Neither Andre Dawson nor Gary Carter ever played a single major league game in Washington. But there they were at Nationals Park before Tuesday night's game against the Florida Marlins, wearing Expos jerseys and reminiscing about their various knee surgeries -- an aftereffect of the artificial turf of Montreal's Olympic Stadium.
They were there to honor Dawson, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame's Class of 2010, in a ceremony where Dawson's last name and the Expos insignia would hang on the facade above the Diamond Club in the team's Ring of Honor , next to a similar maker for Carter and alongside other Washington baseball greats, including members of the Negro League's Homestead Grays and the old Washington Senators.
When the Expos moved to Washington for the 2005 season, they brought with them the Montreal club's records, player contracts and minor league affiliates --in short, the whole history of the club dating back to its founding in 1969. Since then, the question of whether or not the Nationals have done enough to honor their many heritages (those of Montreal and Washington) has been a controversial one.
For their part, Dawson and Carter understood both sides of the issue.
"Anytime someone extends that effort and pays homage to your career, it's very gratifying," Dawson said. "It doesn’t necessarily mean that I had to play for the organization. I never played here, but I understand the history and the connection and I’m most grateful." But Dawson stopped short of saying the Nationals should do more to honor the Expos, saying flatly, "The team [The Expos] is defunct."
Carter echoed his friend's statements. "To now be recognized with Andre Dawson and all the great Washington Senators players … I’m just speechless basically,” Carter said. “There will always be a remembrance at Nationals Park and I am very honored and very proud.”
When Carter was asked if the Nationals should do more to honor the Expos, he said "They've acknowledged the Washington Senators and that's understandable, and they've done the same for the Negro League players, and just to be a part of that is something very special. Now they've moved and it has a more local feeling that will make it better."
The Nationals require all members of the Ring of Honor to be elected to the Hall of Fame. Carter and Dawson, the only two Expos in the Ring of Honor, meet that criteria. But the Expos also retired the numbers of Rusty Staub and Tim Raines while still in Montreal. Will the Nationals honor them at some future date?
Nationals President Stan Kasten was noncommittal Tuesday night when asked about the prospect of future tributes to the Expos' history.
" I don't know," he said. "[Tuesday night's ceremony] was simply an occasion that was very logical and natural. Andre was a great player and a great person. I wouldn't make any hard and fast statements on future events."
Not everyone in the organization was swept up in nostalgia. As the players put on retro red, white and blue Expos caps to wear during batting practice, pitcher Scott Olsen examined the somewhat garish design.
"Looks like it should have a propeller on top," he said. When someone suggested he hold on to the hat as a collector's item, Olsen responded: "They can collect it. I don't want it."