In 2004 one of my jobs was to print out the opposing team stats before each home series and bring them to the Manager’s office. Every series, I’d go in to his office, hand Frank the printed out stats, and he would throw them in the garbage. In front of me. Every time.
-Anonymous Former Expos Staffer
The final ‘Montreal Expos Season Ticket Holder Appreciation Day’ was held on May 29th, 2004. We were invited down to the Big O on a Saturday afternoon to take a tour, meet the players and coaches, watch batting practice, and hang around the ballpark a longer than we were normally allowed to.
That day, for the first time, I heard Frank Robinson take questions from some fans. Thank goodness for Chad Cordero that he did.
I don’t remember many people there that day, definitely less than a thousand. After all, the Expos were already 13.5 games back in the NL East, with marquee names likeBrad Wilkerson and Tony Batista leading the way. Unlike ‘02 and ‘03 where there were hints at Wild Card runs and the ability for this fan to dream, 2004 was a full season of dragging your ass to the Stade because you wouldn’t have the opportunity in 2005. After all, no matter how bad the team is, it’s better than not having a team at all. Which brings me to Rocky Biddle.
Biddle was just terrible in 2004 but was always Robinson’s go-to closer. Problem was, the Hall of Famer had greatly over used him in the first half of 2003, and he was still pitching as badly as he was in August and September of the previous year. No matter what, Robinson always liked to go to Rocky. Maybe he liked hearing the fans chant his name. Might have reminded him of some movie or something.
So the season ticket holders are divided into groups and were brought to the field where we have a Q&A with Frank Robinson and Tom McCraw, the hitting coach. About 100 of us were gathered around the two while they were lobbed inane questions by some fans- until a buddy of mine raised his hand and confidently asked: “Mr. Robinson, why is Rocky Biddle still our closer when Chad Cordero is on the team?” Robinson shot him a death glare, but he continued to speak. “Cordero was drafted in the first round after being the best reliever in college. He made the jump from A ball to the Majors last season, and we’re already out of contention. Why isn’t he getting the chance to close?”
The crowd applauded the fan’s moxie for challenging Robinson. After a long pause, Frank said he’d think about it. The Expos lost that night, but the next day Chad Cordero pitched 2 innings to record his first save of the season. I’m not saying that the question posed to Robinson was the lynchpin for Cordero’s rise, but I’d like to think that it might have planted the seed in Frank’s head.
Cordero, who was released by the Toronto organization last week, went on to become the full time closer for the Expos by the end of the 2004 season. The following year he had 47 saves for the Nationals, leading the Majors. He was the second fastest pitcher to record 100 saves (after K-Rod) and was almost unstoppable until he tore his labrum in 2008.
The chances of making a comeback after a torn labrum are minimal, but not as bad as in 2004 when a Will Carroll article said that of 36 major league pitchers who required surgery for a torn labrum from 1999-2004, only one was able to come back and “returned to his previous level”. Yep, the poster boy for one brief shining moment in time was none other than Rocky Biddle.
Biddle last pitched in the Majors in September 2004, when he was shut down with, ahem, shoulder issues. He hasn’t been heard of since, except in 2006, when my buddy Sam saw him in a town square in Hawai’i. When he went up to him and said hello, Biddle told him it was the first time he had ever been recognized outside of Montreal.
As the career of the last player to A) win a game, B) get a save C) throw a pitch at the Big O, in the history of the Expos came to an end last week, I couldn’t help but to think back to the day where I saw a fan convince a curmudgeonly old manager to give Cordero a shot. Giving the role to Cordero and his flat brimmed cap was a small victory for Expos fans in 2004. For a team whose fan base was searching for any reason to cling to hope, watching Cordero pitch day in and day out at the end of ’04 made showing up at the Stade worthwhile.