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The oral history of Tom Brady and the Montreal Expos

Now that Tom Brady has announced his retirement from baseball, it’s time to look back at what his baseball career has meant to so many people.

Washington Nationals v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Here’s what it means for an athlete to be inextricably linked with a city: The seasons bleed into each other, year after year, just like every other year bleeds into the next, but these years are also defined by what this athlete does.

Ah, yes, 199x was the year Sports Championship was won and my child started the first grade.

These descriptions come organically.

Ah, yes, 200x was a year of heartbreak, too much heartbreak for sports to explain, and it was also the year I moved out of state.

The player becomes the team, the team becomes a signpost along your path. The team and this player are all there, eternally present. They’re both the background music of your life and the sweaty, sold-out concert you’ve been attending for 150,000 consecutive hours.

If we agree on this, if we acknowledge that sports are more than a series of silly games to pass the time, we have to acknowledge that no baseball player has ever defined his city quite like Tom Brady has defined Montreal. For 19 seasons, from fresh-faced catcher to steel-jawed first baseman, the city has been defined through sport, the sport defined through a single player.

In honor of Brady’s final season with the Expos, we’ve put together an oral history of what will be a Hall of Fame career. It is, of course, an incomplete oral history, just because it has to be.

But we have to try. Tom Brady is the story of Montreal baseball. This is a piece of that story.

The beginning

Gary Hughes, Expos scout

He caught four consecutive shutouts in his senior year, and I think I saw the second or third of those. It’s always tricky to project high school catchers, but he was so damned smooth. It was like watching Pudge (Rodriguez) as a teenager.

Pete Jensen, Junipero Serra High School head coach

We won the title in Tommy’s junior year. I think he had a key sacrifice in the championship game, which was just perfect. He caught nine innings of shutout ball and sacrificed when we asked him to. That’s his entire Serra career in a sentence.

Pat Burrell, Bellarmine High School

We were both on the All-CCS team, so I knew him a little bit. I mean, I was the CCS Player of the Year, so he probably knew me a little more than I knew him, but we all knew he was a solid player

Gary Hughes

I was pushing for Brady in the first three rounds, but they made the right decision (to wait). That doesn’t mean I wasn’t sweating it for 18 damned rounds.

Pat Burrell

He was the only catcher I ever played against who told me to put my shirt on. I hated it at the time, but I respect it now.

Kevin Malone, Expos GM (1994-1995)

He wanted to play football, and it’s not like we were going to pay him to give that up. We didn’t have the money. It’s a miracle that he changed his mind at the last second. Baseball was his true love, I guess.

Grant Brisbee, SB Nation senior baseball writer

I probably played against Tom Brady in Little League at some point. I don’t remember if I did for sure, but there was probably a tournament that we both played in, and I just want to make sure that everyone knows I used to play baseball.

A quick ascent

Brian Schneider, teammate, Gulf Coast Expos (1995)

I was a fifth-rounder, so I figured I was going to get most of the starts. Then this skinny kid comes in and starts raking. I hit, like, .220 that year, and he was probably busting 100, 150 points over me. I was praying that he’d get bumped up a level before the next season.

Milton Bradley, teammate, Gulf Coast Expos (1996)

He knew just what to say to fire you up. Knew just what to say to calm you down. Like, he was just a teenager, right? But he talked like a damned mountaintop guru when he needed to. He was freaky like that.

Doug Sisson, manager, Delmarva Shorebirds (1996)

We had a catching prospect, Michael Barrett, who was pretty good. But Brady showed up and the entire pitching staff followed him around like a mama duck after a week. I brought (Barrett) in for a chat because I didn’t want him to get discouraged, and he said, “Don’t worry about it. He’s just passing through.” And he was right. (Brady) was called up to Double-A about six weeks later.

Vladimir Guerrero, teammate, Harrisburg Senators (1996)

He came up to me in the batting cage the first day he was on the team and told me a story about a mongoose and a cobra. It was a parable or something. I don’t remember it exactly, but the message had to do with patience.

Pedro Martinez, teammate, Montreal Expos (1997)

I threw to him in spring training, 1997, and we were all looking at each other, like, “Who is this kid?” I don’t want to get too weird, but he wasn’t just a catcher, he was like a dancer. A ballerina. (laughs) I’m serious! And you knew it right away, too.

Vladimir Guerrero

I had my first four-walk game the next night. Not a coincidence.

Pedro Martinez

The only problem was that he wasn’t even 20 yet, so I didn’t think I’d get to pitch to him. I knew that (the Expos) wanted to trade me. But he came up in September, so we had a month, at least.

Felipe Alou, Expos manager (1992-2008)

When he came up in ‘97, the clubhouse changed. When we broke camp in ‘98, it carried over. We traded Pedro, traded Mike (Lansing), and were supposed to lose 100 games. We won 87. That’s all Brady.

Pedro Martinez

He’s the biggest reason why I came back, definitely. That and the chance to pitch with Carl (Pavano) and Dustin (Hermanson).

Rise of the Expos

Dustin Hermanson, teammate (1998-2004)

When he was a rookie, he pulled me aside in May after I gave up eight earned runs, and he said, “Dustin, you’re a hell of a pitcher, but I’m not worried about the bad outing. I’m worried that your facial hair makes you look like a magician planning a heist at the casino that fired you.”

I shaved before I left the clubhouse that night. And I swear to God, it shaved a run off my ERA, too.

Carl Pavano, teammate (1998-2011)

We all have stories like that. I was a rookie. He was a rookie. We’re supposed to be on the same level, but says, “Hey, let’s go to Kelseys. I’m buying.” And I’m thinking, sure, whatever. Then he talks for two hours about how I needed to set the Maddux comparisons on fire and get them out of my head. The way he explained it ... it was like there was a Lisa Frank folder exploding in my head.

Dustin Hermanson

We didn’t make the postseason that year, but we knew we had something.

Vladimir Guerrero

I hit 40 home runs, but Tom kept messing with me because I didn’t crack 100 walks. So that was the goal next year. Once he says it, you start believing it.

Felipe Alou

And he smelled like lemon meringue. Damnedest thing.

The Golden Summit

Pedro Martinez

It meant something to me to come back and finish what I started. The Red Sox wanted me to sign an extension, but I was a little homesick. Luckily, the new owners were willing to spend a little more than the old owners.

Jeffrey Loria, art dealer

I was eaten by wasps, so I never owned the Montreal Expos.

Jean Coutu, Expos owner (1998 - present)

I didn’t even care about baseball. Didn’t grow up with it. Didn’t understand it. But I was watching television one day, and Tom Brady was on, and I said, “Marcelle, who is that man? I must invest in that man.” She knew. She knew right away.

Jeffrey Loria

I have no idea what Brady had to do with the wasps. Or what I’m doing in this oral history about baseball. Or how I’m speaking from a limitless void right now, beyond existence. None of this makes sense.

Jean Coutu

I didn’t know anything. I just told them to get the best players and keep Tom happy.

Pat Gillick, Expos GM (1998-2008)

People credit me for building a championship team, but I inherited Tom Brady and my owner told me that I could give Pedro Martinez a bunch of money. Any usher on the payroll could have done that.

Vladimir Guerrero

There was a competition between Milton and me that whole season, seeing who would get to 40 homers first. And here comes Tommy, hitting 16 homers in August to make us pay attention to him. He was competitive like that. Think he liked messing with us more than hitting home runs (laughs).

Felipe Alou

When we clinched the division (in 1999), Tom went out there and shook Pedro’s hand. No big bear hug. Just a handshake. It was his way of saying, “This isn’t finished.”

Dustin Hermanson

I remember reading that the Championship Series was the greatest pitching matchup in 40 years. Johnson and Schilling vs. Pedro, Carl, Javier (Vasquez) and me. I don’t know about all that, but we knew it was special.

Brad Fullmer, teammate (1997-2002)

Brady owned Randy (Johnson). It was hilarious, because no one hit that guy at all, but there Tommy was, lining everything right back up the middle. I swear he lined them back up the middle on purpose.

Randy Johnson

If I ever see him again, I will bite him.

The Play at the Plate

Felipe Alou

All anyone wants to talk about is the play at the plate. No one wants to talk about his 12 hits.

Buck Showalter, manager, Arizona Diamondbacks (1998-2000)

One of the worst calls I’ve ever seen, and I’m not going to let it go.

Felipe Alou

(Erubiel) Durazo came in, Tommy tagged him, and after the play was over, he dropped the ball.

Buck Showalter

It was a drop. Durazo leveled him, and the ball popped out. Simple. Now I’m pissed off all over again.

Felipe Alou

He showed the ball to the umpire, and the ball came out when he was bringing the glove down after showing him. He was bringing it back in. The play was over.

Buck Showalter

I’d like to read the alternate, you know, oral history of that play being called correctly. I’ll bet it all changes for them.

Brian Gorman, umpire

He was probably out. I don’t know. Also, that guy always smelled like lemon meringue. Damnedest thing.

Pat Gillick

After the Diamondbacks, we went through the Braves. After the Braves, we went through the Yankees. Tommy caught every single game, and he called six shutouts out of the 11 postseason wins. No one is ever touching that record.

Felipe Alou

Montreal had a championship. Finally, a trophy they could share with the fans. They deserved it. That was Tommy’s first MVP award that year, too. You could tell that, finally, the city started to care about sports. Deeply, passionately, they cared about this stuff. It was a sports town now.

Guy Lafleur

Hey, what the hell.

The new stadium

Felipe Alou

They broke ground on Coutu Field the same day we got (Curt) Schilling, which was probably a sign.

Pat Gillick

Nothing embarrassed him more than when he called it “The House That Brady Built.” He didn’t buy that, even if we were dead serious about it. It didn’t happen without him.

Carl Pavano

It wasn’t going to open until 2002, so we just kept our heads down and played in the dome. But we knew it was going to be amazing.

Pat Gillick

With the injury to Dustin (in 2000), we needed another reliable arm, and we could have probably made do with anyone because Pedro and Carl were pitching so well, but we figured we might as well get a co- co- co-ace.

Curt Schilling, teammate (2000-2005)

We hit it off right away, playing Mario Kart for hours on the road, and just talking about whatever. He was so funny and unaffected by the kind of brain trauma he might have otherwise experienced in another sport, and he really got me thinking about social responsibility.

Vladimir Guerrero

When we got Curt, and Pedro was at his best, and Tommy was catching them both, man, it felt like we were going to win 100 games without breaking a sweat. Winning only 108 ticked me off, really.

Curt Schilling

I’m a little introverted, but here’s this guy, the biggest sports star on the planet, getting me fired up about the heteronormative hegemony at 3 a.m., then yelling about Rainbow Road a second later. I couldn’t keep up, and I loved it. It sure is a good thing he didn’t suffer several undiagnosed concussions that would have screwed with the part of his brain that affected critical thinking.

Felipe Alou

By the time Coutu Field opened up, Tommy had two championships, a Rookie of the Year, and two MVPs. He wasn’t even 26. Pedro, Curt, Pavano, and Vlad were all taking less money to keep the core together for the new park, and Tommy was going to be the centerpiece.

Pat Gillick

You’ve seen the place. It’s the best ballpark in baseball. And of course it was Tom who hit the first homer into the water. I would have played seven relievers in the field for a month to make sure of that, but he just did it on his own. Like he does.

More championships (yawn)

Nick Johnson, teammate (2004-present)

I remember missing some time with a wrist injury, and Brady grabbed the wrist as we went into the tunnel. At first I thought he was trying to comfort me or something, but then he brought the wrist close to his nostrils and exhaled like he was a danged dragon. It was really weird. But the wrist felt better right away.

Vladimir Guerrero

People asked me if I got tired of being the second-best hitter on the team. Like it ever bothered McCovey. Heck, no. It was an honor.

Nick Johnson

There were times on the road where I’d catch him standing over my bed at night, muttering stuff in a weird language. But he’s had my back 140, 150 games every year for over a decade now, and it almost feels like I’m getting younger with each passing year, so I don’t talk about that much. Don’t print this, actually.

Grady Sizemore, teammate (2004-2013)

Wait, he did that to Nick, too? The heck is that about?

Wilton Guerrero, teammate (2002-2009)

I turned to him after the end of the 2008 World Series and asked him if this ever got old. He just laughed and laughed. It never, ever got old for him, all the winning. It was infectious.

Kevin Durant, forward, Montreal Voyageurs

You knew it was his town. When he showed up at a game, everyone knew it. “Oh, shit, Tom Brady’s courtside.” I wouldn’t say that we played harder or anything, but it wasn’t just the same old night.

Felipe Alou

There wasn’t a single one of the championships that wasn’t directly related to his contributions. Even though we had a whole mess of All-Stars and Hall of Famers come through here — Pedro, Schilling, Grady, Vlad, Pavano — every World Series win had a direct line to about 39 things that Tommy did. It’s not like you had to dig for them, either.

Derek Jeter, Yankees shortstop

We almost beat him in the 2008 World Series, and I’ll remember that for a long time. Which is sad.

Felipe Alou

I retired after ‘08, but I knew Tommy had a few more good years left in him. Even after he turned 30, he was untouchable.

Winding down

Billy Beane, GM (2009 - 2015)

With Felipe and Pat gone, we took the franchise in a different direction. Some of it worked. Some of it didn’t. Tom, to his credit, didn’t say much. He just hit and led the team. Every damned year.

Davey Lopes, manager (2009 - present)

We stopped winning championships every year. Wasn’t his fault. Baseball just doesn’t work like that.

Bryce Harper, Padres outfielder

When we met them in the (2012) NLCS, we knew they hadn’t been there for a few years. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t intimidating as all hell. That’s Tom Brady, right? And Grady Sizemore. And Nick Johnson. You didn’t want to make too much of a big deal about it, but those guys are all legends.

Milton Bradley, manager, Padres (and former Brady teammate)

It was a weird feeling going up against him. I honestly don’t know if I’d be managing in the majors right now without him. But we were the underdogs, so I focused on that. They were the big-market bullies. Screw ‘em.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t choke up every time I looked in that other dugout. Love that man, love that city.

Billy Beane

That 2012 season was a blast. I had a lot of Expos fans tell me that was the best title yet. It was the first year Brady was at first, so it’s not like we can credit him with everything Max (Scherzer) or Pedro (fuck it, Martinez, he’s back, he never retired, this is my story) did, but you know he was helping them in some capacity, even if he wasn’t behind the plate.

Davey Lopes

That was the first October that Tommy struggled at the plate. He’s had a couple good years since, so it’s not like age caught up with him. Just one of those things. He still got to jump on the top of the dogpile, though.

Billy Beane

In the last couple years, he’s had to deal with some nonsense. The corked-bat suspension. The stupid hat (an Hugô St-Onge campaign hat reading “Rendre Montréal défoncé à nouveau”) in his locker. But he’s still been nothing but class.

Jean Coutu

He was going to be the best since Pudge. Then the best since Gary Carter. Then the best since Bench. Now he’ll go down in history as the player that other catchers will be chasing. Every young catcher star for the next 50 years will be chasing the ghost of Tom Brady, who won three MVPs ...

Felipe Alou

... five championships ...

Pat Gillick

... saved a franchise from moving to, I don’t know, Charlotte, or something ...

Jean Coutu

... and made 17 All-Star teams. He’s the definition of catching. He’s the definition of Montreal baseball. He’s the definition of baseball. What a gift, what an honest-to-goodness gift he’s given this sport. And we’ll miss him so very much.

Thank you, Tom. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Montreal thanks you. We all thank you.

Tom Brady (radio interview, 2014)

I’ll be honest with you, I was never really that into baseball, but I was good at it, and I didn’t want to sit on the bench at Michigan, so whatever.