Wounds from baseball's 1994 strike have never completely healed

Pedro Martinez and the Expos were 74-40 when the 1994 baseball strike began, and things were never the same in Montreal again.


By MICHAEL ARACE | The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio | Published: August 16, 2019

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — This week 25 years ago, Tony Gwynn's quest to become the first .400 hitter since Ted Williams was derailed. Matt Williams, who was on pace to hit 61 home runs, and Ken Griffey Jr., just a couple of dingers off the pace, were waylaid. Baseball Hall of Famer Goose Gossage played his last game — and so did football Hall of Famer Bo Jackson. Among others.

The playoff hopes of the Cleveland Indians, a half-game out of first in the American League Central, and the Cincinnati Reds, a game up on the Houston Astros in the National League Central, evaporated.

The Montreal Expos, who had the best record in the game, were mortally wounded.

Major league baseball players went on strike on Aug. 12, 1994, and the work stoppage lasted 232 days. The World Series was canceled for the first time since 1904. Owners recruited replacement players for spring training in 1995. (Michael Jordan, an outfielder in the Chicago White Sox system, refused to cross the picket line and went back to the NBA.)

The game had seven work stoppages from 1972 through 1990. By the time the players struck in 1994, their union had not a shred of trust left for management.

There was good reason for this: Three times in the late 1980s, owners were caught colluding to constrict the free-agent market and hold down salaries. The owners paid for those collectively bargained violations with $280 million in arbitrated settlements. One of the primary thugs in the market manipulations was Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig.

In 1992, the owners gave the ax to commissioner Fay Vincent — the last of the classic custodians of the game — and replaced him with Selig, a pliable tool. Among Selig's primary tasks was to demand a salary cap, one that was mechanized to maintain artificially low salaries. This demand, among others, effectively scuttled collective-bargaining negotiations and led the players to strike in 1994.

Today's players should have locker-room shrines dedicated to the players of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Today's players' gains were preceded by decades of pain, not the least of which were suffered by fans.

Baseball lost a lot of us with collusion, lockouts, Selig, etc. — and 25 years after the last strike, some of us have still not reembraced the game, not quite.

Some of us who are old enough still recall Sept. 14, 1994, when the rest of the season and the World Series were canceled.

Gwynn was hitting .394, Williams had 43 home runs for the San Francisco Giants and Junior had 40 homers with the Seattle Mariners.

Bo Jackson took off his last uniform.

The Indians were playing their first season in The Jake. Their home record was 35-16 and included an 18-game winning streak.

The Reds, with Barry Larkin in his prime, were in first place. Manager Davey Johnson was only mildly criticized.

The Expos were 74-40 with 585 runs scored. They were thinking about the World Series, if not the Stanley Cup. They had a terrific pitching staff led by Pedro Martinez and a core of players that included Larry Walker, Moises Alou and Marquis Grissom.

The city of Montreal's loss had to be the biggest loss among a plethora of losses. The Expos went from filling Olympic Stadium before the strike to selling off their players after the strike. Baseball in what was then Canada's biggest city never recovered.

Owner Jeffrey Loria eventually conspired with Selig to sell the Expos to the league and buy the Florida Marlins, which freed former Marlins owner John Henry to buy the Boston Red Sox. In the last bit of the subterfuge, Selig flipped the Expos to D.C.

Montreal got robbed.

One would like to think the lessons from the great baseball strike have been well-learned. It should be noted that the league has not had another work stoppage since. Yet, for some of us who loved baseball, and who can remember 1994, the sting doesn't go away, not quite.


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