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Vladimir Guerrero’s Best Games Were In Montreal — And No One Saw Them

When we think of soon-to-be Hall of Fame inductee Vladimir Guerrero’s outstanding career, we might recall his 2004 American League MVP season with the Anaheim Angels, when he carried his new squad to the postseason with a scorching .363/.424/.726 triple-slash line in September. Or perhaps we’d picture another Angels-era moment, a play that seems to be everyone’s favorite Guerrero highlight: that time he somehow blooped a hit on a pitch that bounced in front of home plate.

But many of Guerrero’s top moments came in relative obscurity, as a member of the (late, lamented) Montreal Expos. Although fans of the big-market Atlanta Braves and New York Mets got to see him play on television with some frequency, Guerrero was mostly touted as baseball’s best-kept secret during his peak, routinely playing before microscopic audiences at Stade Olympique. He was baseball’s equivalent of an indie band on the cusp of national discovery — the hipster fan’s alternative to mainstream favorites like Ken Griffey Jr. or Barry Bonds. And while some assorted clips do exist of Guerrero’s feats with his first MLB team, it was also the era right before MLB.TV permanently killed the notion of an underground star. Guerrero might have been the last truly great player to bear that title.

Certainly, no recent Hall of Famer was seen by fewer people in person during his best seasons than Guerrero. From 1998 to 2002, Guerrero produced 29.5 wins above replacement (WAR)1 for the Expos, marking the top five-year stretch of his career. Over that span, an average of just 10,038 fans came to see each of Guerrero’s home games, according to attendance data from That’s the fewest of any HOF member whose career took place during the expansion era (since 1961), including likely 2018 inductees Chipper Jones, Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman:

The most- and least-watched Hall of Famers in their primes

Top and bottom 10 Hall of Famers by team attendance per game in their five best consecutive seasons by wins above replacement, 1961-present

Top 10 Years Pos Team(s) WAR AVG. Att/Game
Roberto Alomar 1997-2001 2B BAL/CLE 26.9 43,113
Jim Thome 1995-99 3B/1B CLE 26.3 41,716
Greg Maddux 1994-98 P ATL 39.7 40,169
Mike Piazza 1993-97 C LAD 31.9 39,857
Tom Glavine 1995-99 P ATL 26.6 39,232
John Smoltz 1995-99 P ATL 29.6 39,226
Chipper Jones 1998-2002 3B/LF ATL 31.8 37,792
Randy Johnson 1998-2002 P SEA/ARI/ HOU 43.1 35,791
Ivan Rodriguez 1996-2000 C TEX 29.9 35,120
Ozzie Smith 1985-89 SS STL 30.7 34,781
Bottom 10 Years Pos Team(s) WAR ATT/Game
Vladimir Guerrero 1998-2002 RF MON 29.5 10,038
Phil Niekro 1974-78 P ATL 34.9 10,229
Bert Blyleven 1972-76 P MIN/TEX 36.8 10,339
Rod Carew 1973-77 2B/1B MIN 36.9 10,346
Gaylord Perry 1972-76 P CLE/TEX 35.8 11,210
Reggie Jackson 1971-75 RF/CF OAK 31.1 11,883
Catfish Hunter 1971-75 P OAK/NYY 24.6 12,501
Nolan Ryan 1973-77 P CAL 28.8 13,455
Rollie Fingers 1974-78 P OAK/SDP 13.0 14,125
Jim Palmer 1975-79 P BAL 27.4 14,463

Includes hitters and pitchers whose entire careers came in the post-expansion era (since 1961).

Sources:, FanGraphs

That number stands out even more when you consider that Guerrero’s peak straddled the 1990s and 2000s, a consistent period of record-high attendance in the major leagues. All of the other least-watched Hall members on the list above came from the 1970s, when MLB-wide attendance per game had barely budged since the ’50s. By the time Guerrero came along, though, attendance was cresting after two decades of incredible growth. There’s a reason nine of the 10 most-watched HOFers came from the ’90s.

But playing in a crumbling, derelict ballpark north of the Canadian border, for a franchise whose roster was gutted after the 1994 strike derailed a season many still believe was destined for a championship, Guerrero was the ultimate under-the-radar superstar. For example, he finished only 13th in MVP voting in 1998 despite producing the second-best season of his career by WAR (and tying fellow likely Chipper Jones for fifth in WAR among NL position players). During his final four seasons in Montreal, Guerrero had three seasons with a quadruple-digit on-base plus slugging (OPS), yet he finished in the top five of MVP voting only once.

Of course, in some ways the privacy of Montreal also added to Guerrero’s mystique. In combination with his thrilling style of play — he loved to swing at (and hit) anything in the same area code as the plate, and he rifled down base runners with a cannon of an arm in right field — there was a certain romance to the image of the mega-talented Guerrero toiling away thanklessly for a soon-to-be-relocated shell of a franchise. He helped2 drag the Expos to surprising respectability in seasons like 2002, when they beat the odds to finish second in the NL East with 83 wins despite owning the league’s lowest payroll. And when Guerrero was finally given the spotlight of a bigger market in 2004, he made the most of it in MVP fashion.

It made for a great narrative arc to the career of an all-time great player. However, it’s still a shame more people didn’t get to see Guerrero play during his peak seasons. Nowadays, we take it for granted that we can watch small-market stars whenever we want via the power of streaming. But Guerrero serves as a reminder of a time not so long ago, when brilliant individual performances could still be limited to an extremely small audience of lucky admirers.


  1. Averaging together the versions of WAR found at and FanGraphs.

  2. Alongside underrated second baseman Jose Vidro and pitchers Javier Vazquez and Tomo Ohka.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.