The Expos pitcher and his friend

There is a “rule” in the newspaper business than you don’t become friends with the people you write about on a regular (or even irregular) basis. I confess it’s a rule I’ve broken a few times. My ex-colleagues in Montreal would say I broke it with Expos pitcher Steve Rogers, and they’d be right.

However, there’s more to it than writing about your pitcher/friend. At least, in my case there was.

Our friendship didn’t begin at the ballpark, it began wherever and whenever it was our wives first met. These were two women from Winnipeg, where I grew up and where Steve pitched in the minors. They both were single moms (that’s single, as in husbands frequently on the road) of two sons approximately the same ages. They became fast friends.

Over time, that led to many dinners, picnics and playground visits as families…and even an adults-only vacation. Seldom was baseball, specifically the Expos, a topic of conversation — and I never did learn anything of consequence from Steve Rogers that I wouldn’t have learned as a baseball writer in the locker room.

He and I never socialized on road trips…except once. Dick Williams, the Expos manager, and Rogers disliked each other. The three of us were in the hotel lobby in San Diego when Williams said: “You guys want to go for some Mexican food?” Even though this was before their feud was public and I didn’t like Mexican food, we went.

Then one night at Olympic Stadium rumours circulated there’d been a pre-game altercation involving General Manager Charlie Fox. Nobody knew the recipient of Fox’s punch, but something Williams said led me to believe it was Rogers, who’d gone home. So I ran my theory past broadcaster Dave Van Horne and he confirmed it. The next morning, Fox vs Rogers led sportscasts on the radio station where I worked. My media colleagues openly charged that Rogers was my source. It always amused me that it was Dick Williams.

And finally, hours after he gave up the infamous Rick Monday home run, the two couples commiserated over a glass of wine in our home. What I remember from that evening is three of us seemed to feel sadder than Steve, who was unemotional. He had pitched three great games in a playoff run that ended with one bad pitch which cancelled the Expos’ best chance to play in a World Series.

For nine seasons, my post-game questions for Rogers were no different than for any of the Expos, and his post-game answers were no different than he gave all reporters. The only time I may have been overly kind was in a story about the last time I saw “my friend” pitch. He was with the Edmonton Trappers, and gone from the majors for good. The game was in Vancouver, where I was living. I covered his start for the Montreal Gazette and Rogers had pitched five shutout innings, making it easy to be kind.

That was June 1985.

After the game, he came over for a barbecue. Before long his wife would be his ex-wife…and I never saw Steve Rogers again. The link that connected us, our wives, was forever broken.