The Montreal Expos had a rich history in that Canadian city from 1969 through 2004, though they made the playoffs just once, in the strike-split 1981 season.
It's thought by many that another labor dispute, the 1994 strike, ruined the Expos. They had the best record in baseball (74-40) at the time of the strike and might very well have won the World Series that year. Instead, they wound up dealing off their stars (Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez, Moises Alou and John Wetteland, among others) and by the time they moved to Washington in 2005, owned by Major League Baseball, they were a shell of a franchise.
A little less than three years ago, I wrote "The Last Expos", an attempt to figure out who would be the Last Expo Standing, the final active player who once wore the rouge, bleu et blanc of the Montreal club. At the time, there were 10 active former Expos, including Ted Lilly, whose photo as a young Montreal lefthander adorned the top of my 2013 article. My 2013 article also notes the final players to be active for other franchises that changed locations.
I'm here today to tell you that the pitcher whose photo is at the top of this post is (unless something really unusual happens, which I'll detail below) The Last Expo.
If you don't recognize him right away, it's because, well, he's put on a bit of weight since that photo was taken in his half-season with the Expos in 2002. It's Bartolo Colon, who has signed a deal to pitch again in 2016 with the Mets.
Colon didn't spend much time in a Montreal uniform. He began the 2002 season with the Indians. In late June, the Tribe was a few games under .500 and the Expos a few games over, and Expos GM Omar Minaya decided to try to boost his team's slim playoff chances by acquiring Colon.
Colon (and Tim Drew, also acquired in the deal) came to Montreal for four players, three of whom were prospects at the time. Lee Stevens was the only player of the four acquired by Cleveland who had previously played in the big leagues, and he was just about done (he played 53 games for the Tribe in 2002, never again in the majors after that).
The Expos also sent Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips to Cleveland.
Well. Those guys would have looked pretty good for the Expos/Nats franchise going forward, wouldn't they? Lee and Sizemore were key parts of the 96-win Cleveland team that made the ALCS in 2007. Phillips, as you know, was eventually traded to the Reds.
Meanwhile, Colon had a good second half of 2002 for Montreal, going 10-4 with a 3.31 ERA in 17 starts, before Minaya traded him to the White Sox before the 2003 season for Rocky Biddle, Orlando Hernandez and Jeff Liefer.
You're getting the idea, I suppose, of how the Expos were systematically stripped of talent for many years, with the franchise eventually winding up in Washington. It's really a shame, as Montreal was once a good baseball town and when the Expos were good, fans there supported them. Perhaps they'll get that chance someday again.
But for now, 14 years after Colon spent half a season in Montreal and 12 years after the final Expos game, Bartolo Colon has apparently won the title as The Last Expo. Which I find hilarious, because he was the oldest of the 10 players I listed in my 2013 article, already 40 years old.
I wrote "apparently" above, as there is one other player who might take this title away, though I think those chances are slim enough that Colon can be awarded the crown. Maicer Izturis, who last played for the Blue Jays in 2014 and spent the entire 2015 season on the disabled list, is currently a free agent (the Jays bought out his 2016 option). At this late date, and with Izturis now 35 and having not played well since, really, 2011, I think it's likely that he's done. Izturis was the last active player to have played in the Expos' final game, an 8-1 loss to the Mets at Shea Stadium October 3, 2004, and also the last game in Montreal, a 9-1 loss to the Marlins September 29, 2004.
Colon's last game for the Expos was a 10-2 loss, also to the Marlins, in Montreal September 25, 2002.
Congratulations of a sort, then, are due to Bartolo Colon. When you watch him play this year, remember that he's the final active reminder that there were once Montreal Expos.