipsed 100 stolen bases if not for the broken wrist the speedster sustained on September 11. LeFlore also opens up about his recent health struggles. Sadly, he had to have part of his right leg amputated (below the knee) due to arterial vascular disease. He has been told this was largely due to smoking, but he believes all the sliding into bases he did over the years was also a contributor.
Gallagher also connects with former Expos right-hander Floyd Youmans, who was once a top pitching prospect for the club, for another compelling chapter. Youmans talks candidly about his alcohol and drug use during his playing career, as well as about his struggles in his post-baseball career. In December 2015, Orange County Register newspaper reporter Pedro Moura wrote that Youmans was working as an Uber driver in Nashville who was dropping baseball people off at the winter meetings. Gallagher reports that Youmans is no longer doing this and is now retired and living with a doctor in Nashville.
“I don’t feel bad that things never turned out for me,” Youmans tells Gallagher. “Maybe life could have been better. I’m not bitter. I’m not mad. I had my problems. After baseball, I survived.”
Gallagher also found former shortstop Pepe Frias, whom the Expos signed after the Dominican infielder honed his skills in Thetford Mines in the independent Quebec Provincial League in 1968 and 1969. The 5-foot-10, 159-pound infielder ended up playing parts of six seasons with the Expos from 1973 to 1978. Frias hailed from San Pedro de Macoris, the same town as Toronto Blue Jays legend Tony Fernandez. Gallagher shares the touching story of how after Frias was given a brand new Rawlings glove by Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Larry Bowa in 1975, he brought it home and gave it to Fernandez, who was 14 years younger than him.
“Here, Tony you take this glove. You’re going to be better than me,” said Frias to Fernandez. “I was his first teacher back home.”
And as is the case with all of Gallagher’s excellent Expos books, Never Forgotten is also rich with little-known facts. Did you know, for example, that the Expos interviewed Earl Weaver for their managerial position in 1985 before hiring Buck Rodgers? Did you know that the Expos pursued free agent Willie Randolph in 1989?
I should also mention that this book isn’t solely about obscure Expos players. There are also 20 pages devoted to Larry Walker and other intriguing chapters that discuss Gary Carter, Tim Raines and Andre Dawson.
It’s the stories about these legends, combined with those about the lesser-known Expos, that make Never Forgotten another insightful and enjoyable read from Gallagher. And it’s a credit to Gallagher’s exhaustive research and strong interviewing skills that, seven books in, he’s still able to uncover fascinating new stories that will likely “never be forgotten” — at least not by this Expos fan and Canadian baseball history buff.
You can purchase a copy of Never Forgotten here or by emailing the author directly at firstname.lastname@example.org