Baseball changed a lot at the beginning of the 1969 season. That’s the year both the American League and National League split into two divisions. The shift to an East and West division came about because of the addition of four expansion franchises. The 1969 season is often overlooked for being a watershed moment in the sport, but it certainly was.
One of the biggest changes in 1969 was the arrival of the first Canadian team in Major League Baseball. In 1969, the National League welcomed the Montreal Expos, the first MLB team to play it’s home games in that country.
The video shard below shows rare footage of the first game by the Expos, as well as clips from Montreal’s first game in Quebec.
The Expos opened their inaugural season on the road in New York against the Mets. They won that game in a slugfest, 11-10. Six days later, the Expos played at home, and won again, 8-7 over the St. Louis Cardinals.
The biggest star on the 1969 Expos was Rusty Staub, who led the team in batting, hits, extra-base hits, and home runs. Staub became a tremendous fan favorite in Quebec, where he was known as “Led Grande Orange” because of his red hair.
The other star was Jose “Coco” Laboy, a Puerto Rican infielder who had a tough time throwing the baseball to first base (as evidenced by 25 errors), but who endeared himself to fans in Montreal with his jovial, exciting style of play. Laboy smacked 18 home runs in 1969, finishing second in NL Rookie of the Year voting.
Manager Gene Mauch suffered through 110 losses by his expansion team. But the season had its share of excitement. On April 17, in just the ninth game in franchise history, Bill Stoneman tossed a no-hitter for Montreal, against the Phillies. Stoneman went on to lose 19 games, but his hitless gem made that recede into the background.
By the mid-1970s, the Expos finally had a good young group of players who formed into a winning team, finally in 1979. After the 2004 season, the team moved to Washington, abandoning Quebec. But, the memories of 1969, and the many great moments in franchise history are still in the hearts of many baseball fans in that Canadian city.