MONTREAL -- Andre Dawson was caught. The Chicago Cubs right fielder had taken it upon himself to have some fun with his former Montreal Expos teammate Gary Carter, but it was Dawson who was about to become the butt of the joke.It was the Expos' 1992 home finale when Carter came to bat in the seventh inning of a scoreless game with the go-ahead run on first base. The crowd of 41,802 at Olympic Stadium stood in unison for what would be Carter's final big league at-bat. It was then that Dawson recalled a conversation the future Hall of Famers shared during batting practice.
"I told him that if he came up late, I was going to challenge him in, take away the line drive and throw him out at first, because I knew that he was having trouble getting down the line," Dawson said. "I wouldn't have shown him up that way, but it was just something to throw around and have fun with."
As he did throughout his career though, the man affectionately known as "Kid" would get the last laugh.
"So I started creeping in from right field," Dawson recalled, "and what does he do? He hits the ball to right field over my head, and of course now I've got to run, and I've got bad knees."
Carter reached base with an RBI double as the Expos went on to beat the Cubs, 1-0. After pumping his fists and thanking the crowd, Carter was replaced by pinch-runner Tim Laker, and left the game to a standing ovation.
"The way it played out, it was storybook. I was very happy for him because he had the opportunity to tip his cap to the crowd and acknowledge the love that they had shown over the years."
Twenty years later, the love for Carter remains as strong as ever. Dawson was one of 13 members of the 1981 Expos who reunited in Montreal last weekend to celebrate Carter's legacy, and to help raise money for the Gary Carter Foundation and the Cedars Cancer Institute.
Carter was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in May 2011 and died nine months later. He was 57.
"You have a certain element of respect and responsibility for those that you played with," Dawson said. "We lost Gary at such a young age and throughout this whole fundraiser we're including and remembering him... I had a knot in my stomach when I heard the bad news about his condition and then how it deteriorated over the next nine months. It really took a toll on a lot of people."
Carter played parts of 12 seasons with the Expos, making seven all-star games over that span, while winning the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards three times each. In 2003, he became the first Expo enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
But with the Expos having moved to Washington in 2004, baseball fans in Montreal struggled to collectively honor the greatest catcher in franchise history. Enter The Montreal Baseball Project. This organization, led by former Expos left fielder Warren Cromartie, seeks to someday bringing baseball back to Canada's second largest market.
"I think it triggered more than a little something," Cromartie said of Carter's passing. "It triggered Montreal and the people. They were maybe a little embarrassed and ashamed in regards to not really being able to do anything without a team. ... When somebody passes in life, the human nature is that you want to do something after he dies. So we had this epiphany, this creative idea that we would try to do something for him. So his spirit has a lot to do with this gathering."
The Expos reunion, the first of its kind since the team moved, included a charity golf tournament, fanfairs, baseball clinics and a formal gala. More than $20,000 was raised for the Cedars Cancer Institute according to event organizers.
A baseball field in the Montreal suburb of Dorval, Quebec, where Carter lived during his Expos playing days, was also named in his honor.
"He would have loved this," said Tim Raines, an Expos outfielder for parts of 13 seasons. "This would have been right up his ally -- more so just getting a chance to return to Montreal. This is where it all began. It was a vitally important time in his life... Seeing that Montreal loved Gary -- he was probably the most popular player to ever play here -- this weekend definitely would have been a positive for Gary Carter."*****
With Carter emerging as one of the game's best catchers in the late 1970s, an outfield comprised of Cromartie, Dawson and Ellis Valentine, an infield that included Larry Parrish and Rodney Scott, and a pitching staff that included Steve Rogers, Bill Gullickson and Bill Lee, the Expos had the makings of a contender.
"It was a fun group," Dawson said. "The nucleus of the team was developed from within our Minor League system, and we had a lot of doubters which, I think, fueled us in a sense. Nobody really paid a lot of attention to us across the border and we used that as motivation."
After finishing in second place in the National League East in 1979 and 1980, the Expos were the second-half division winners in the strike-shortened 1981 season. Montreal then beat the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL Division Series, before losing to the eventual World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Championship Series.
"I think one of the problems of this franchise was the fact that we never did win the big one," said Jim Fanning, the Expos manager for parts of three seasons from 1981-84. The Expos had the National League's best record from 1979-1983, but only one playoff berth to show for it. Coming in second place in the division, as the Expos did in 1979 and '80, meant you missed the postseason, with the addition of the Wild Card still over a decade away.
"We didn't get to the World Series in 1981, we came so close," Fanning said. "Had we won that year or had we won one of the previous years when Pittsburgh (1979) and Philadelphia (1980) beat us out in the final days of the season, I think with a World Series win or even just with a World Series appearance, you may still have baseball here today in Montreal. It would have been utopia for the city."
Ben Raby is a contributer to MLB.com