If I Met Warren Cromartie in Front of the Reptile House at the Zoo, This is What I'd Say to Him
"Cool snakes, Warren."
"Andre Dawson used to bring pythons into the clubhouse. Did that every week until one ate Doug Flynn. We had to play the python at second that day. At the end of the week he was outhitting Flynn. Nobody noticed there had been a change. Bill Virdon wanted to keep playing him, but the Players Association said he would hurt licensing revenue. The SPCA said it was cruel to make him slither across the artificial turf like that."
"Flynn, or the snake?"
"I loved everything about Montreal, but I know I got out just in time. After a few games with Flynn and Angel Salazar playing together, you could see that vein in Skip's neck popping out. It was scary stuff."
"It always amazed me how players would complain about Montreal, or not want to play there. You're a pro athlete, young and rich. You can play in the best party city anywhere in the big leagues, or you can go to Milwaukee or Cleveland..."
"Just excuses. Customs, the cold weather, the language barrier. OK, customs could be a pain. But most guys had a place in Florida, so winters weren't a problem. And the language thing? First of all, most people there speak both English and French. I considered myself fortunate to get to experience a different culture anyway, even picked up some French on my own. And the women? Wow. Yeah, I'll stand in line a few extra minutes with my passport if that's the trade-off."
"Who were your running mates on those Expos teams?"
"Ellis Valentine was always a lot of fun. Anytime we'd go into a place, Jerry White would run to the bar and get shots for everyone. And man, you should have seen Larry Parrish on the dance floor. Big ol' Southern boy, but I'm telling you, LP could tear it up!"
"Gary Carter. Camera hog or gamer?"
"A little of both. Did he love the attention? Sure. But we all did. I mean, you have to be to be a ballplayer. This isn't dentistry. As long as he was in the lineup, we were cool with it. He could hit. And I know I wouldn't want to be squatting for nine innings in St. Louis in July--better him than me."
"How bad was the turf at the Big O, really?"
"Ask Andre. He was almost as fast as Raines when he started. But all those years running down flyballs in center just sapped it out of him. Go into the clubhouse after a game, there was more ice in there than Elizabeth Taylor's jewelry box."
"I could see you limping a bit. That from the turf?"
"Partly. I went quail-hunting with Pepe Frias once. Dude shot off a chunk of my ankle. I never told anyone in the front office. John McHale would have finished the job."
"What about crocodile hunting? Who's your go-to guy?"
"Chris Speier. People thought he was quiet, but I could definitely see him jumping in and rolling on a croc. He's a bad man."
"Rodney Scott, no question. You ever see him swing the bat? He knew he wasn't hitting the ball anywhere, so he just chopped at it, tried to pound it into the turf and run it out. Perfect for whacking a snake?"
"Dick Williams is the only one who'd have been crazy enough to try that."
"Youppi! Great mascot, or the greatest mascot?"
"You asked me about what happened when we went out at night? One night me, 'Dre and Bobby Ramos hit Crescent Street. We're walking over, and we see Youppi! doing a promotion or something. It's winding down, and we ask him if he wants to join us. He smacks his head and does that googly-eye thing he does. So we figure that means he's game. We hit the clubs. Now, this is 1980. By this point we're getting good, and people are starting to recognize us a bit, especially Dawson. But as soon as they saw Youppi! that night, everyone just stopped. The ladies were all over him! I tried to get him to lend me the costume for another night, but he wasn't having it. That orange fur's a gold mine."
"And then the next year is the big '81 season. A lot of people remember you waving the Canadian flag after you guys finally won it. Seriously, Cro...was that a Wade Boggs jumping on the police horse moment, or was that for real?"
"From the heart, man, from the heart. People gave Montreal a hard time later on, but it was an exciting time back then. When we were winning, it was a party every night in that stadium. Ugly park, bad turf, but it was electric that year. We felt the love and support from the fans, and we felt like we were part of something special. I'll always have warm feelings for that city, and for Canada. It's a second home to me."
"I gotta bring it up. Rick Monday...why would Jim Fanning bring in Steve Rogers there, in relief, on short rest? I mean I was 7 at the time, and I knew Rogers was good. But I didn't understand why they brought in a starting pitcher in the 9th inning. I mean, nobody could touch Jeff Reardon all year!"
"I still think about that game. Rogers was great for us too. Who knows? We still could've tied it up in the bottom of the 9th, scored more than 1 run in that game maybe. That damn Monday."
"True story. I was in the broadcast booth at Dodger Stadium one time visiting the Marlins announcers, Dave Van Horne and Jon Sciambi. Van Horne and I are talking about the old Expos teams. And who walks into the booth just then to say hi? Monday. Van Horne introduces us. Monday says, 'Pleasure to meet you.' I looked him right in the eye and said, 'Wish I could say the same.'"
"I'd have had your back if things got ugly, believe me."
* * * * *
Thanks to Steve Goldman for providing the inspiration for this piece.
Jonah Keri is the editor and co-author of Baseball Between the Numbers. His Expos-related rookie card collection includes Andre Dawson, Gary Carter, Tim Raines, Randy Johnson, Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez, Vladimir Guerrero, and the immortal Andy Stankiewicz. He knows to an absolute certainty how the rest of the 1994 season would have played out had it kept going. You can reach him at email@example.com.