Book Review: Up, Up, And Away

They were the smallest of small-market teams. They played in one of the worst stadiums in baseball. They were slated to be the poster child for contraction until the team was shipped to another city.

In almost every way, the Montreal Expos were always an underdog. They were also a team that seemed to have fate turn against them at almost every turn. Their best team (1994) saw its shot at a World Series ended by a strike that caused the first-ever cancellation of the MLB playoffs. Their second-best team (1981) came within one game of the World Series only to lose back-to-back games, including the finale on Rick Monday’s homer off ace Steve Rogers.

In between, the team seemed to sell off star after star whenever they got expensive. They seemed to almost revel in making their few diehard fans give up on the team.

Jonah Keri was one of those Montreal fans who never gave up on the Expos, even though he vowed to try. And now, 10 years after the Expos’ last season, Keri offers a valedictory assessment of the Expos' 35 years with “Up, Up, And Away" (Random House Canada, $32).

Keri grew up in Montreal, attended countless Expos games and, unabashedly, is writing this as a fan. Personal memories pop up throughout the book, especially as the team moves into its most frustrating decade (the 1990s).

Keri does have enough separation from the events to avoid simplistic attempts to put the blame for the Expos’ failure at the feet of any one individual. There were a cascade of problems that led to the Expos' demise. Keri's work at spelling out the variety of factors involved in the destruction of a team that was among attendance leaders in the early 1980s are some of the book's most illuminating passages.

The book is well-researched with interviews with more than 100 former Expos, front office officials and others who were around the team. But in the end, it's not one that would appear to have as much mass market appeal as Keri's previous release, “The Extra 2%," which looked at the rise of the Tampa Bay Rays.

While the Rays are cursed with both a ballpark and a fan base that are as doomed as the Expos, “The Extra 2%" was also an attempt to spell out further how the rise of analytics was impacting the game on a wide level.

“Up, Up, And Away" is a must-read for Expos fans and a worthwhile read for fans of baseball history. But as a chronological account of a team whose history isn't all that ancient, there are a number of chapters that won't be very revelatory to diehard baseball fans.

It says something for Keri's appeal that “Up, Up, & Away" is a major book release. The book is published by Random House Canada but it will get a widespread release in the United States. In a book market where every game of every prominent New York Yankee has been chronicled, it's great to see Vladimir Guerrero, Steve Rogers and Gary Carter get their due. Keri's insights make this an enjoyable read, but there are places where the chronological format forces the book to cover years that were not necessarily very notable.