In the summer of 1994 both Ken Griffey, Jr. and Matt Williams were hitting home runs at a historic pace. Tony Gwynn, was hitting balls at a Rogers Hornsby pace on root to possibly being the first player since Ted Williams to finish with a .400 batting average. The Montreal Expos was the best team in baseball led by a stellar batting order that featured Larry Walker and a rotation with a young Pedro Martinez. The New York Yankees were on pace for their best season since the early 1980’s under the tenure of Buck Showalter. It seemed everything was in place for the 1994 season to be the most memorable seasons in the history of the game. Then everything just stopped.
On August 12, 1994, the first day of a strike that would last until April 2, 1995 began. It lasted a total of 232 days. The longest that the game would witness in its history and the strike that would change the landscape of the game in more ways than just labor negotiations. Along the way, the remainder of the regular season and the 1994 postseason were canceled as well. For the first time since 1904, a World Series would not be played and Major League Baseball also became the first professional sports league in North America to lose an entire postseason due to work stoppage. A total of 948 games would be cancelled in all and the both the 1994 and 1995 seasons would not complete a 162 game schedule as, the when the strike ended, it forced a shorter season to take place in 1995.
The reasons behind strike revolved around a series of events during the 1992 and 1993 seasons, between the Office of the Commissioner, the Players Association, and the owners. It was the perfect storm as labor, business, and management issues collided with each other to create the unthinkable.
Some issues even went further back to the 1920 Supreme Court ruling in Federal Baseball Club v. National League, revolving around Major League Baseball’s antitrust status. Other issues were the result of the owners trying to argue for the viability of supporting small market clubs with a form of salary cap and revenue sharing, and for the players their problems revolved around the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement at the end of 1993.
As the season wore on negotiations got further and further apart as MLBPA head Donald Fehr and owner representative Richard Ravitch could not see eye to eye on a solution. When the strike came to an end, it took Federal mediation through the courts to get the players back onto the field. The last bit of mediation came in 1995. Congress would rollback part of Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption that had been in place since 1920. Still, with the play back on the field, their were effects from what had taken place.
It has been twenty years since the strike. It changed the game in 1995 and beyond. One of the short term effects was the strike ended Michael Jordan’s baseball career which was a good thing as he would go back to the Chicago Bulls and lead then to another three titles.
The other short term effects were not so great. The strike led to the collapse of MLB’s television deal leading to a restructured deal with Fox Sports. However since the strike, MLB’s television focus has shifted regionally instead of nationally. Fans were also slow to comeback to games initially as well, and some players such as Rick Sutcliffe chose retirement over returning to field.
The long term impact shifted the game in a lot of ways. Inter-league play following the strike would become part of the game, eventually leading to a restructure of the league later on. Perhaps the largest impact though was on the Montreal Expos, the team that was the gold standard throughout the ’94 season. The strike virtually killed baseball in the city of Montreal, the Expos would never recover following the strike and in 2004 would leave for the dormant baseball city of Washington D.C. They are by far the biggest what could have been’s if the strike had not occurred. Perhaps there would still be a team in Montreal to this day. For one thing, the strike was the start of the downfall of the Expos and oddly enough the rise of Atlanta’s grip on the National League East for the next 10 years.
It was not the only thing though, ’94 could have also been Don Mattingly‘s best shot at a World Series given the Yankees success that year. Ken Griffey, Jr. was hitting home runs at a historic pace and Tony Gwynn was coming closer to hitting immortality. That season could have given baseball its worst playoff team with poor play of the American League West, and the possible chance of success for both the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians.
Thankfully baseball has been at labor peace since the strike and the only North American sports league so far in the 21st century to not have a strike or lockout. We are now at a point where both sides understand it is better for both parties to reach an agreement, that it is better for the game.
The 1994 season could have been baseball’s marquee season but instead it became a black mark, a warning to never let this happen again. Enough is enough, now let’s just play some ball.