When Canada was 'just too cold' for playoff baseball
'Vile weather' in Montreal didn't make the MLB post-season any less appealing, said Mordecai Richler
Forty years ago, 12 years after joining the ranks of Major League Baseball, the Montreal Expos had finally made it to the post-season.
"Now, pennant fever is running high in Montreal," said Knowlton Nash, host of CBC's The National, on Oct. 15, 1981. Earlier that day, the team had arrived at the city's airport after playing two games in Los Angeles in the National League championship race.
But as pennant fever was heating up, the climate at Montreal's home field was trending the opposite way.
Baseball in mid-October was a different experience at Olympic Stadium compared with the balmier U.S. climes where professional baseball was usually contested.
"It's been a long wait, and traditionally Canada was the farm teams," said Montreal writer Mordecai Richler. "And so it's very appealing to be up there [in the playoffs], and to have them come up here and play in such vile weather."
Reporter Don McPherson joined a crowd of about 100 fans who waited patiently as the team's early morning flight arrived. The next game in the series was scheduled for the following day.
In their journey through the playoffs — which had already taken them past the Philadelphia Phillies for the division title — the Montreal team had become Canada's team, said McPherson.
"I'll take this little sip for our fans in Canada," said Expos manager Jim Fanning, lifting a beer cup.
'It's just too cold'
The fans in Canada were apparently prepared for cool temperatures. A photo in the Globe and Mail on Oct. 14, 1981 showed a woman in the stands wrapped in a foil blanket and wearing an Expos toque.
At batting practice on Oct. 16, McPherson found the Expos players also wore toques.
"Baseball's a game that you're not moving all the time," said shortstop Chris Speier. "You have a tendency during the cold weather to stiffen up."
First baseman Warren Cromartie, who was originally from Florida, compared the temperature in Montreal to "the end of the North Pole."
"I didn't think they played baseball up here," he said. "I think Yukon Jack maybe played up here, but other than that, it's just too cold."
It was "a pretty cold night" for baseball, according to Nash's introduction: 10 degrees Celsius at game time.
"I don't think anybody gets used to this," said the Dodgers' Davey Lopes. "We just go out there, play against the elements, and the better team will win."