3 Montreal Expos They may soon be moving south, but in the standings the Expos are headed north

March 29, 1999

Montreal manager Felipe Alou is a modern-day Sisyphus, forever
destined to push the boulder almost to the top of the mountain
before it comes crashing down again. The only apparent
difference is that Sisyphus never received a job offer from
Rupert Murdoch. Alou was practically out the door to become the
Los Angeles Dodgers' skipper last winter when he decided to stay
in Montreal. He was lured back not by the Expos' offer of a
three-year, $6 million contract (stunning for a team so
cost-conscious it's a wonder that pay phones haven't been
installed in the visitors' dugout and bullpen), nor by the level
of personal autonomy he enjoys with the organization (Alou has a
lifetime get-out-of-jail-free card) but because of an acute
sense of commitment. "I had to see the crisis through to the
end, one way or another," he says, referring to the likelihood
the franchise will be sold and moved to a U.S. city before next
season if Montreal ownership fails to generate the necessary
funding for a new downtown stadium.

Even if the mountain moves, Alou is pushing the boulder in the
right direction. Despite its skimpy $19 million payroll,
Montreal could get back close to .500 this season, carried by
the wondrous Vladimir Guerrero. The 23-year-old rightfielder is
the best player you probably have never seen, impossibly
long-limbed and powerful and fluid. During workouts in spring
training, he would stand in the rightfield corner and unleash
one-hop throws to third base, the ball hissing as it cut through
the air. Not even the double whammy of playing in
Siberia-by-the-St. Lawrence or speaking only a few words of
English ("cutoff man" not among them) could camouflage a year in
which he set six Montreal offensive records despite receiving
little help in front of him and scant protection behind. "He
could be the best player in the game soon," centerfielder
Rondell White says. "Maybe as soon as this year."

Guerrero's supporting cast should be better, if for no other
reasons than health and experience. White, who had a shot at
becoming the first 30 homer-30 stolen base guy in Expos history
until he broke his right ring finger in late July, is healthy
again. If he isn't traded--the Yankees made a pitch for him
during the off-season before they re-signed Bernie Williams--he
and Guerrero will give Montreal plenty of pop in the middle of
the lineup. First baseman Brad Fullmer is dangerous with a bat
in his hands too; not only did he drive in 73 runs as a rookie,
but he also cracked former bench coach Jim Tracy's orbital bone
one day while swinging the lumber in the Coors Field lunchroom.
(Alas, Fullmer is equally scary with his glove; most of
Montreal's bunt defenses are designed so that he doesn't field
the ball.) If wild child and underachieving third baseman Shane
Andrews doesn't get off to a fast start at the plate this year,
Montreal will turn to Michael Barrett, a highly regarded
prospect who hit .304 after his call-up last September and whom
the Expos are itching to shoehorn into the lineup somewhere.

The pitching staff is young and largely unproven. Montreal will
try to get by with an all-twentysomething, all-righthanded
rotation of Dustin Hermanson, Carl Pavano, Miguel Batista,
Javier Vazquez and Mike Thurman. All are power pitchers and tall
enough (only Batista is shorter than 6'2") to start an NBA
franchise if Montreal doesn't rekindle its once passionate love
affair with baseball. The most polished of the group is
Hermanson, a converted reliever who held batters to a .234
average in 30 starts in '98 and has become the staff ace. "He
can be a 20-game winner," Alou says. "I don't know if he can win
20 with us, but he can with someone."

An obstacle to bigger things for Hermanson is support from a
feeble offense that averaged nearly 1.5 fewer runs per game than
league leader Houston. Support, however, is available in the
bullpen, which is anchored by dazzling closer Ugueth Urbina, who
won or saved 40 of Montreal's 65 victories. Urbina will get more
save opportunities this year if the Expos can find a capable
setup man. Steve Kline and Anthony Telford will likely start the
season sharing that role, but promising 6'5" farmhand Guillermo
Mota, 25, a former shortstop in the Mets organization who
allowed only 28 hits in 58 innings in the minors in '98, could
replace them before long.

The Expos' season will play itself out amid the usual headlines
and deadlines, the games squeezing themselves in between
internecine fights among Montreal's owners and pronouncements
about the stadium drive. (A recent poll in Montreal's La Presse
said 54.7% of Quebecers opposed an interest-free government loan
to finance construction of a new downtown ballyard.) If the
off-field problems seep into the clubhouse, Alou's grip on the
boulder could slip. "I don't see that happening," says White.
"We've got a lot of young guys who are just happy to be in the
big leagues. If there were a lot of older guys, I think it could
be a problem, but almost everyone here is so focused on getting
a job, they don't worry about where the team might end up. I
think we'll be O.K. We certainly won't be a pushover." One way
or another, Montreal will be on the move.

--Michael Farber

COLOR PHOTO: RON VESELY Even in the witness protection program that is the Montreal franchise, Guerrero's status as one of the game's fastest rising stars won't go unexposed. COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA

By the Numbers

1998 Team Statistics (NL rank)
1998 record: 65-97 (fourth in NL East)

BATTING AVERAGE .249 (14)
RUNS SCORED 644 (16)
HOME RUNS 147 (11)
OPP. BATTING AVG. .264 (10)
ERA 4.38 (9)
FIELDING PCT. .975 (16)

Precocious at the Plate

Last season 23-year-old Vladimir Guerrero batted .324 with 38
home runs and 109 RBIs. Only two players in major league
history--Mel Ott and Joe DiMaggio, both of them Hall of
Famers--have had a season in which they matched or surpassed
Guerrero's numbers in each of those three categories before
turning 23. In fact, Guerrero became only the ninth player in
big league history to have such a season before the age of 25.
Of the other eight, only one, Hal Trosky, has not been inducted
into the Hall of Fame.

Year Player, Team Age HR RBI BA

1998 Vladimir Guerrero, Expos 22 38 109 .324
1956 Mickey Mantle, Yankees 24 52 130 .353
1954 Willie Mays, Giants 23 41 110 .345
1937 Joe DiMaggio, Yankees 22 46 167 .346
1936 Hal Trosky, Indians 23 42 162 .343

Year Player, Team Age HR RBI BA

1932 Jimmie Foxx, Athletics 24 58 169 .364
1929 Chuck Klein, Phillies 24 43 145 .356
1929 Mel Ott, Giants 20 42 151 .328
1927 Lou Gehrig, Yankees 24 47 175 .373

Next Up...

The only breakout in the career of second baseman Wilton
Guerrero thus far came in 1997, when he was a member of the
Dodgers and cork was embarrassingly discovered in his broken
bat. Since being traded to the Expos last July, the 24-year-old
older brother of Vladimir Guerrero has sworn off all hitting
aids except his newfound biceps. Wilton is now a hard 188
pounds, in anticipation of the 600 at bats he'll receive in the
leadoff slot. In addition to helping translate for Vladimir,
Wilton will be expected to run and to cultivate both his bunting
and patience (22 walks in 761 career at bats). "He's not
Vladimir," manager Felipe Alou says, "but we think he'll be an
excellent offensive player."

Projected Roster With 1998 Statistics

Manager: Felipe Alou (eighth season with Montreal)

BATTING ORDER B/T PVR BA HRs RBIs SBs

2B Wilton Guerrero R 184 .284 2 27 8
LF Orlando Merced*[1] L-R 227 .278 6 40 1
CF Rondell White R 62 .300 17 58 16
RF Vladimir Guerrero R 5 .324 38 109 11
1B Brad Fullmer L-R 146 .273 13 73 6
3B Shane Andrews R 167 .238 25 69 1
C Chris Widger R 180 .233 15 53 6
SS Orlando Cabrera R 249 .280 3 22 6

BENCH

OF Manny Martinez[1] R 274 .250 6 24 0
C Bob Henley R 348 .304 3 18 3
IF Jose Vidro S-R 381 .220 0 18 2
OF Terry Jones R 391 .217 1 15 16
IF Mike Mordecai R 404 .202 3 10 1

STARTERS PVR W L IP/S WHIP ERA

RH Dustin Hermanson 41 14 11 6.1 1.17 3.13
RH Carl Pavano 130 6 9 5.8 1.28 4.21
RH Miguel Batista 235 3 5 5.5 1.53 3.80
RH Javier Vazquez 163 5 15 5.4 1.53 6.06
RH Mike Thurman 198 4 5 5.1 1.28 4.70

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Ugueth Urbina 13 6 3 34 1.01 1.30
LH Steve Kline 242 3 6 1 1.44 2.76
RH Anthony Telford 272 3 6 1 1.33 3.86
RH Shayne Bennett 293 5 5 1 1.55 5.50
RH Mike Maddux 314 3 4 1 1.17 3.72
LH Rick DeHart 327 0 0 1 1.68 4.82

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 154)
*Combined AL and NL stats

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)