Twenty years ago during July/August/September 1994, the MLB season & World Series were cancelled.
The source of the dispute was a deliberate provocation by ownership & its puppets in the MLB commissioner’s office.
This piece is an attempt to educate & reclaim what was stolen.
Background & Trajectory:
Nineteen-ninety four was a turbulent time in US politics. The neo-conservative reaction to Bill Clinton’s election in 1992 was in full swing, as Newt Gingrich would led a right-wing Republican takeover of the House of Representatives and Senate. This reaction would successfully roll-back Clinton’s liberal-leaning Comprehensive Healthcare Initiative; and turned both of his terms as US president into a tabloid witch-hunt, culminating in the first-ever impeachment of a US president. In 1998, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Bill Clinton for perjury; for lying to conceal an extra-martial affair with staffer, Monica Lewinsky.
What followed in US foreign policy, was a sharp turn towards militarism, starting with missile strikes in Sudan & Afghanistan in August 1998 and the US/NATO bombing of Serbia (March-June 1999).
Domestically, the Bush vs Gore Supreme Court decision, which halted the counting of cast ballots in Gore’s favor, was a consensus ruling-class decision to dispense with democratic rights in order to ruthlessly pursue ruling-class interests. This hijacking of a US presidential election in November/December 2000, is still poorly understood by working people, as are the circumstances around 9-11-2001. These events are the foundations the global surveillance apparatus & modern police-state conditions were all now live under. This has been reviewed & clarified to provide context to events affecting MLB.
The MLB owners had lost their last battle with the players in court in December 1990, when a judge ruled collusion by all 26 team owners and the MLB commissioner’s office, headed by Peter Ueberroth. The player’s union (MLBPA) was awarded $280 million in stolen wages. From the off-seasons of 1985-1987, baseball’s greatest stars including: Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Phil Niekro, Kirk Gibson, Jack Morris, etc. were not allowed to sell their services as free agents, because all the owners had a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ to not sign ANY free agents. This was planned by MLB commissioner Peter Ueberroth, and carried out by every team’s management & staff; making all of them accomplices in the ownership’s conspiracy to defraud the players.
By 1994, the owners were in no mood to compromise; threatening to retract previously won collectively bargained player’s rights by unilaterally invoking a hard salary cap in order to depress player salaries. Ownership was intransigent on the hard salary cap, knowing the players would reject it.
The players walked out on August 12, 1994 because it allowed them receive most of their season’s salary while hurting the owners financially by cancelling the post-season.
Much of MLB’s season revenue comes from the post-season. The owners provoked the walkout by insisting on a salary cap, thinking they could smear the players as greedy if they refused. It worked well for awhile, as the sports media attacked the players with its usual reactionary vigor, but when ‘acting commissioner’ Bud Selig went before the cameras on Sept 14, 1994 to announce the cancellation of the World Series; no one believed any owner to be innocent.
The last baseball commissioner Faye Vincent noted, “The Union basically doesn’t trust the Ownership because collusion was a $280 million theft by Bud Selig and Jerry Reinsdorf from the players. I mean, they rigged the signing of free agents. They got caught. They paid $280 million to the players. And I think that’s polluted labor relations in baseball ever since it happened. I think it’s the reason [Union Legal Council, Donald] Fehr has no trust in Selig.”
Donald Fehr and the MLBPA insisted the owners collectively made billions of dollars annually. Fehr argued the players create the value so they must be fairly compensated according to free-market principles. You would have thought he was V.I Lenin leading the Bolsheviks, the way the sporting press vilified him.
The MLB owners were desperate by the spring of 1995. They had decided to bring in replacement players, pressuring minor leaguers to scab for the owners in order to break the strike. One minor league player under particular scrutiny was Michael Jordan, OF for AA Birmingham Barons– a CHI White Sox affiliate. Jordan had retired from basketball after the death of his father, and dedicated himself to becoming a big-league baseball player.
His progress was encouraging, impressing scouts with his development in skills & power in the 1994 Arizona Fall League (AFL), and there was speculation he could be a September call-up in 1995.All that was pushed ahead as he was repeatedly questioned in the spring of 1994, if he would be a replacement player. Jordan was in a particularly difficult situation in that the owner of the Chicago White Sox was the same man who owned the Chicago Bulls, Jerry Reinsdorf.
Reinsdorf had been one of the leaders in the MLB owner’s collusion conspiracy.
To Michael Jordan’s credit, he always refused any offer of becoming a replacement player, insisting that he earn his way to the majors.
All this likely contributed in pushing Michael Jordan back to the NBA, and it was probably where be belonged anyway.
Minutes after the owners submitted, and the ink was dry on the new collective bargaining agreement; Reinsdorf signed free agent Albert Belle to a 5-year $55 million contract, the first super-contract of its kind.
Players salaries have escalated ever since, thus vindicating the players as being correct in not believing the owner’s cries of bankruptcy.
How Bud Selig became MLB Commissioner
Faye Vincent was fired by the owners in September 1992 and replaced with “small market” Milwaukee Brewers owner– Bud Selig. Selig constantly whined about “competitive balance”, having to compete against big-spending teams such as the George Steinbrenner’s NYY and Peter Angelos’ BAL. He pointed to Camden Yards, the Orioles beautiful new park (which was often sold out), and exclaimed, “We need a new ballpark if we are going to compete.”
This came from an owner who employed a front office led by old-time GMs Harry Dalton and Sal Bando, who managed to run off their best prospect ever, Gary Sheffield (3B FLA .276/.385/.584); then claimed they couldn’t afford franchise hero DH Paul Molitor after 1992. Molitor took his HoF bat to TOR in 1993, where he was the second-best player in the AL (Frank Thomas MVP), and became a WS hero helping TOR repeat as WS champions. TOR teammate RHP Dave Stewart famously said here never played with a more unselfish player than Paul Molitor.
The MIL front office led by the Dalton gang had plunged into free agency in the late-1980’s, signing free-agent busts such as 1B Greg Brock (career line .248/.338/.399) & 1B/DH Franklin Stubbs (career line .232/.303/.404). When MIL re-signed fan-favorite & ace LHP Teddy Higuera to a large $ deal, Higuera immediately tore out his rotator cuff; the Brewers front office hadn’t insisted on an MRI while negotiating his extension.
Now under GM Sal Bando (above), the only valuable MIL player was LF Greg Vaughn (.254/.345/.478). Left field and the County Stadium bleachers past its fence, was designated Vaughn’s Valley by the local faithful. Unfortunately, too many balls thrown in by Brewers pitchers ended up in Vaughn’s Valley. In 1994 MIL was last in the AL Central, 15 games behind the CWS when the season was cancelled.
As a fan, I always felt MIL manager Phil Garner was a good skipper, but he had no chance with this team. A friend & I would regularly go to games at County Stadium around that time, and we would observe Garner walk out to the mound again & again in the middle innings. My friend would always put his hands behind his back and make a gesture of being handcuffed.
1994 Hall of Famers
On Jan 12, 1994 LHP Steve Carlton was elected to the HoF.
Carlton was one of the greatest LHP ever: W-L 329-244, 3.22 ERA, 5217.2 IP, 4136 K
The HoF Veterans Committee tapped manager Leo Durocher and NYY SS Phil Rizzuto; career .273/.351/.355 hitter. Nicknamed “Scooter”, Rizzuto played under manager Casey Stengel with Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, etc.; and helped the Yankees win 10 AL pennants and 7 World Series in his 13 seasons. Rizzuto served 3 prime athletic years (1943-45; his age 25-27 seasons) in the US Navy.
The 1994 Baseball Season (All stats 1994, unless noted)
In 1994, there was a newly-added Divisional round of playoff games, via the Wild Card. From 1969-1993, MLB had 2 divisions in each league, with only its division champions advancing to the post-season. The NL & AL West were both short-stacked with only 4 teams; all other divisions had 5 teams.
It was a memorable Opening Day at Wrigley Field when Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes hit 3 HRs (2 off Doc Gooden), but the Mets still won 12-8.
The CHC would finish last in the new NL Central.
The Cubs best players were 1B Mark Grace (.298/.370/.414) and intriguing young RF Sammy Sosa (.300/.339/.545).
HoF numbers player 1B Rafael Palmiero, whom the Cubs traded to TEX for reliever Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams a few years earlier, hit .319/.396/.550 for BAL that year.
A no-hitter by LHP Kent Merker (ATL) in his first start of the season on April 8, raised eyebrows around MLB.
If you weren’t a Braves fan, you could only be envious of their pitching riches.
The ATL rotation included HoFers Greg Maddux RHP (16-6, 1.56 ERA, 202 IP), Tom Glavine LHP (13-9, 3.97 ERA, 165.1 IP) and John Smoltz RHP (6-10, 4.14 ERA, 134.2 IP); along with young upstart LHP Steve Avery (8-3, 4.04 ERA, 151.2 IP) and now LHP Kent Merker (9-4, 3.45 ERA, 112.1 IP).
This ATL starting rotation under Bobby Cox & Leo Mazzone became the best staff ever when ATL added All-Star LHP Denny Neagle from PIT for the season in 1997 going 20-5, 2.97 ERA, 233.1 IP as their 4th starter.
RHP ATL Greg Maddux 10 CG, 202 IP, 1.56 ERA in 1994
For comparison: RHP Bret Saberhagen (NYM) was 2nd in NL ERA at 2.74
NL Central– CIN leads, with HOU 0.5 GB led by HoF 1B Jeff Bagwell (.368/.451/.750–MVP), HoF 2B Craig Biggio (.318/.411/.483), and All-Star 3B Ken Caminiti (.283/.352/.495).
The Reds were led by HoF SS Barry Larkin (.279/.369/.419), LF Kevin Mitchell (.326/.429/.681) & RHP Jose Rijo (9-6, 3.08 ERA, 172.1 IP). Deion Sanders, an NFL All-Pro CB & punt returner was their CF (.283/.342/.381) acquired from ATL mid-season. In the spring of 1995 as the baseball strike was nearing an end, ‘Prime Time’ negotiated a $35 million deal to play for the Dallas Cowboys, whenever he was done with the baseball season.
Note: Deion Sanders’ career batting line was .263/.319/.392.
PIT lost HoF LF Barry Bonds after 1992, and finished 22 GB of PHI in the NL East in 1993. They were 13 GB in the NL Central when the season was stopped in 1994.
It would continue to a streak of 20 years of finishing below .500 before the Bucs grabbed a WC in 2013, finishing 94–68.
The NL West was poor, with LAD at 58-56, 3.5 games ahead of SFG.
LAD were led by HoF C Mike Piazza (319/.370/.541), young fiery RF Raul Mondesi (.306/.333/.516) & RHP Ramon Martinez (12-7, 3.96 ERA, 170 IP).
SFG were led by HoF LF Barry Bonds (.312/.426/.647) and 3B Matt Williams (.267/.319/.607)
COL was in its 2nd year of existence, and had serious starting pitching issues.
SD was the worst team in the NL.
RHP Scott Erickson (MIN) threw a no-hitter against punchless MIL on April 27, 1994.
The next day, LHP Kenny Rogers (TEX) threw a perfect game against the CAL Angels.
The standings in the AL West were unprecedented in MLB, at the time of the work stoppage. TEX, with a 52-62 record led the division, one game better than OAK and 2 games ahead of SEA. CAL was 19 games under .500 (47-68), and yet only 5.5 GB.
The CLE Indians had the best lineup of their era:
1B Paul Sorrento .280/.345/.453
Switch-hitting 2B Carlos Baerga .314/.333/.525
Gold-glove SS Omar Vizquel .273/.325/.325
Young slugging HoF 3B Jim Thome .268/.359/.523
All-Star C Sandy Alomar .288/.347/.490
MVP candidate LF Albert Belle .357/.442/.714
Under-rated (borderline HoFer) CF Kenny Lofton .349/.417/.536
HoF rookie RF Manny Ramirez .269/.357/.521
HoF veteran DH Eddie Murray .254/.302/.425
The CLE pitching staff was anchored by Charles Nagy (169.1 IP, 3.45 ERA), and was above-average overall.
The CHI White Sox were 67-46, one game ahead of CLE when the season was called.
The White Sox were led by their great pitching staff of RHP Jack McDowell (181 IP, 3.73 ERA); RHP Alex Fernandez (170.1 IP, 3.86 ERA); LHP Wilson Alvarez (161.2 IP, 3.45 ERA); and young stud prospect RHP Jason Bere (141.2 IP, 3.81 ERA). Between CWS & CLE in 1994, the team that didn’t win the division was likely going the be the AL Wild Card.
The best team in the AL was the NYY at 70-43, 6.5 games clear of BAL.
Defending WS winners TOR were in 3rd, 16 GB. The NYY had finally been allowed to rebuild themselves through the farm system. From 1990-92 MLB suspended owner George Steinbrenner, creating a window of opportunity for the Yankee front office led by Gene Michael, to develop their prospects. Steinbrenner had a propensity for meddling, rushing and/or trading away top prospects. He also handcuffed management by overpaying on free agent bats. This had led to a post-season drought for the NYY that stretched back to 1981.
By 1994, fourth-year NYY player Bernie Williams (.289/.386/.453) was their CF; and they had already smartly acquired valuable parts in Paul O’Neil (.359/.460/.603), LHP Jimmy Key (17-4, 3.27 ERA, 168 IP), and HoF 3B Wade Boggs (.342/.433/.489).
Future Yankee stars still in the minors included: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte. This was the core for their great championship run from 1996-2000, where they won 4 WS in 5 years. The 1994 season was the end for 1B Don Mattingly (.304/.397/.411), and the season being cancelled cost him only best chance at a post-season. He would be replaced with Tino Martinez (.261/.320/.508), from SEA.
The best AL pitchers were:
RHP Roger Clemens (BOS) 9-7, 2.85 ERA, 170 IP
RHP Mike Mussina (BAL) 16-5, 3.06 ERA, 176.1 IP
LHP Randy Johnson (SEA) 13-6, 3.19 ERA, 176 IP
RHP David Cone (KC) 16-5, 2.94 ERA, 171.2 IP
LHP Jimmy Key (NYY) 17-4, 3.27 ERA, 168 IP
Best AL players were:
1B CWS Frank Thomas 38 HR .353/.494/.729
LF CLE Albert Belle 36 HR .357/.442/.714
CF SEA Ken Griffey Jr 40 HR .322/.403/.674
CF CLE Kenny Lofton .349/.417/.536; 60 SB, 12 CS
NL Best team: Montreal Expos .649 winning % in 114 G.
Les Expos were 6 games better than the Atlanta Braves.
Managed by Felipe Alou, the 1994 Montreal Expos are in the discussion (with the 1995 ATL Braves), as the 2nd-best team of the decade.
The 1998 NYY were all-time great.
Left fielder Moises Alou (.339/.397/.592); CF Marquis Grissom (.288/.344/.427) and borderline HoFer RF Larry Walker (.322/.394/.587) were the best outfield in baseball, driving the MON lineup. Their starting pitching had HoF RHP Pedro Martinez (11-5, 3.42 ERA, 144.2 IP), along with established workhorses RHP Ken Hill (16-5, 3.32 ERA, 154.2 IP) & LHP Jeff Fassero (8-6, 2.99 ERA, 138.2 IP). Their bullpen had young, hard-throwing RHPs Mel Rojas (3.32 ERA, 84 IP) and John Wetteland (2.83 ERA, 63.2 IP).
The 1994 MON Expos were a patiently assembled team, and this franchise was truly cheated out of their best chance of ever winning a World Series.
Brief history of the Montreal Expos since the 1994 strike
After the 1994 strike was settled, MON Expos management began shedding its key players. Art mogul Jeffrey Loria bought the team in 1999, and so mismanaged it that the Expos did not reach an agreement on television and English radio broadcast contracts for the 2000 season. Thus, no Expos games were broadcast on local TV or radio in 2000.
In December 2001, the Boston Red Sox accepted a purchase bid from a group led by John W. Henry, owner of the FLA Marlins. Henry sold the Marlins to Loria, and MLB bought the Expos from Loria for $120 million.
Loria immediately moved the entire Expos front office and on-field staff, including manager Jeff Torborg, to Miami — leaving MON without personnel, scouting reports, and office equipment– including the team’s computers. Without an owner willing to operate the team in Montreal, it was widely understood that the sale of the Expos to MLB was the first step in the process of either moving or folding the franchise.
It was widely speculated around 2001, that the MON Expos & MIN Twins were to be the two teams eliminated by contraction. The contracted-team owners were to be paid handsomely by the survivors. All this was being seriously discussed by MLB owners, only a few years after the ARZ Diamondbacks and TB Devil Rays came in existence in 1998. Owner plans for elimination of two franchises were scuttled when the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, operator of Minnesota’s Metrodome, received an injunction requiring the Twins to play in the Metrodome during 2002, so MLB could not shut down the MON Expos alone while easily preserving its 162-game schedule.
Post-1994, the Expos became a farm system for contending teams to raid or pick off in free agency. In the summer of 2002, Expos GM under MLB Omar Minaya engineered arguably the worst trade in MLB history; acquiring 3 months of RHP Bartolo Colón (10-4, 3.31 ERA, 117 IP) from CLE in exchange for future All-Stars 2B Brandon Phillips, CF Grady Sizemore, as well as Cy Young ace LHP Cliff Lee.
Believe it or not, Los Expos played home games at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico for parts of two seasons (2003-2004). After losing HoF RF Vladimir Guerrero to free agency after 2003 (without even offering him arbitration, so they could not collect their compensatory draft pick), the Expos finished their last year in Montreal (2004), with a 67–95 record.
In 2005, MLB moved the franchise to Washington, and renamed it the Nationals. The franchise was sold to real estate magnate Ted Lerner (estimated net worth $4 billion) in 2006.
The Montreal Expos from 1994 until their end in 2004, are an example of the ruthless nature of business in sports. The Expos never again had a chance to compete, as MLB and its ownership conspired to strangle the franchise. Their fertile & productive farm system along with their small-market ingenuity & creativity were systematically destroyed by powerful forces that viewed them as an impediment to greater profits. That is the legacy of baseball in Montreal & the lost 1994 season.