Quebec Chapter meeting recap – 11/5/2011

SABR Quebec Chapter meeting report
Cage aux Sports Resto-Bar, Montreal
November 5, 2011

  • Present: Jack Anderson; Jack Beausoleil; Jacques Doucet; Robert Duval; Ghislain Henri; Maxwell Kates (SABR-Toronto, guest); Alain Usureau; Norm Watt (SABR-Toronto, guest); Bill Young (Meeting Chair)
  • Regrets: Alain Dumas; Daniel Papillon; Alexandre Pratt; and Philippe Cousineau who sent this comment from Paris … Missed Game 6 of the World Series, but did get up in the middle of the night to watch Game 7 on my computer. It started at 2:00 am local time! Give all my best to all those who are attending today. I look forward to keeping in touch with goings on.

Roland Hemond

Before beginning this report, here is a brief Shout-Out to Roland Hemond, a friend of SABR-Quebec who follows our activity closely. He was recently awarded the Arizona Major League Alumni Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his decades-long efforts to support those from the baseball community who now find themselves in need. This honour is a worthy complement to the Buck O’Neil Award he was granted this summer at Cooperstown. Congratulations Roland! To read more go to:

Postcards from Montreal

Our guest speaker on this day was Maxwell Kates of the Hanlon’s Point SABR Chapter in Toronto. He is a passionate Expos fan and historian and, among other things, has amassed an impressive collection of over 200 Expos-issued player postcards. He spoke about his collection and how he became interested in collecting, and highlighted several unusual facts about the cards themselves.

The photos on the cards are identical to the ones used for the standard 5 x 7 photos issued by the team on a regular basis. Most were taken by Denis Brodeur, once a pretty good goaltender and father of a great goaltender, Martin Brodeur.

The postcards in Maxwell’s collection measure 4 inches by 6 inches and are typical of the standard postcard in every way. They need nothing more than an address and a stamp to make it through the mail. However, there are others in the collection, also of postcard size, but which have no markings on the back. All of these, postcards and plain-backed, were issued by the club throughout its history, from 1969 to 2004. They were given out during the Expos winter caravans that used to travel throughout the Expos fan base, and on other special occasions. Players who were solicited for autographs often provided these cards along with their signatures. Further, the cards could always be purchased at the ball park.
At right is a copy of both sides of the Expos’ Derrel Thomas postcard. Thomas played with Montreal in 1984, for that one season only.

In the early years most of the cards were printed in black and white.  In 1971, there were two sets: an official one in black and white and a second set issued by Pro Stars in colour. Eventually all sets were printed in colour. In 2002 the club issued a special retro set of postcards featuring former key players.

Here is an interesting bit of trivia: among the cards printed you can find seven Hall-of-Famers (Cooperstown), all associated with the Expos, all wearing Expos uniforms. Can you name them? Answers at the end of this report.

Several major league teams issue similar sets of postcard-sized photos and they tend to be popular with collectors. However, Maxwell says, the Expos cards have not caught to the same extent, except for the odd or unusual ones. Most often this means that a card is sought because only a limited number were printed. For example, the 1971 Pro Stars edition of Don Hahn card is rare. He was traded to the Mets at the end of March (for Rich Hacker and Ron Swoboda!) so while he was included the set, the card was short printed in relation to his former teammates.

In 1979 the Expos printed two Bill Lee cards. In the first he was his usual scraggily self — unkempt beard and hair and all. In the second he is clean shaven, with short hair. It seems that MLB took offence to his appearance the first time around and insisted on a second shoot. The bearded Bill Lee card in limited supply and has some value. The same is true of the Rusty Staub card printed following his return from the Tigers in 1979. He came to Montreal in mid-season so only a relative few were made available. There are two 1981 Jerry Manuel cards in circulation because the first one contained an error. It gave his name as Gerry Manuel.

Steve Ratzer is an interesting story. Although he only had a brief stay with the Expos his 1981 postcard is much sought after, in part because not very many were printed. However, and this is an interesting bit of trivia — until the recent conversion of Dan Warthen to Judaism became public, Ratzer was the only Jewish player in the history of the Expos. That fact alone creates special interest for collectors. Also, oddly, Ratzer’s Expos postcard happened to be the only card of any type on which he appeared until the 2003 release of Jewish Major Leaguers. None of the other card series — Topps and the rest — ever put him in one of their collections. As Max says, few people still have the Expos-issued Ratzer postcard: even Ratzer doesn’t have the Ratzer card!

The Pete Rose 1984 Expos postcard is another that stimulates collectors’ interest. However, the most valuable of all those issued by the Expos (and in theory at least one was printed for every player, manager, coach and administrative personnel in team history) is the – wait for it – Randy Johnson’s postcard. According to Max, if one goes looking for Expos postcards on e-bay, the going rate for a Johnson cards is greater than for any of the others.

Max always found that players were usually very willing and generous with their time when it came to providing autographs and signing cards. Lately however, he senses they are somewhat more reluctant, especially now that so much memorabilia ends up on eBay or other internet sites.

Max’s personal favourite card is his 1989 Tom Foley. When Max was a kid, he met Foley during a winter caravan expedition on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, and remembers Foley commenting on the futility of trying to skate. He was a baseball player from Georgia, after all. Years later, when Max met Foley at the Rogers Centre as a coach for the Tampa Bay Rays, he asked Foley if he recalled that moment on the Rideau Canal. And Foley certainly did!

Upon the conclusion of Max’s presentation, SABR-Quebec expressed our appreciation by presenting him with a rare, nearly-mint 1969 Expos Media Guide.

A copy of Maxwell’s text, en français, can be found here.

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The seven Hall of Fame players who appear on Expos-issued postcards are, in alphabetical order: Gary Carter; Andre Dawson; Larry Doby (coach); Tony Perez; Frank Robinson; Duke Snider (coach); Dick Williams.  

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Il était une fois les Expos: Tome 2
Jacques Doucet et Marc Robitaille

The second volume of this sweeping series on the history of the Expos will be officially launched on Tuesday, November 8 in Montreal and Wednesday, November 9 in Quebec City. The authors are both SABR members and fortunately Jacques was present at our meeting to provide a sneak prevue of what we might expect from the book.

Essentially, as the history of what occurred on the field during the team’s last twenty years is still fresh in the mind, much of the book focuses on off-field activity. As with Volume One, the authors conducted a great many interviews with the principals involved. Everyone they spoke with was open and candid — and while nothing startlingly new emerged they did discover much that was of interest. One of the burning questions that continues to dominate this period in Expos history is the following: Can one identify a specific turning-point moment that spelled the doom of the Expos? Probably not, although, as Jacques indicated, there are many candidates for top spot, including the two he mentioned — the refusal of the partners in the consortium which owned the Expos to invest further in the team; and the 11th hour rejection of a stadium in downtown Montreal.

We will have chance to explore the book further and in more detail with Jacques early in 2012. Although plans are still somewhat tentative Jacques has agreed in principle to speak about the book at our SABR Day meeting in late January (le 28 janvier). We hope that Marc will also be free at that time to join us. We will also attempt to have books available for purchase. 

At the close of Jacque’s remarks a general discussion focused on the future of baseball in Montreal. Consensus seems to indicate that the best first step would be for the establishment of a Can-Am (Independent) League team to be established here, much as in Quebec City, and plans are afoot to make that happen. We will just have to wait and see.


The Jerry Malloy Conference

Jack Anderson gave a brief report on his participation in the Jerry Malloy Negro League Conference held this year in Indianapolis. This was his second time attending the conference: he was present last year in Birmingham, Alabama, and was deeply impressed with the dignity and the stories that former Negro leaguers and those connected to them had to tell. In 2012 the conference moves to Cleveland, Ohio, and he plans to be there again. 

For Jack, the highlight, and there were many, was a talk given by Brooklyn Dodgers’ pitcher Carl Erskine about his friend Jackie Robinson. Erskine could not speak highly enough about Robinson — about him as a ball player and about him as a man. And he told a story to illustrate Robinson’s fierce competitive nature on the field and how it carried over to inspire all his teammates. It was 1956 and both men were nearing the end of their careers. Before a game on May 12, a New York Giants scout was quoted in the papers as saying nasty things about Erskine, Robinson and the rest of the team, calling them old and over the hill. Erskine was pitching that day. And Robinson was at third.

As Jack Anderson told it, the game was a scoreless tie into the 4th inning when May’s lined a screaming drive down the line at third; Robinson made an impossibly brilliant play to get the out. And that was that … the Dodgers got the win, 5-0, and Erskine ended up pitching a no-hitter, the second of his career. Following the game, after the team gathered around Erskine to congratulate him doe his landmark win, Robinson made a bee-line to the Giants bench. Pulling the newspaper clipping out of his pocket, he waved it at the team and hollered out to them, demanding what did they think of him and the Dodgers now! As an aside, you might be interested to know that Erskine wrote a book about his relationship with Robinson (see reference below)

Jack also spoke about the on-going Negro Leagues Committee project to identify the gravesites of former Negro Leaguers and mark these locations with tombstones that honour their achievements.

Erskine, Carl with Burton Rocks. What I Learned from Jackie Robinson: A Teammate’s Reflections On and Off the Field. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005)

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Next Meeting

The next meeting of SABR-Quebec will take place on Saturday, January 28 — designated as SABR Day — at 1:30 pm at the Cage aux Sports on Boul. René-Lévesque near the Bell Centre. Our guest will be Jacques Doucet (and perhaps Marc Robitaille). We will also take a few minutes to look ahead to the upcoming year, discuss the programme and tighten up our internal operations — including the election of our leadership for the year, including those with other specific responsibilities. More to come on this.  

Submitted by Bill Young
November 9, 2011