My Interview with Jonah Keri, Lead Baseball Writer at Grantland and Author of Up, Up & Away

Up, Up & Away contains one of the longest subtitles of any book in history. It’s crucial to his thesis. The book is the rollicking, tragic story of the National League’s Montreal Expos of 1969-2004. Major League Baseball took control of the club in 2002, moving them to Washington, DC for the 2005 season. They renamed them the Nationals.

Mr. Keri is a native Montrealer who grew up an Expos fan. He made infrequent jaunts with his friends around the country to follow them. He wrote The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team From Worst to First. His new book is an affair of the heart, and an elegantly worded cri de coeur. His message: those responsible made major strategic mistakes along the line. Don’t do this to sports fans again.

EIGHT QUESTIONS FOR JONAH KERI ON UP, UP, & AWAY

 

  1. “Coup de circuit” looks good on paper, and even sounds good, but it doesn’t have the same oomph as “home run”. I love Frappeur Désigné and mauvais lancer. Can you characterize how the French language influenced how baseball was consumed in Montreal? 

    JK: Baseball existed for decades before the Expos showed up, in the form of the Montreal Royals. But French-language announcers would always use English terms for events on the field, which didn’t make much sense. Jacques Doucet and Claude Raymond invented a lexicon of French baseball terms, and they were delightful; you didn’t even mention “balle papillon” (butterfly ball) for knuckleball. Inventing these terms honored the beauty of the game, while also respecting the mother tongue of the majority of Montrealers.

     

  2. The roof at Olympic Stadium may have been the worst of the problems at the Big O. You’ve detailed the issues well, but was it illegal for the club to make any changes to their physical home, such as to the turf, and to the walls? 

    JK: It wasn’t illegal to make changes. The local government was simply too cheap to do anything.

     

  3. You convey in the book the uniqueness of Montreal as a baseball city. Could you expound on “Montreal charming”?JK: Montreal is a party city. People like to go where there’s action. So when the baseball team was humming, you’d get a great, lively crowd. Wealthy types. Beautiful people. Often a younger, festive crowd. All of that, plus a beer garden and oompah band right at the entrance to the park, the crowd belting out songs you never heard anywhere except the Big O. There was no place like it.

     

  4. In Game 5 of the National League Championship Series in 1981, how would you have approached the top of the ninth inning, facing Garvey, Cey, and Monday? 

    JK: If Jeff Reardon is healthy, he’s my guy; Steve Rogers had very little experience pitching in relief and would often take a while to get into a groove. Reardon could’ve always pitched around Monday had he retired the first two batters of the inning. Hell, Rogers should’ve just thrown one out of the zone once he’d fallen behind Monday 3-1, and live with a walk if need be.

     

  5. The Reds and Cardinals got screwed by the two halves resolution to determine who would go to the playoffs in the 1981 strike season. Why was the National League so dominant in those days? 

    JK: Just luck of the draw, I think. Pirates and Phillies were terrific in the late 70s into the early-80s, then the Cardinals got really good really quickly under Whitey Herzog.

     

  6. Clearly, the problems getting Expos games broadcasted were instrumental in their decline. We had several versions in the 1980’s of something called “Cardinal Cable” here—approximately 40 games, with a bad picture and about three cameras. The stingy parceling out of games drove us nuts back then. Why couldn’t they do better? Lack of foresight as to the tremendously lucrative nature of “appointment television”? Lack of outlets? Technology? 

    JK: All of that, lack of vision, technology, relative cost was higher, returns/profits not as obvious back then.

     

  7. Could the early 1995 fire sale of Hill, Grissom, Wetteland, and the dumping of Larry Walker be said to be the ultimate tipping point for the demise of the franchise, at least as far as fan response, and how Brochu was perceived?

 

JK: It definitely hurt a lot from a fan’s point of view. This really was a case of lack of vision and foresight. If the Expos had done nothing other than keep those four players in ’95, they’d have a chance for another playoff run, maybe many runs. Hell, even just keeping them until the July trade deadline would’ve greatly increased their leverage, allowing them to bag good, young talent in return, and reload on the fly. Don’t forget they just missed making the playoffs in ’96, even after the fire sale. Get real talent in exchange for those four guys and who knows, maybe they’re celebrating a World Series title that year.

 

  1. I pitched against Dave Silvestri in college. He ripped me using a wood bat. I got excited when I saw him on TV once playing third base for the Expos. No room in the book for Dave, whom I’ve dubbed “the Jeter before Jeter”? 🙂 

    JK: The Expos had so many Dave Silvestri types, I can barely count them!

     

    Although in our division, the Montreal Expos were my second baseball team in my teen years. I was fascinated by this odd organization with their great players, and their modern, red, white and blue uniforms. My grandparents sometimes took me to the Stadium Club for dinner before the game. I remember looking out the windows at that outfield group taking fielding practice in awe. This was about 1980. Everyone said, this is the team of the 1980’s.

     

     

 

 

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