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When Canada was 'just too cold' for playoff baseball

Forty years ago, the Montreal Expos were facing chilly temperatures at home during a playoff run for baseball's National League championship.

'Vile weather' in Montreal didn't make the MLB post-season any less appealing, said Mordecai Richler

In this Oct. 9, 1981, file photo, Montreal Expos catcher Gary Carter winks at the cheering crowd and gives them the clenched fist salute as he leaves the field after the Expos defeated the Philadelphia Phillies 3-1 to take a 2-0 lead in the National League East Division playoffs in Montreal. (Bill Grimshaw/Canadian Press)

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.

'Vile weather'

Expos return home to Montreal

40 years ago
Duration 2:23
Fans greet Montreal's Major League Baseball team at the airport as it heads into a home game in the playoffs for the National League championship in October 1981. 2:23
  

"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'

Play b-b-b-ball!

40 years ago
Duration 2:02
Toques are necessary to ward off chilly temperatures in Montreal during the Expos' home games during the playoffs against the L.A. Dodgers in 1981. 2:02

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."

Three Montreal Expos players sit in dejection on the team bench after losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Monday, Oct. 19, 1981, Montreal, Canada. The Expos are, from left, Andre Dawson, Warren Cromartie and Chris Speier. (Bill Grimshaw/The Associated Press)

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