Vladimir Guerrero was the American League MVP in 2004 after having a wonderful season in his first year as a member of the Anaheim Angels. (That’s what they were called back then.)
Angels fans loved him as did the writers and he helped lead the Angels to the AL West title.
Even though he was great and exposed more people to what a wonderful and dynamic player he was, I wished he wasn’t in Anaheim that year. I wish he was in Montreal.
2004 was the last year for the Montreal Expos and Vlady was the last great Expo.
Guerrero was born in the Domincan Republic and was not considered to be much of a prospect. The Dodgers and Rangers passed on him, thinking he was out of shape and undisciplined. Expos scout Fred Ferreria (aka The Shark of the Caribbean) saw something and spent $2000 on the right handed hitter.
Whether those dollars were Canadian or American, it was $2,000 well spent. He skyrocketed through the Expos organization, quickly establishing himself as one of the best prospects in baseball. He made a cameo in Montreal in 1996 and was a Rookie of the Year candidate in 1997, where he was teammates with another Domincan named Pedro Martinez.
As the Expos struggled in the late 1990’s, Guerrero became their biggest star. He hit for a high average, slugged homered, stole bases and had a cannon for an arm. But beyond the numbers, a Vladimir Guerrero at bat was a sight to behold. He swung at EVERYTHING! In the dirt, above his head, inside, outside, he took a hack at it.
But here is the thing… he would HIT it! Vlady was a nightmare for pitchers trying to pitch around him because he did not allow that to be an option. Make him chase outside, it was a double down the line. Bust him inside and he would fist it into left. Pitch it into the dirt and he would golf it into the stands. His strikeout total was shockingly low for such a free swinger.
He got MVP consideration in all of the 6 full seasons in Montreal. Fans began to wonder if a new stadium was around the corner and if Guerrero would be one of the factors to keep the Expos in Quebec.
But in 2002 and 2003, when MLB took over the ownerless team and forced unreasonable financial restrictions on the team, Guerrero would play in front of 3/4 empty houses and indifference by the fans who knew their team was going to move to Washington DC.
But in those years, the Expos were surprising contenders under manager Frank Robinson. Guerrero’s OPS reached above 1.000 and his power kept the team in the hunt into September.
However it was not to be and eventually economic reality for a lame duck franchise was too real. Guerrero signed with the Angels after the 2003 season ended and the Expos were scheduled to play one final year in Montreal before moving to Washington where they would rechristened “The Nationals.”
As Guerrero did it all in Anaheim, leading the league in total bases and runs scored, the Expos stumbled in their final year. The team gave an emotional farewell in their final day before a packed house as Vlady was preparing for the Division Series against Boston.
It didn’t feel right that Guerrero wasn’t there. He was the Expos final hope and who knows what his legacy would have been had the Expos managed to pull off the unlikely Wild Card in 2002 or 2003.
He had two more top 3 MVP finishes in Anaheim, leading them to two ALCS appearances and another Division Title, smacking a dramatic hit to help eliminate the Red Sox in 2009.
In 2010 he played in his only World Series as a member of the Texas Rangers, his last great season. He played 2011 in Baltimore before injuries finally cost him.
His numbers never plummeted. He always hit for a high average and with power. Only his body breaking down caused the end.
Beloved in Montreal and Orange County, he received 71.7% of the Hall of Fame vote his first year on the ballot, making him a lock to make Cooperstown in either 2018 or 2019 at the latest where he will join his former teammate Pedro Martinez.
Both were linked together in Montreal. If baseball ever returns to Quebec, Guerrero will no doubt be honored along side Martinez, Dawson, Raines and the late Gary Carter.
He was the last great Expo. He should have been there for the end.