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From San Diego to Montreal

There are some interesting parallels between the San Diego Padres and Montreal Expos.

Vintage helmets of the ‘73 Padres and ‘69 Expos
SD Hat Guy

Some of the fun in collecting baseball caps resides in learning the baseball history behind the headwear. When expanding my collection beyond just Padres fare I went north of the border and happened upon a vintage Montreal Expos cap. What I discovered upon further reading were some very interesting parallels between our Padres and the now-extinct Expos.


The most obvious parallel is their birth dates: both the San Diego Padres and Montreal Expos became National League MLB franchises in 1969 after being awarded expansion teams alongside the American League Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots (now the Milwaukee Brewers). Coincidentally the MLB teams also arose from AAA and minor league counterparts: the Padres of course from the Padres of Pacific Coast League fame and the Expos from the Montreal Royals.

Jackie Robinson, former Montreal Royal and Larry Doby, future Padre. Both men would break through MLB’s color barrier.
TSN Archives

The former teams were instrumental in breaking the color barrier in baseball. In 1945 the Montreal Royals signed Jackie Robinson, who would famously go on to break the MLB color barrier alongside Larry Doby (of the Cleveland Indians) in 1947. The PCL Padres also helped to end discrimination by signing John Ritchey in 1947. He would break the PCL color barrier in 1948. The aforementioned Larry Doby also had links to both the Padres and Expos: after playing for the PCL Padres in the late 50s Doby went on to become a scout and minor league instructor for the Expos.

Both MLB teams also suffered from early futility: the Padres wouldn’t achieve a winning season for 9 years, the Expos in 10.


The 1994 season lost to a player’s strike had strong implications for both the Padres and Expos.

Tony Gwynn - 1994

The ‘94 Padres were toiling in last place and ultimately ended the season at 47-70. There was still a reason to tune in to Padres games, however: Tony Gwynn was hitting. Tony wasn’t hitting just at his usual (already tremendous) level, but at a level unmatched since San Diego native Ted Williams hit .400 for the 1941 season. With the unfortunate end to the ‘94 season on August 11th, Tony fell only three hits short and ended the season with a .394 batting average. Gwynn’s single season average is considered the highest ever achieved in the “modern” era of baseball and has been immortalized in Padres pantheon and as a beer in Tony’s own design and preference.

Larry Walker and his fantastic flow in his last season as an Expo in 1994.

The premature end of the ‘94 season may have proven to have been much more dire for the Montreal Expos. Boasting a MLB-best record of 74-40 on August 11th, the Expos were positioned to make a World Series run with 5 players named as All-Stars. The strike itself was due to money: among other things were the club owners’ insistence on a salary cap and revenue sharing of broadcast monies, both of which the MLBPA opposed. The end of the season and the cancellation of the ‘94 World Series ended the championship hopes for the Expos and triggered their ownership into a fire sale. The fire sale of players from the Expos began their slow downward spiral into what would eventually become...

A Move To Washington

The fate of the Expos is well known among most baseball fans. After Jeffery Loria attempted to rebuild the franchise only to fail and sell the team to MLB, the league kept the team afloat for a couple of years before announcing that the Expos would cease to exist. The Montreal Expos played their last game in 2004 and by 2005 were the Washington Nationals.

Dave Freisleben in a proposed Washington prototype uniform

Little known outside of the San Diego fanhood is that the Padres themselves almost suffered the same fate some 30 years prior. C. Arnholt Smith was looking to sell the sell the burgeoning Padres franchise in 1973 and found a buyer in a group led by Joseph Danzansky. The sale was ratified by the league and seemed to be all but a sure thing: Dave Freisleben posed in a prospective Washington uniform and baseball cards were produced with Padres players labeled as “Washington Nat’l Lea.” in advance of the move. Fortunately for San Diego a savior was found in McDonald’s owner Ray Kroc, who bought the team in 1974 from a legally-pressured Smith (who was being sued by San Diego for breaking the lease to the stadium) for $12 million and kept the team in America’s Finest City. Washington wouldn’t have its own baseball team for another 30 years.

Iconic Hats

Ok, so this is maybe a bit subjective. Still, you’d be hard pressed to find two teams that boasted more iconic (or iconoclastic) cap looks. While the Padres made their debut into MLB with a simpler design, the split-panel cap of the mid-70s and 80s is regarded as one of the most recognizable looks in MLB uniform history.

Mid 70s-era Padres cap, all-nylon 80s Expos cap
SD Hat Guy

The Expos of course entered MLB with a unique look on their own: a pinwheel cap that featured blue rear panels, red mid panels and white front panels with a blue brim. No other team featured so many colors on their cap and the Expos utilized this cap until the 90s. Both the Padres and Expos made wholesale changes to their cap designs in the 90s, with the Padres adopting a navy blue cap and the Expos changing from the pinwheel look to a standard royal blue cap.

TBTC 90s Padres cap, remade 90s Expos cap
SD Hat Guy

Latin America

Both the Padres and Expos have unique links to Latin America.

The Padres were one of the first two teams to play a baseball game outside of North America (excluding Japan), taking on the New York Mets in Monterrey, Mexico in a three game series (La Primera Serie) on August 16-18, 1996. The Padres will return to Monterrey for a series against the Dodgers this year.

Patch design used by the Expos in 2003

The Expos have a more interesting link: while owned by MLB in 2003 and 2004 the team played 22 of their 81 home games in San Juan, Puerto Rico as a revenue booster. Though the Expos did well enough in 2003 even with the split-home stadium schedule, the penny-pinching collective management of MLB prevented the Expos from making the playoffs that year.

Other Links

There are of course other miscellaneous links between the two teams:

  • Matt Stairs, current Padres hitting coach and former Padre player made his MLB debut as an Expo.
  • Padres all-time home run leader Nate Colbert spent time as an Expo towards the end of his career.
  • Rondell White began his MLB career as an Expo. You might remember him as the sole representative of the Padres in the 2003 All Star Game.
  • Other various players spent time on both clubs: Archi Cianfrocco, Bill Almon, Derrel Thomas, Graig Nettles, Scott Livingstone, and Randy Ready were among the most noteworthy names.
  • Manager Dick Williams of the 1984 NL Champion Padres team made his way to the Padres from the Expos.
  • The Expos have 3 players enshrined in the Baseball Hall Of Fame wearing an Expos cap: Gary Carter, Andre Dawson and most recently Tim Raines. Should Trevor Hoffman be elected this year, the Padres would also have 3 players in the Hall with a Padres cap. Trevor (with luck) would join Dave Winfield and Tony Gwynn.
  • Both teams had a Tim (a good name) as a stalwart infielder: Tim Flannery for the Padres and Tim Wallach for the Expos.

What do you think of these parallels between the Padres and Expos? Can you think of any more?