There was an announced crowd of 17,526 in Olympic Stadium on Wednesday, the 17th of September in 2003. It was the final home game of the ‘03 season for the Montreal Expos, and, everyone knew, the last chance to see Vladimir Guerrero in the old rouge, blanc, et bleu, since he was headed for free agency that winter.
Guerrero went 2 for 2 with a walk, taking the free pass the first time up and singling in each of his next two at bats, though he got thrown out at second after the second hit in his third plate appearance of the day.
Expos’ skipper Frank Robinson sent Guerrero out to right field after the bottom of the sixth inning, but took him out of the game with one out in the top of the seventh, sending a defensive replacement out to relieve the outfielder.
Fans in Montreal were not happy. Robinson was trying to give Guerrero a curtain call, one last moment in the Stade Olympique, but it robbed Expos fans, in their minds, of one last Guerrero at bat in front of the home crowd.
“Nothing surprises me in this game, the longer I’ve been in this game. If they wanted to see Guerrero, they should have come out more often. They had plenty of chances.”
Robinson and Montreal’s fans didn’t see eye to eye on a number of things.
It was a contentious relationship the between the Hall of Famer, who would move with the franchise and manage the Washington Nationals the first two seasons in D.C. (05-06), and the Expos fans.
He was asked about what was different in D.C. in an ‘06 interview, and why the fans in the nation’s capital quickly embraced him.
“It’s a whole different thing,” he told MLB.com.
“I did nothing [as a player] in Montreal, and the Montreal fans are not baseball savvy like the people in the D.C./Baltimore area. I also followed Felipe Alou, and the Montreal fans were all into Felipe Alou. They thought he was God because he did a tremendous job.”
Ron Calloway, who replaced Guerrero that day, did get one at bat late in the game.
Guerrero got two standing ovations when he came out. He took two curtain calls from the dugout and thanked Montreal fans after the game.
“Merci beaucoup, I love you and muchas gracias,” Guerrero said.
Following a season-ending 9 for 31 road trip, the then-28-year-old Guerrero finished up the 2003 campaign with a .330/.426/.586 line, 20 doubles, 25 home runs, 63 walks, and 53 Ks in 112 games and 467 plate appearances, over which he was worth 3.0 fWAR.
That winter, the eight-year veteran signed a big 5-year/$70M free agent deal with the Anaheim Angels. He went on to win the American League MVP in his first season in an Angels uniform.
Guerrero posted a combined .323/.390/.588 line in his eight seasons in Montreal, with a 162-game average of 37 doubles and 38 home runs during his time with the Expos.
His .313/.369/.523 line over the next eight years of his 16-year career left Guerrero with an impressive .318/.379/.553 career line.
Here’s how the Baseball Hall of Fame summed up Guerrero’s career last night, in a story announcing his election to Cooperstown:
“The eight-time Silver Slugger Award winner ... hit .300-or-better 13 times, drove in 100-or-more runs 10 times and topped the 30-home run mark in eight seasons. The owner of two 30 home run/30 stolen base seasons, Guerrero is one of only eight players in big league history to have at least a .318 career batting average and a .553 slugging percentage, a list that includes Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.”
Will Guerrero go into the Hall of Fame as an Expo or Angel?
His agent, Jesse Guerrero, told reporters in Canada this weekend that Vladi would prefer to go in with a Montreal cap on his plaque.
“Vlad would be the last Expo to go in the hall,’’ his agent Jesse Guerrero said in an interview Sunday night.
“If it’s up to Vlad, he would like to go in an Expo but the [H]all apparently is going to make the decision or determination.
”Vlad has said the Expos’ team, the franchise, does not exist but he understands the numbers he did in Montreal. And the Expos gave him the first opportunity to be in the major leagues.”
Whatever caps he’s wearing, he’ll always be one of the Montreal Expos’ greats. He’s the best hitter I ever followed. I was there in the Stade Olympique for his final at bat in an Expos uniform. I did not boo Frank Robinson.
Congrats on joining your former skipper in the Hall of Fame, Vladi.