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March 28, 2014 at 8:44 am ET
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Jonah Keri Q&A: Montreal Expos, Ville St. Laurent & Cliff Floyd

Ville St. Laurent is a borough; pardon me, arrondissement, in the city of Montréal. It spawned me and Jonah Keri. Although we are both graduates of Concordia University and mutually agreed that Place Vertû is the worst mall in the history of VSL (Shout out to Norgate! Bring back Croteau!) only one of us wrote an incredible book about the Expos. Can you guess which one? Yeah, yeah, it’s him.

I spoke to Jonah about our hometown, my weird crush on Pat Burrell and of course, his new book Up, Up & Away: The Kid, the Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, le Grand Orange, Youppi!, the Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos. 

Bugs & Cranks: Thank you for writing this book.

Jonah Keri: Cool. You’re welcome.

Bugs & Cranks: I loved it. There’s a waiting list, most of my friends want to borrow it but I told them to buy their own because you know, you gotta eat.

Jonah Keri: [laughs] Awesome.

Bugs & Cranks: It’s more than a history of the Expos; it’s a scrapbook of memories and tidbits that every Expos fan will love. That being said, I’m from Montréal so you don’t have to sell me on the Expos. For the rest of Canada, Americans and non-Expos fans, what do you want tell them to get them to read the book? Why should they care about a team that doesn’t really exist anymore?

Jonah Keri: My kind of blanket answer that I give when people ask me; let’s say that you love macramé. You love macramé. It’s so important to your life, I’d read that book because I feel like if someone is passionate about something that’s what’s gonna happen. There’s no question that I’m passionate about this subject. In two ways: Number one, as a fan certainly that it was a shaping experience and all that for my life. And number two, as a journalist that I spent almost three years digging up more facts, talking to more people, getting more stuff. You know it’s such a deep dive that I think you can have a casual interest and you’d be like, “Wow this guy really cares about this thing, it’s probably worth my time.”

I can tell you about Vladimir Guerrero and Andre Dawson, those are inherently interesting people. Maybe more interesting than macramé, although, maybe some people may disagree, but in my mind it really is about that. It’s about the idea somebody would be obsessed with their subject matter for three years. I think that’s a positive or can be a positive if it’s done correctly.

Bugs & Cranks: Sold! Before I was old enough to go to games alone with friends I would go with my dad and we would drive. We’d take the Metropolitan [AUTHOR’S NOTE: The Met is the worst unless you like traffic and potholes.] and get off at Viau and drive down what seemed like the longest street in the world just to pull up at this eyesore of a stadium and for my eight-year-old self it felt like an eternity. In reality it’s what, a 20-minute drive from St. Laurent?

Jonah Keri: Pretty much.

Bugs & Cranks: It felt like we were driving from MontrĂ©al to Boston and then the closer we got, I’d see the tower from the car window, the tower on the Big O, and that’s when I’d get excited. You do touch on this the book, meeting your friends at du College Metro to take public transit as a teen, when was your excitement moment as a kid when you were being driven to the Big O? Was it as soon as you got in the car knowing you’re going to a game? 


Jonah Keri: I almost always went by metro. Definitely when you drive up, you can see the tower from anywhere, you know this. If you’re coming from downtown, you can see it from there. I think that was it. I think that was the emblem for me. I can remember, and certainly it was like that then and when I moved away and I’d come back and fly over the city you’d see it or whatever. It’s so iconic. You know lots of cities have stadiums. For whatever it’s worth, whatever you think of this crazy ballpark it definitely stands out.

Bugs & Cranks: For sure. In researching and conducting interviews for the book you probably got to talk to some childhood heroes. Who was the person that you spoke to that wasn’t a hero but became one? After I read your book, I now have so much respect for Charles Bronfman. Not that I didn’t have respect for him before, but was there anyone that you talked to that you were just like, “Wow, this person is a god.”?

Jonah Keri: I don’t know about a god [laughs] but…

Bugs & Cranks: [laughs] Yeah, too strong. [AUTHOR’S NOTE: I had just binge-watched two seasons of Game of Thrones and before I called Jonah I was talking in a northern accent while cleaning the house. If anyone has a bad case of the King Joffrey’s it’s former Expos owner Jeffrey Loria.]

Jonah Keri: Cliff Floyd really made an impression on me. It’s funny, Cliff Floyd is definitely quoted extensively in the book but there’s all this stuff that I didn’t end up using. He’s about my age, a couple years older than I am. We met in a coffee shop in Miami and he just dazzled me. We talked about, he had a really bad rib injury in ’95 and he went into intimate details about his rehab and how difficult it was and stressful and he’s near tears and so am I, in the middle of this busy coffee shop. He’s just telling me all these stories. So smart, so insightful, so able to channel the emotion of the time; you know, the ’94 season and his own career and everything that happened. I came away really impressed. We spent about two hours talking. Other than Felipe Alou, Cliff Floyd is probably my favorite. 

Bugs & Cranks:  If “JK Livin” McConaughey can win an Academy Award, then baseball can come back to Montreal. I’m not knocking Dallas Buyers Club, I think it’s a great movie but like, Matthew McConaughey plays the same character in every movie, he just did it 40 pounds lighter in this one. However, with Pauline Marois and the charter and all that political nonsense, the political landscape might scare away not only future owners but the players as well. What’s your one sentence or one word pitch to get players to come to Montreal to be part of the new Expos should baseball return? [AUTHOR’S NOTE: It would take me way too long to explain The Charter of Quebec, Pauline Marois, the PQ, etc. But, please ask your buddy Google to tell you why this woman and her band of merry racists needs to be stripped of her power.]

Jonah Keri: A one-word pitch?

 Bugs & Cranks: I would just say “smoked meat poutine”. [AUTHOR’S NOTE: Three words, yes I can read.]

Jonah Keri: [laughs] All that’s great, but I don’t have a one-word pitch for you because I think that the answer is complex because the reason they left is complex. I feel like the city has a lot to offer. When I spoke to these players they all kept saying it was the best time of their lives which is interesting to me because from the outside it has a reputation and going through customs is a pain in the ass. [AUTHOR’S NOTE: I was held up this past December at the Quebec/NY border because the customs officer thought I was smuggling crack or something. He didn’t specify.]

Granted, if you’re 22 years old and you’re staring your major league career anywhere, San Diego, Kansas City, I think you’re going to have warm memories anyway but these guys really talked it up. I think part of it is if you’re a good looking, rich, 22-year-old guy in downtown Montréal, you’re going to clean up. But even beyond the nightlife you can really appreciate the culture. You know, some of the Latin guys were saying just how easy, even though people don’t really speak Spanish, it’s such a melting pot, you just kind of feel comfortable. For the African-American players it was the same thing. There’s no bad sentiment, nobody hassles you, it’s just cool. It’s got that environment, it’s a very intangible thing to describe what it is about Montréal, but it has that. They really felt it and they really appreciated it and it was a formative time in their careers and lives. I think recapturing that feeling; everything that makes Montréal so great is really a lot of the reason that having a baseball team here can be great. 

Bugs & Cranks: Finally, The Extra 2% and Up, Up, & Away have incredibly long titles. For your next book, which I can only hope is about the life and times of Pat Burrell, would you consider a shorter title?

Jonah Keri: No, although Pat Burrell’s very handsome. [AUTHOR’S NOTE: Duh.] Let’s see, I don’t really want to write another book but if something comes across my desk that’s a crazy, big story that’s way beyond the scope of these last few things. But yeah, the subtitles are all about SEO anyway. [AUTHOR’S NOTE: I used to work as a keyworder/SEO specialist and let me tell you, he’s right.] Sure, I’ll try to do a two-word title next time and even if it’s not about Pat Burrell we’ll just call it “Pat Burrell”. Is that okay?

Bugs & Cranks: Well, there’s your SEO because he’s probably getting into a fight somewhere anyway.

Jonah Keri: That’s true. See, that could work. You’re on the marketing team, I appreciate that. I mean it’s strictly for SEO purposes and I’ve already got people mocking me for it. The thing that I enjoy the most is that I get to do these radio and TV interviews and the poor person who has to read it over and over.

Bugs & Cranks: Fair enough!

Thanks to Jonah Keri for doing this interview. You can read a review of his new book here.


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