Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Beginning of the End to the 1994 MLB Season

Today marks the 20th Anniversary of the Major League baseball strike which ultimately led to the cancellation of the 1994 World Series. After curling up in the fetal position wondering how this could have happened to America’s most beloved pastime, baseball fanatics bounced back and verbalized their anger, disappointment, and angst through posters and protests at the beginning of the 1995 season.

Image sources: ABC 7 News DenverTimeCleveland.comESPNOccasional Planet, and Scout.com

The strike stemmed from a salary cap proposed by team owners that would level the playing field for competition. The players weren't happy. Owners claimed that bankruptcy would be inevitable if player's salary demands were met, and players claimed they were already underpaid and were sick of the exploitation (the salary has since increased roughly 180%, but that's another story for another time).

Players banded together and left the field on August 12th. Nearly 1,000 games were scrapped, including the first World Series to be cancelled in 90 years. After 232 days, the strike was resolved and the players came out on top. Most teams continued living in multi-multi-multi million dollar heaven, while one eventually disappeared. The story of 1994 cannot be told without mention of the now defunct Montreal Expos, the team with the best record in baseball at the time. With the second-lowest payroll in MLB, the Expos were guaranteed a playoff spot for the first time since 1981. As the season came to an abrupt end, the 1994 Expos are now considered one of the biggest 'what-ifs' in baseball history. The World Series-less Expos moved to Washington 10 years later.

Image source: This Great Game

Individual players got screwed as well. Tony Gwynn, batting .394, was on his way to finishing a season over .400 (Ted Williams was the last player to do so in 1941) and Matt Williams (who had 43 homers at the time) was on track to beat Roger Maris' 61 single season home run record. Michael Jordan was just dipping his toes in the baseball pool when the strike happened. He ran back to basketball the following year.

When the strike ended at the beginning of the 1995 season, people were still pretty pissed off. Game attendance and television ratings plummeted. People flocked to stadiums to solely demonstrate their anger. A Cincinnati fan paid for a plane to fly over the Red's stadium carrying a banner that read "Owners & Players: To hell with all of you!" Three men attending a Mets game wore matching "Greed" t-shirts and jumped on the field to toss $1 bills at the player's feet before being restrained by security.

People eventually moved on. Overall, baseball in 1994 was far from being a complete tragedy. On the heels of 1993 blockbuster films Rookie of the Year and The Sandlot, the strike year spit out classics Angels in the Outfield, Cobb, Little Big League, and Major League II. The films were what the fans needed: a glorification of the good ole' American tradition (underdogs, miracles, family, happinessblahblahblah), while staying away from the seedy political side.

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