How Montreal shaped Expos great Vladimir Guerrero's time in the big leagues
An Expos scout and an Expos fan-turned-general manager impacted the beginning and end of his MLB career
Vladimir Guerrero knows a thing or two about good timing.
The former Montreal Expo, who will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame tomorrow afternoon, was a master at squaring up pitches, whether they were in the strike zone or not.
It was also that knack for timeliness that got him in the big leagues in the first place.
Many know Guerrero cut his teeth here, playing in Montreal for eight seasons before moving on to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, where he won an MVP Award and earned four all-star game selections.
But few may know a Montrealer was one of the first people to spot Guerrero's skills, while another had a hand in keeping him in Major League Baseball years after his time in this city had come to an end.
Sunday, Guerrero will be inducted into Cooperstown in front of a crowd that will inevitably be made up of legions of Expos fans, despite the fact that he's going into the Hall as a member of the Angels.
This is the story of the two men who bookended Guerrero's career: an Expos scout who saw his talent before the end of the first tryout, and an Expos fan-turned-general manager who played a role at the end of his time in the MLB.
'No found weakness'
It was late winter 1993, and Expos scout Fred Ferreira had organized a tryout in the Dominican Republic.
As it was about to start, a man pulled up on a motorcycle with a 16-year-old boy on the back and asked if Ferreira could have a look at one more player. Ferreira agreed.
"He ran well, he threw well; I was getting excited about his ability," he said.
That player, of course, was Guerrero.
After the tryout, they organized a scrimmage. They wanted Guerrero to hit as many times as possible in order to evaluate him, but he pulled a groin muscle his first time up.
His day was done, but Ferreira had seen enough.
His scouting report looked like this:
"No found weakness … unusual," he wrote.
"I can project certain areas, but not as much as I did in his report, as a 16-year-old," Ferreira said, looking back.
He wound up cancelling his flight home and headed to Guerrero's house, where he signed a contract with the Expos.
The cannon for an arm, the hitting power — Ferreira recognized all the traits Guerrero became known for throughout his career, something he says he's proud of.
Guerrero was one of nearly 80 players Ferreira signed who ended up making it to the majors. He said he isn't surprised that Guerrero has now made it into the Hall of Fame.
"The way he was playing for all those years, I pretty much had hoped that he would be a possibility. It [was] all positive, year after year, after year."
The pair keep in touch, and Ferreira will be in the crowd Sunday to watch the official induction.
First a fan, then the boss
Alex Anthopoulos, the general manager of the Atlanta Braves, is the Montrealer at the other end of Guerrero's career.
He remembers the first time he set foot inside a big league clubhouse. It was the summer of 2000, and the Montreal native and Expos fan was interning with his hometown team.
That was also the first time Anthopoulos saw Guerrero up close.
"He was an elite player, [a] superstar player at the time, but I kind of stayed in my lane, kept my mouth shut and did my work," he said.
"Just being around, being able to watch him day in and day out, was pretty exciting."
Guerrero was known to be a quiet guy, and didn't speak English or French in interviews. But that didn't stop him from becoming a star in Montreal, something Anthopoulos believes was because he loved the city. It was also due to something else entirely — he was "electric."
"What you do on field is what the fans are going to gravitate to, and he did everything you could ask for on the field."
Guerrero made his MLB debut in 1996, when he was 21 years old. It became clear early on that he would at least have a chance to be a Hall of Fame player, Anthopoulos said. Within a year, he was all-star calibre.
Their story came full circle in 2012 when, as GM of the Toronto Blue Jays, Anthopoulos signed Guerrero to a minor league deal.
But partway through the season, things weren't working out, and Guerrero was released.
Anthopoulos may have started off as an Expos fan, but the novelty had worn off, and the decision was purely professional, he said.
That was the last MLB team to sign him, aside from a symbolic one-day deal Guerrero inked in 2014 so he could retire as an Angel.
Then, in 2015, Anthopoulos signed another Guerrero: Vladimir Jr., one of Guerrero's sons, to a deal with the Blue Jays.
Anthopoulos can remember seeing Vlad Jr. as a toddler running around outside the clubhouse waiting for his dad. That child has grown up to now be one of the top prospects in the game.
With the MLB trade deadline coming up, Anthopoulos said he won't have time to make the trip to the induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y.
But with the way things are going, their story may come full circle again — if Vlad Jr. follows in his father's footsteps and is inducted, too, one day.