Remember, first, how the Nationals even arrived here. MLB came to own the franchise in a bizarre three-way transaction in 2002, one in which John Henry, then the owner of the Florida Marlins, bought the Boston Red Sox; Jeffrey Loria, then the primary owner of the Expos, bought the Marlins; and the league took over the Expos. That led to a situation in which Wallace and McDonald, both Marlins employees, weren’t sure for whom they worked. Wallace spent three days that spring unloading Marlins equipment at the team’s spring training compound in Viera, Fla.
“But I knew I wasn’t going to be there,” he said. “I wasn’t going to have a job.”
McDonald, too, felt uneasy staying with the Marlins under an entirely new regime. “I was the odd guy out,” he said. So he quit his job with Florida, and a week or so later was hired by Montreal. Wallace, who has worked in major league clubhouses since 1973, joined on as well. What lay ahead for everybody involved was little more than uncertainty.
In 2002, there was still talk that MLB had purchased the team in order to eliminate it, pairing it with another team from the American League — perhaps Minnesota. But the contraction talk came and went, the Expos somehow stayed in the pennant race till September, and the staff kept working. Frank Robinson, a Hall of Fame player who had been hired by Commissioner Bud Selig to be the manager, tried to keep the employees committed to the tasks before them — even as they worked in a front office of about 25 people, while most teams had four or five or six times as many.
“There was talk of contraction, but Frank would always keep us motivated and say, ‘There’s going to be somewhere for us to play. There’ll be somewhere for us to go,’ ” McDonald said. “I don’t know if he knew that or not, but it helped us stay focused.”
Dever, who spent his first five years in the major leagues with San Diego, arrived in the offseason of 2003-04. And even as the Expos played out those next two seasons — playing several of their “home” games in Puerto Rico, spending a month away from Montreal at a time — there was one issue looming over the entire operation: Where would the club end up?
“We would have exhausted ourselves if we talked about it every day;” Dever said. “I, myself, maybe wanted to talk about it more with people, but I didn’t want to bog them down.”
Knorr’s experience showed how much upheaval there was. A catcher who won the World Series with Toronto in 1993, he spent all of 2002 and 2003 with the Expos’ top minor league affiliate. He then thought he would retire. But in the winter, Robinson called. “We don’t have much catching,” he said. So Knorr came to spring training, thinking he’d serve his time there, then become a coach. But on the last day of spring training, Dave Huppert, then the franchise’s Class AAA manager, said, “I need you with me.”