- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 12, 2005

CHICAGO. — The 1994 baseball season was on its way to being a classic. The Yankees, led by Buck Showalter, finally had emerged from the franchise’s collapse in the late 1980s and early 1990s, holding down first place in the American League East.

The perennial doormats, the Cleveland Indians, had transformed themselves into a powerhouse with some of the best young talent in the game — Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton and Carlos Baerga.

But the best teams in baseball that season were the Chicago White Sox and the Montreal Expos. It appeared likely the two teams would meet in the World Series.

Then baseball ended Aug. 11. The players went on strike. And the entire postseason was canceled. It was the World Series that never was, and its unrealization had a profound effect on both franchises, one in particular.

Eleven years later, this American League Championship Series between the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Angels, with Game 1 last night at U.S. Cellular Field, is as close as that World Series matchup that never was will ever get.

The 1994 White Sox were exceptionally balanced. They had power with Frank Thomas at the peak of his career with 38 home runs, 101 RBI and a .353 batting average in 113 games and Julio Franco (probably no older than 40 back then) hitting behind him and driving in 98 runs as the designated hitter. They had terrific defense with Robin Ventura at third and a slick fielding shortstop named Ozzie Guillen. They had speed with center fielder Lance Johnson (26 steals) and outfielder Tim Raines.

And they had pitching, plenty of it, with four starters in double digits in wins — Jack McDowell, Wilson Alvarez, Jason Bere and Alex Fernandez — combining for a 45-26 record. Behind them in the bullpen was a young stud of a closer named Roberto Hernandez.

They had experience to go with that talent, having nearly beaten the defending World Series champion Toronto Blue Jays in the 1993 ALCS.

The Expos, meanwhile, were a team of young stars — Moises Alou (22 home runs, 78 RBI, .339 average), Larry Walker (19 home runs, 86 RBI, .322 average), Marquis Grissom (96 runs scored, 36 stolen bases) and a pitching staff that included Ken Hill (16-5), a young fireballer named Pedro Martinez (11-5) and their own stud closer, John Wetteland.

The Expos were running away with the National League East at 74-40, six games ahead of Atlanta. Then baseball ended Aug.11. The players went on strike. And for many Expos fans, major league baseball ended forever in Montreal that day.

Both franchises were hurt by the strike — ironically, created by the hard-line ownership stand led by White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. The new Comiskey Field had been open for just three years, and combined with a team that could have made it to the World Series, the White Sox finally could have carved out a bigger piece of the sports pie in this competitive sports city.

Instead, Reinsdorf broke the team up following the strike, and rebuilding efforts since have failed — until now, with this exciting team led by the heart of that 1994 squad, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen.

Many baseball observers believe 1994 was the last chance at making baseball successful in Montreal. After that year, the exodus of young talent began, and the franchise never recovered. It left at the end of last year and moved to Washington to become the Nationals.

The Expos’ progeny is in Washington, but this Angels team may be more identifiable to those remaining fans in Montreal who dreamed of a World Series 11 years ago. The Angels roster is littered with former Expos, whether they were there for extended stays or a short time: shortstop Orlando Cabrera, outfielder Juan Rivera, pitcher Bartolo Colon and infielder Maicer Izturis.

But two names will mean the most to Expos fans and perhaps connect more than anyone on the Nationals could: Bill Stoneman and Vladimir Guerrero.

The most joyous reason for Expos fans to come to Olympic Stadium from 1998 to 2003 was to watch Guerrero. He was arguably the best player to wear an Expos uniform. During that stretch, the extraordinarily talented right fielder hit 234 home runs, drove in 702 runs and batted .323. Then he signed as a free agent with the Angels last year, winning the American League MVP award with 39 home runs, 126 RBI and a .337 average.

The man who got Guerrero signed and the architect of this Angels club is Stoneman, the Angels general manager. He is an original Expo, was selected in the expansion draft and wrote his name in the Expos record books by pitching two no-hitters, including one just 10 days into the life of the 1969 expansion club. He later became the vice president of baseball operations for the Expos.

This is as close as it will ever get to the series that never was. For fans in Montreal, it will have to do.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide