Saskatoon writer helps finish book recounting 1979 Montreal Expos season

November 8, 2021
Saskatoon writer helps finish book recounting 1979 Montreal Expos season
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The 1979 Montreal Expos captured Canada’s imagination and chased the Major League of Baseball’s National League pennant right down to the wire.

The team’s accomplishments were captured in 1979: The Expos First, Great Season, recently completed by Saskatoon’s own Don Rice. 

A sports writer by trade, with work appearing in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, Rice took the project over following a few others’ failed attempts to produce the book after its original author Norm King died.

“Norm had really been spending about two years of his life putting this book together and he got cancer during that time, but he kept going on with the book, because it meant so much to him,” Rice told CBC Radio. 

“He was such a huge Expos fan and 1979 was a very important and memorable season to him.”

A young team filled with future superstars would ride a hot start and finish with a strong August and September showing to compete for the National League pennant right down to the last week of the 1979 season.

A three game losing streak between Sept. 25 and 28 of that year put the team two games back of the National League’s eventual champions, the Pittsburgh Pirates, who would eventually go on to win the world series that year.

Despite losing out, their accomplishments on the field — a 95-65 record, the second best in the majors — would earn the Canadian Press team of the year award. 

Rice said others who tried to take the book on ran into a variety of problems and they weren’t able to finish it. 

He said a mutual friend of he and King’s was able to obtain permission to finish writing the book and Rice said he volunteered to do what he could to bring it to life.

“[I did it] because that year, the Expos were such a big thing to me as well, but also to honour Norm and all the work he had put in,” Rice said. “It would have been a shame for that to have gone to waste.”

Tim Raines was 19 and appeared in six games for the Montreal Expos in 1979, the first season of his hall of fame career. (Bill Grimshaw/Canadian Press)

Despite being a fan of the Expos and knowing a lot about the season in question, Rice said he was able to learn a lot about the team and that year. But he also learned a lot about the original author, too.

He said the way King was able to assemble information about the season and present interesting, exciting tidbits from what can be dry material — there were 160 games after all — was amazing. 

When asked what King might think about the book getting published, Rice said he was excited to work on the project and figured King would have been honoured to see the project completed. 

“I’d love to talk to his widow and family members and friends and hear what they think about that,” Rice said. 

“I know he was so excited when he got the initial publishing deal to put the book out and I can only imagine how happy he’d be to see this.”

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