Blue Monday: a Bitter Expos Anniversary
“Blue Monday, how I hate Blue Monday”
Fats Domino may have sung the words, but it took Expos fans to live the nightmare – and many of us still carry the pain. It was thirty years ago today when we – and by ‘we’ I mean every living, breathing, Expos fan in Canada – watched in mute horror as the only real opportunity our team ever had to participate in the World Series vanished into the frigid air of a late autumn Monday afternoon, October 19, 1981. Most people still consider that day to have been the darkest moment in Expos history. They still call it Blue Monday.
Even for a Monday, the day was particularly dreary and dank. At the Olympic Stadium the Expos and the Los Angeles Dodgers were locked into the final game of the best-of-five National League Championship Series. The winner would go on to the World Series to face the American League champion New York Yankees – and Expos hopes were soaring. We had come this far: we only had to win one more match.
It was the top of the ninth inning and the score was tied1-1. Lengthening shadows had begun drifting toward night, rendering the then roof-less ballpark ever colder and more foreboding. Jim Fanning, who had taken over from Dick Williams as manager late in the season, had decided to bring pitcher Steve Rogers into the game. This wasRogersfirst ever turn in relief; but on the other hand no one had been better than Rogers in the post season, as Steve Carleton and the Philadelphia Phillies had already learned to their dismay in the National League Division Series.
Rogers retired the first two batters he faced, but now the Expos ace had to contend with the Dodgers’ Rick Monday. And that’s when, without warning, the unimaginable struck… The veteran outfielder, waiting patiently, perched on a hanging slider, hammering the spinning sphere far beyond the darkness, out above the outstretched fingertips of a reaching Andre Dawson, and deep as a stake into the hearts of Expos faithful everywhere.
And that was that – a Monday garbed in Dodger blue wrecking havoc on a bleak Monday afternoon in Montreal. Blue Monday. The Expos would never come this close to the World Series again.
To Montreal fans, Blue Monday is not just a metaphor for a bad start to the week. It is a specific moment in time, a bitter, cloying memory that just won’t go away.
Across all those years, Jim Fanning has continued to face fingers pointed toward him. His decision to bring Rogers into the game had gone horribly wrong and frustrated fans have been second-guessing him ever since.
Asked if people still talked to him about Blue Monday, Fanning replied, “Always. Whenever I am at a public function you can be sure it will come up. Always.”
Fanning, a kind, genial man who today lives in the London, Ontarioregion, had always been an Expo. He joined the club in 1969 as general manager and although he subsequently held several other posts within the organization, he had not piloted the team until he replaced the irascible Dick Williams only weeks earlier. He was a rookie manager.
So why did Fanning place Rogers in that position? Fanning’s answer has never varied. “It wasn’t difficult to use my best pitcher,” he said years later. “Rogers was phenomenal in the earlier series against Philadelphia and he was ready.” And Expos closer Jeff Reardon’s arm was not.
Conventional baseball wisdom holds that when there is no tomorrow, you don’t leave your top talent sitting on the bench. In 1981 Rogers was Fanning’s best, especially at season’s end.
“If I had to do it all over again,” Fanning maintains today, “I would do it all over again.”
Not that the dramatic consequences of his decision haven’t weighed heavily. As he once told author Danny Gallagher, “[Blue Monday] is my biggest disappointment in baseball… It was not just a loss for Montreal and the province of Quebec, it was a loss for the whole country.”
But that was thirty years ago. Perhaps now is the time for us to say “enough”. Surely this day,October 19, 2011, would be as good a moment as any to close old wounds and start afresh.
“Jim Fanning,” we should say to him, “you gave it your best shot. You can’t do better than that. Thank you”
And besides, we Expos diehards will always have the misery of the unfinished 1994 season to agonize over, when Nos Amours were the best team in baseball. Now that was tragic!
So, to borrow again from Fats Domino, I say…let’s give it all a rest, “cause Monday is a mess.”