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Happy 20th Anniversary, 1994 baseball strike!

Aug 12, 2014, 9:52 AM EDT


Ballplayers went on strike on August 12, 1994. They didn’t come back to work until April 2, 1995. The work-stoppage cost nearly 950 games and, more importantly, led to the cancellation of the playoffs and the World Series. For those of you old enough to remember it, it was a total drag.

While popular opinion at the time (and since) has tended to characterize this as a pox-on-both-of-your-houses battle between greedy rich people, it is impossible to see the 1994-95 strike as anything but the owners’ fault. It was spearheaded by the owners of smaller-revenue teams — men like Bud Selig — who wanted to (a) impose a salary cap on the players; and (b) put all broadcast revenue into a pool and share it equally among the teams. It was a two-front war, really, small-revenue owners vs. large-revenue owners and owners vs. players.

And maybe the small-revenue owners would’ve gotten a full and fair hearing on those issues, but less than a decade before they had systematically and illegally colluded against free agents, earning the distrust of the players. And, it should be noted, the ire of other owners, who were on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in legal damages as a result of the arbitrator’s ruling on the matter. Were the small market teams really going to go bankrupt? Hard to say, but (a) they were unwilling to share their financial data with the players; and (b) had zero basis for being given the benefit of the doubt. Against that backdrop no union, strong or weak, was simply going to accept their unilateral decision to radically change the financial structure of the game to benefit them and harm everyone else. A strike was inevitable.

The strike ended when Judge Sonia Sotomayor — now Supreme Curt Justice Sotomayor – of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, issued a preliminary injunction against the owners, preventing them from unilaterally imposing a Collective Bargaining Agreement and using replacement players for the 1995 season. The players went back to work and, eventually, the sides reached a deal. There has not been a baseball work stoppage since.

There were many casualties of the 1994-95 strike. Most often discussed was the Montreal Expos’ dream season, which seemed destined to put them in the playoffs. And boy they were strong. Several records were in players’ crosshairs that year, including Roger Maris’ single-season home run record, which would have to wait four more years to be broken. Tony Gwynn very well could’ve hit .400 that year. A lot of veteran players decided to call August 1994 the end of their career rather than deal with all of the uncertainty ahead of them. The only possibly bright spot: we were pared a likely sub-.500 team winning the AL West. The Rangers were in first place at 52-62 when the music stopped. That would’ve been . . . awkward.

This week baseball will pick a new commissioner. Or at least it probably will. One who will succeed Bud Selig. A man who probably bears more responsibility for the 1994 strike than any one person. A man who, however, seems to have learned a lot from it over the years, even if he’s never fully and publicly copped to his culpability for it. We’ve seen some rumblings of old divisions among the ownership group over who will replace Bud, with some of that old territorialism creeping in to the conversation.

Here’s hoping, as the owners deliberate this week, they remember what happened 20 years ago today. And that they take action that will not increase the possibility of history repeating itself.

  1. Rich Stowe - Aug 12, 2014 at 10:01 AM

    man, I was really looking forward to the 1994 World Series where it might have been the Expos against the Yankees! The Yankees were the 2nd best team in baseball that year behind the Expos – that Expos team was a beast though

    • J.T. Dutch - Aug 12, 2014 at 10:43 AM

      … The White Sox were arguably as powerful as the Yankees that particular year. It was by no means a given that the Yankees would sail into the Fall Classic.

      • thebadguyswon - Aug 12, 2014 at 2:43 PM

        Some company ran a computer simulation of the rest of the season and playoffs 10,000 times that winter. The most common outcome was Braves beating the Indians in the World Series. Ironic, because that was exactly what happened a year later.

        My point being, there were no surefire pennant winners that year. Just a bunch of teams and fanbases that got screwed out of the opportunity to win it all.

      • atwatercrushesokoye - Aug 12, 2014 at 7:15 PM

        The computer simulation must not have taken into account how the Braves would continually disappoint in the playoffs.

    • gloccamorra - Aug 12, 2014 at 10:24 PM

      I remember Peter O’Malley raging against the cancellation of the World Series. The strike and the aftermath (the union won every court case) may have driven O’Malley to sell the Dodgers, letting in Fox and then the McCourts.

  2. The Dangerous Mabry - Aug 12, 2014 at 10:01 AM

    It’s funny. It seemed like such a big deal at the time, but now I can barely remember it. I imagine that those who were Expos fans don’t feel the same way, though.

    • atwatercrushesokoye - Aug 12, 2014 at 7:24 PM

      Most baseball fans in Montreal blame that event for them losing the Expos.

      In 94 they were getting close to securing a new stadium built in downtown Montreal (The big owe is in the middle of nowhere and apparently a pain to get to) the strike led to a massive backlash amongst fans (more than anywhere else) because they had the best record and felt like the chance to win the WS was stolen from them, the attendance tanked, the deal for the new stadium fell through, attendance didn’t get any better and the ownership issues started to kick in.

      There’s no 100% in things but if the strike never took place there’s a pretty good chance that the Nationals are still the Expos and playing in a 15 year old stadium in downtown Montreal, and given the talent the team had (assuming they would have continued to sell lots of tickets at the old stadium) they probably would have stayed in the hunt for a few years.

  3. zzalapski - Aug 12, 2014 at 10:02 AM

    Hoping the baseball owners learn from history is like hoping “Garfield” will be funny on a given day.

    • nolanwiffle - Aug 12, 2014 at 10:55 AM

      He’s a lazy cat ……..who loves lasagna!

      • infieldhit - Aug 12, 2014 at 12:32 PM

        C’mon now, he’s a much more sophisticated character than that.

        Like, um, he, uh… also hates Mondays.

  4. pete2112 - Aug 12, 2014 at 10:12 AM

    I remember the day like yesterday. I was so upset and angry that it didn’t get worked out and we the fans were cheated out of the best part of the season. I’m also a Yankees fan and it was the first glimpse of what that team had the potential to do for the rest of the decade and while it wasn’t a sure thing, they looked like a strong contender for a championship that season along with a very good Expos team. I suppose things happen for a reason. I often wonder if the Yankees had ended up winning a championship that season would Buck had been fired prior to the 96 season and would Joe Torre be the person he is today without the Yankees. It’s weird to think about all the what-if’s.

    • pete2112 - Aug 12, 2014 at 10:29 AM

      I’ll also add that I’m sure Don Mattingly wishes the strike had ended for a chance at a championship. That 94 team just had something special that year whereas the 95 team had to really struggle a lot at times.

    • bringin1234 - Aug 12, 2014 at 11:41 AM

      AL would have been some fun playoffs that year. White Sox and Indians were going back and forth for first, Yankees were winning…. The best record was the Expos but then it was Yankees, White Sox and Indians. Would’ve made for a hard fought road for any AL team

  5. sportsdrenched - Aug 12, 2014 at 10:13 AM

    I remember this, but not quite as vividly. I remember the Royals were in first place. Ewing Kauffman’s last major push for another World Series.

    But honestly I remember not caring all that much when it happened. I was in the middle of my first Varsity Football Two-a-days, and I had my first serious girlfriend. I spent more time trying to get to 2nd base, than watching or caring about baseball.

    • bringin1234 - Aug 12, 2014 at 11:34 AM

      I cant tell if this is sarcasm or not….. The Royals were 4 games back of the White Sox and the Indians were a game back of the Sox so the Royals were in third

  6. gmkr1979 - Aug 12, 2014 at 10:19 AM

    I remember it very well, and because of the strike, I abandoned baseball for many years and put my attention more to the NBA, which of course, had their little strike in ’99, and went toward the NFL instead. That was a magical year, even though the Mets were not really good. I would be looking at how Montreal was and was kinda rooting for them because of their team and how they were shaping up to be. Not to mention the records that were going to be broken too. I can’t believe it’s been twenty years already…

  7. [citation needed] fka COPO - Aug 12, 2014 at 10:21 AM

    Something else to bring up, this was the last time one of the 4 major US sports had a work stoppage brought about by the players. All the stoppages in the NBA/NHL/NFL (lost pre-season games, but no regular season ones) have been owner initiated lockouts.

    Yet some people will still blame the players for them…

    • natstowngreg - Aug 12, 2014 at 11:54 AM

      If Reinsdorf and the other hard-line owners have their way, the clock on the next lockout may start soon. Like this Thursday, with the Commissioner election. Unfortunately.

  8. swede700 - Aug 12, 2014 at 10:24 AM

    I too abandoned baseball as my favorite sport after that and have paid very little attention to it since that time. I can count on my 2 hands the number of MLB baseball games I’ve seen since. It’s never been the same. The fact that it’s 20 years later and they still haven’t really fixed the finances and the games move slower than they even did then is no incentive for me to ever return to the sport I grew up following.

    • Kevin S. - Aug 12, 2014 at 12:12 PM

      Uh, what? The other three big leagues in the US have all had work stoppages since, with the NBA and the NHL twice missing actual games, and baseball’s finances are perfectly healthy.

    • dhar77 - Aug 12, 2014 at 5:40 PM

      You don’t pay any attention to baseball, but you read and comment on a baseball blog?

  9. zukith - Aug 12, 2014 at 10:34 AM

    I can’t believe that I was only 11 years old when this occurred, as it seems more recent to me. I was a huge fan of baseball at the time, with my idols being Ken Griffey Jr and, for some reason, Ruben Sierra. I remember being so upset about the strike. As an 11 year old, I felt that it had betrayed me and I lost all interest. That season ended up being the last I paid attention to for over 15 years.

  10. nottinghamforest13 - Aug 12, 2014 at 10:39 AM

    People love to praise Cal Ripken Jr but let us not forget he was a prime instigator for taking the strike to the level it became.

    • tearlw - Aug 12, 2014 at 10:45 AM

      How so? He wasn’t in the union leadership that summer and the Orioles declared that they wouldn’t use replacement players (more because Angelos isn’t just a lawyer, he’s a labor union lawyer).

  11. tearlw - Aug 12, 2014 at 10:40 AM

    The two biggest memories for me were the Yankees in first (Go Yankees!) and all my friends hating my guts because I wouldn’t shut up about the players being right. Well, honestly, it was more about the owners being wrong. I hated Bud Selig and Richard Ravitch passionately. (I looked up Ravitch’s bio just now to get the spelling right and his picture still makes me left eye twitch. Blargh.)
    Just for fun for the kiddies out there, look up the proposal/ultimatum the owners put together. The end of arbitration is the one people always forget about. That might have spiked a deal all on its own.

  12. nottinghamforest13 - Aug 12, 2014 at 10:40 AM

    It’s important that we continue to support unions in this day & age as they are the only way workers can be protected against unfair labour practises.

    • tearlw - Aug 12, 2014 at 10:49 AM

      The “only” way? Really? I’m sure in England (your name and the way you spell labor tips it off) there are gov’t agencies dedicated to protecting workers just as there are here in America. Not to say unions aren’t important, just not the sole source of protection from the evils of management.

      And stop calling it rounders!

    • pete2112 - Aug 12, 2014 at 10:50 AM

      I agree with you to an extent but it’s hard for me to look at MLB’s union with the wages and benefits the players receive and compare it to some union steel worker, plumber, electrician. etc. I would say the strike of 94 really showed the disconnect with just how out of touch some of the people involved in the strike were. Yes, the underlying part of a union protecting its employees still applies to this, but lets not make it sound like the players were being treated miserably. One way or another the stars of the game were always going to make their millions and be set for life.

  13. renaado - Aug 12, 2014 at 10:47 AM

    I heard this strike was widely known also for non Baseball fans and it’s impact throughout… Good thing I was born 2 years after that time, so I can’t hear the whole detail of it… Really hard for me to accept this have in Baseball MLB.

  14. icanspeel - Aug 12, 2014 at 10:48 AM

    As a Padres fan and a kid it broke my heart when they went on strike, especially since watching Tony Gwynn strive towards .400 was so exciting. Once the strike happened it took me a few years to get over it and like baseball again.

  15. nolanwiffle - Aug 12, 2014 at 11:01 AM

    It was a bummer, but Big Mac and Sammy made everything all better in the summer of ’98. Isn’t that what we were sold?

    • pete2112 - Aug 12, 2014 at 11:23 AM

      So true. It’s almost like MLB takes one step forward followed by two steps back on a consistent basis. I’m really hoping a new commissioner will start moving things in a more positive direction in the future.

  16. elmo - Aug 12, 2014 at 11:31 AM

    I remember they it sucked but I never experienced the disenchantment that many did. I was more ready than ever for baseball when spring training 95 rolled around.

    • Paul Zummo - Aug 12, 2014 at 3:55 PM

      I’m with you. I was at opening day in Yankee Stadium in 1995 – and I’m a Mets fan (who then went to Shea for the opener there). I understand why others did feel burned out by the stoppage, but I wasn’t one of them.

  17. sdelmonte - Aug 12, 2014 at 12:26 PM

    Ah, memories. Of being at a singles event that last night of the season, and getting home in time to see the end of a Mets game that went into extra innings, as if they didn’t want to stop playing. Of, during the part of the season that should have had baseball, suddenly finding a social life, as if the energies spent on sports were going into dates. Of being at Shea on a rainy Sunday in April when the sport came back, sitting in good seats because all tickets that weekend were $1. Of resolutely ignoring the replacement players, and of buying an Orioles cap because Peter Angelos was the one owner unwilling to go that route.

  18. Chipmaker - Aug 12, 2014 at 1:09 PM

    We were also spared the White Sox calling up minor leaguer Michael Jordan (deserved or not) and seeing him stumble around the Comiskey outfield.

    With Matt Williams hitting 43 homers and Griffey with 40, both on a pace to challenge or even catch Maris, we were spared four years of steroid screamings. Someone would have been foaming at the mouth if either got to, say, 55 or so with a few weeks left. Veracity or a basis in reality was never a requirement.

  19. timmons94 - Aug 12, 2014 at 1:51 PM

    I was at 3rivers to see us blank the expos . Sad, that expos team was awesome

  20. jfk69 - Aug 12, 2014 at 3:46 PM

    Next year please have a one year anniversary for buddy boy Seelig stepping down as the baseball commissar. It has been long over due.

  21. nothanksimdriving123 - Aug 12, 2014 at 4:38 PM

    The strike also ended the Mariners’ epic 20 game road trip that was set to be much longer. Ceiling tiles had fallen in the KingDome, forcing the M’s to hit the road, and moving into a new gear the drive to bring a real baseball park to Seattle.

  22. winkeroni - Aug 12, 2014 at 4:57 PM

    As a Cardinal fan that was 8 at the time, the strike wasn’t the worst thing. The Cardinals just weren’t very good back then. Jefferies was playing out of his mind. He was about the only guy that could hit at the astroturf covered Busch II. Anyway back the the strike being cool. FAN APPRECIATION DAY!!!!! Got free stuff and got to walk around the stadium. They had to get rid of all those promotional items some way. Also was kind of hoping Michael Jordan would be a replacement player.

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