Growing up in South suburb without cable meant plenty of Cubs games on WGN, so basically besides the newspaper, I didn’t know much about the Sox in grade school. I followed them secondhand, and would eventually end up going to plenty of games from about 98-02 during late high school and early college. We would buy a 10 dollar ticket, and walk right down to the third row by the dugout. It was a great experience, and the Churros there were “literallyyyyyy straight fire” as a silly Gen Z would say. So needless to say, being a secondhand Sox fan was nice, since there is and was no emotional attachment. It was also convenient because if you went in a package of tickets in 2003, you would have dibs on getting All-Star game tickets. I didn’t mind the Sox enough to do that. So I did.
Here at the All-Star game, they were doing one of those deals where you get a free beach towel if you sign up for a credit card with the logo of any team you want. I thought, it would hilarious to get a bright red Expos credit card. I was 20 at the time. It would be great. Dude, it was the Expos! They were so awesome when I was younger. And I had a hat! Who else of the planet would have one? Fast forward 3 years, when they moved, and I was sent a navy Nationals credit card. It’s been expired for many years, but the luster has been lost.
“What in the hell is an Expo?”
I loved the old Expos because they are one of the old time what if teams. They had a distinct uniform and logo, played in a dome no one went too, and apparently were really good in the early 80’s with Andre Dawson and Gary Carter. Also, the word “Expos” is the same in English and French, and it was named after the “Expo 67 World’s Fair” held right before they were an expansion franchise.
They also had one of the most intense farm systems ever. Not only did that ’94 team have a future MVP in Larry Walker, they also had Moises Alou who had a top 3 MVP finish that year, and of course a young and precious little scamp leading their rotation. You might know him as ……Pedro. He is arguably one of the best pitchers of all time, who had his best years in the height of steroid era, circa 1999-2000 when he of course was on the Red Sox.
Hell, the team had 4 All-Star reserves that year in like of Wil Cordero and Marquis Grissom, along with a deep bullpen, led by future Yankee hero closer John Wetteland. The team ended the strike year on August 12th with the best record in baseball at 70-34. (Also of note, Randy Johnson was awful for them in 1989, and then ended up being pretty good. Who in the hell was in that front office, right?)
The “Other” best team in baseball in 1994.
The Sox had played in the ALCS in 1993 against a buzzsaw Toronto Blue Jays team, who ended up going back to back with the World Series in 92-93. John Olerud was an absolute monster that year believe it or not, but all we remember him for is the helmet he wore in the field. Good ole Paul Molitor was still roping doubles well into his thirties, Joe Carter was hitting bombs, and they had entering his prime Roberto Alomar. Pitchers Pat Hentgen, Juan Guzman weren’t All-Stars, but damn that roster was overloaded.
***2 side notes: Seriously, what was in the water in Canada circa 91-94? Yeesh! Also of note, that Toronto team kind of fell by the way side too after the strike, did they not?
The Sox were a deep team, with a sneaky good bullpen to boot. They also had a Cy Young and MVP winner on the same roster, so the carry over from ’93 to ’94 was expected. Besides Frank Thomas taking a blow torch to the entire AL, the lineup didn’t have a ton of pop, but guys like Julio Franco and Darrin Jackson had real good .OPS averages, as did precocious young slugger Robin Ventura. Also, don’t come at me with any of this Frank Thomas steroid business, ever. Frank had absolutely phenomenal numbers from 1991 and on as an .OPS monster, years before tightly wound baseballs of post ’95.
The Sox though were built on starting pitching, and Jack McDowell helped buoy that without a doubt. Alex Fernandez was up and coming and had a strong year, and Wilson Alvarez was solid, and Jason Bere looked like a future All-Star. However, 1995 didn’t turn out to be so hot. After McDowell left in ’95 and Jason Bere imploded, the Sox rotation fell by the way side, as those were 2 giant holes that were not filled. (Not tom mention, Alvarez kind of had a blah year too.)
Black Jack: Does the house always win?
So as much as I statistically revere Frank Thomas, here is my thing on Black Jack McDowell. He made All-Star Games from 91-93, averaged nearly 250 innings each year from 90-94 which absolutely absurd since cracking 200 inings went out of vogue in the 2000’s. Also, from what I could tell by not missing a start, and he cracked 20 plus wins twice. They say availability is the best ability, and he had that in spades. (no pun intended. OK, it was intended). That being said, he had a league average WHIP around 1.25 (below 1.10 pretty good, above 1.40 yikes.) Maybe pushing just 7 strikeouts per nine innings, and the E.R.A. was pretty solid but not out of this world in the mid 3’s.
His competition for those top 2 Cy Young finishes were Randy Johnson in ’93, who had a much lower E.R.A. and almost literally twice the strikeouts. In ’92 it was Clemens and Mussina, who had lower ERA’s by close to a run and lower WHIPS as well, with similar win numbers. From what I ascertain, it seems that A) Wins were looked upon as the Holy Grail, sort of giving him the Heisman esque feature of “Best pitcher on the best team”. B) Consistency is an attribute and a skill in itself. Kind of like how no demanded to go to a game when Cal Ripken, Jr. was in town, but you knew what you were getting. C) Going off that, I’m not sure how many people we’re like, “Holy Shit! McDowell is on the mound!? We gotta go, we might see something we’ve never seen before!”
Synopsis: Really good pitcher, but top 2 in the Cy Young? Eh.
Whose team was ruined more?
The ’94 strike impacted the Expos for financial reasons. All of their front line players left, with Pedro eking it out and grabbing a Cy Young in 1997, but they were a broke team, hence the move to D.C. in 2005. If if’s and but’s were candy and nuts, and attendance jumps from 20,000 to 30,000 plus every night, allowing them to keep those guys, is it them taking on gargantuan late 90’s Yankees every year?
What does this have to do with 2020? The Sox young players merged into their prime in the early 90’s and right now, they have loads of prospects that are on pace to merge and start their careers on the same timeline, this time in the early 20’s. Are they all gonna hit the jackpot? No. Are some, yes. For every Baez, there is an Almora of course. But, imagine if their was a strike in 90. Do McDowell and Thomas’ career have the same arc for example without that year to play? Who the hell knows. It definitely isn’t fair though whatsoever.