On September 17, 1992, the Montreal Expos faced the Pittsburgh Pirates in the second of a short two-game series at Three Rivers Stadium. Coming off a Chris Nabholz win over Bob Walk the night before, the Expos were just three games behind the Pirates for first place in the National League East with 17 games remaining in the season. The 1992 season was the beginning of, if not for the strike that would wipe out everything two years later, a renaissance for the Expos. Under the tutelage of the wily Felipe Alou, who had taken over as manager on May 22 after the team stumbled to a mediocre 17-20 start under (General) Tommy Runells, the promising young Expos were making life difficult for the favoured Pirates much later in the year than anybody expected. Though nothing would be decided mathematically on this night, everybody knew all of Montreal’s post-season hopes rested on this game. Win, and the Expos would move just two games behind the Pirates with two more head-to-head games to come later in the month at Olympic Stadium. Lose, however, and the Expos would drop back to four games out of first place with very little schedule left.
In September of 1992 I was twenty years old. I was living on the corner of Monkland and Old Orchard in N.D.G., in a second-floor apartment above the Monkland Tavern. I had no cable, so at game time I made my way downstairs with my brother Mike and a few friends to take in the game on the Tavern’s television. In those days, the Monkland Tavern was still a tavern, with simple wooden tables and hard chairs. The windows were set high in the wall, up near the ceiling, to keep prying eyes from knowing who might be inside enjoying a tall Molson. There was only one bathroom in the place; women were permitted to enter – it was 1992, after all – but facilities were shared.
We were so excited that night. We were giddy about our team. Young stars like Larry Walker, Moises Alou, Marquis Grissom, and Delino DeShields were meshing with veterans like Tim Wallach, Spike Owen, and the unforgettable Gary Carter, back to round out his career where it had begun. On the mound, Dennis Martinez was the ace, and newcomer Ken Hill was making us all feel good about the Andrés Galarraga trade. The bullpen was shaping up to be a beast with the young set-up man Mel Rojas and rising closing star John Wetteland. I’ll always remember how, a minute or so before the first pitch of the game, my friend Dickles turned to me and said, “I’ve been looking forward to this all day.”
The game turned into a 13-inning affair, with the Pirates coming out on top. We were devastated, and made our way back upstairs to my apartment. We needed some therapy, and assigned my brother to call the doctor: Mitch Melnick.
At the time, Melnick was the host of (if I remember the name of the show correctly) Sports Phone on CJAD, the late-night sports call-in show. What ensued was the kind of strange call that made late-night Montreal radio so great. While Mike and Mitch conversed about the issues of the day, the rest of us evoked the ghosts of Expos past by screaming out the names of players like Warren Cromartie, Bill Lee, and Woodie Fryman. The tape is old and the audio contains a drone, but it’s possible to make out the whole thing:
Convinced a real humdinger of an Expos party was going on, Mitch asked for our address and hinted he might just stop by later. After a couple of hours had passed, and a few more Molsons had been consumed, we were sure he wasn’t coming. So convinced we were of being stood up, that when the intercom buzzer rang near three o’clock in the morning, and the voice downstairs announced, “IT’S THE POLICE,” we collectively shat our pants. Thinking it best to get out in front of whatever trouble we were in, I opened the door to my apartment and took a step out into the hall to greet the cops. I felt relieved and completely idiotic when Mitch Melnick appeared around the corner of the hallway.
Mitch brought the late Mark Rennie along with him, “for protection.” We escorted the two announcers to the living room, sat them down, and offered them beer, which was disappointingly warm (why it was warm, I cannot remember or understand, except to remind myself I was twenty). There was a moment of uncomfortable silence, which Mitch did away with when he spied my computer screen and quipped, “Gee, guys. Sorry to interrupt your Jeopardy! game.” Mitch and Mark hung out for about an hour, regaling us with tales of the sordid underbelly of the Montreal sports and radio scene (“Yes, Ted Tevan really does eat every single meal at Chenoys.”).
Fast-forward twenty years and Mitch is the host of Melnick in the Afternoon, the best radio show in Montreal, on TSN690. As I mark the anniversary of this particular call, it hits me: though he’s been on the air longer, I’ve been listening to Mitch Melnick for twenty years. That’s half my life. Melnick’s voice is as much a part of the soundtrack of my life as any of my favourite musicians are, some of whom I’ve been listening to for less time than I’ve been listening to Melnick. Which makes what appears to be the impending end of TSN690, a station that Melnick practically built from scratch, such a fucking shame. I just hope that when the station goes, Mitch doesn’t. His talent is too vital a talent for this city to lose. And I’m pretty sure I still owe him a beer, a cold one this time.