Up, Up, and Away: The Kid, the Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, le Grand Orange, Youppi!, the Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos

Up, Up, and Away: The Kid, the Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, le Grand Orange, Youppi!, the Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos by Jonah Keri

Book: Up, Up, and Away: The Kid, the Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, le Grand Orange, Youppi!, the Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos by Jonah Keri Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jonah Keri
with an injured leg, in the middle of a pennant race, gutting it out. We were lucky to have him.”
    Of course, one player alone doesn’t make a team. After whiffing repeatedly on draft picks in their first few seasons, the Expos finally started connecting on some singles and doubles—even a few homers.
    In 1973, the Expos struck out in the primary June draft. At the time, though, the league had three different amateur drafts: one in January, and two in June. With the fifth pick of the secondary June draft, the Expos landed a player who would become one of the most memorable figures in franchise history, not only for his play on the field and his constant exuberance, but also for his contributions 20-plus years after his retirement.
    Warren Cromartie holds the rare distinction of being drafted five times. He spurned offers from the Chicago White Sox (seventh round, June 1971); Minnesota Twins (third round, January ’72); San Diego Padres (first round, June ’72); and Oakland A’s (first round, January ’73) before finally signing with the Expos in the summer of ’73. Drafted out of Miami-Dade Junior College, Cromartie jumped straight to Double-A, starting his career with the Quebec City Carnavals. It was a loaded club that surged to the Eastern League playoffs, led by three players who would go on to play big roles with the Expos. But Cromartie was already dreaming of playing in Montreal, two and a half hours away. He racked up big numbers in that ’74 season (.336 batting average, 13 home runs, and 30 stolen bases), and when the Carnavals drove southwest from Quebec City toward Montreal, then turned away from Montreal and south over the border to play American teams, he’d catch a glimpse over his shoulder of what awaited him in the big leagues.
    “Driving across the bridge, the city was so beautiful lit up,” Cromartie said. “I’d heard so much about the Expos, about Montreal, and all the pretty girls there. What more could you ask for?”

    He got his chance on September 6, 1974, making his major league debut against Pirates right-hander Dock Ellis, just 10 days before Gary Carter got his own call-up. Cromartie had 17 at-bats in the big leagues that year, then returned to the minors in 1975, spending the entire season with the Triple-A Memphis club. Two years later, he finally headed north for good with the big club out of spring training. Cromartie had drawn more attention in the draft than any of his core teammates on those Expos teams of the ’70s and early ’80s, yet never quite rose to All-Star status. Still, as a durable, better-than-average hitter who hit righties very well in his prime, he was an excellent supporting-cast member.
    Another Florida native, born just six weeks after Cromartie, seemed to shadow Cro’s every move as he climbed the ladder. Larry Parrish, undrafted, signed with the Expos in 1972. By age 20, he was Cromartie’s teammate in Quebec City, manning third base and hitting with promise. When Cromartie got the call, Parrish was right there with him.
    “We drove in from Quebec together, took the plane together, took a cab together, came through the tunnel together in Pittsburgh—we were almost crying,” Cromartie said. “Before we went to the ballpark, we went to the hotel. ‘Skip wants to see you,’ we were told. So we go to Gene Mauch. ‘Congratulations,’ he says. Then the next thing we hear is, ‘We lost your luggage!’ Two rookies come to the big leagues, we got no fucking luggage! No gloves, no shoes, no bats. We borrowed other people’s stuff. I had to borrow Steve Rogers’ shoes. The problem was, they had a pitcher’s toe plate on. My first big-league game, and I’m walking around pigeon-toed!”
    Ill-fitting shoes notwithstanding, Cromartie and Parrish got through that first game just fine. It was Parrish, however, who progressed more quickly from there. While Cromartie headed back to the minors in 1975, Parrish claimed the starting third-base job in

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