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The 1994–95 Major League Baseball strike was the eighth work stoppage in baseball history, as well as the fourth in-season work stoppage in 23 years. The 232-day strike, which lasted from August 12, 1994, to April 2, 1995, led to the cancellation of between 931 and 948 games overall, including the entire 1994 postseason and World Series (these numbers account for the fact that postseason series can be of varying lengths; in addition, 12 other games scheduled to be played prior to August 12, 1994 were cancelled for other reasons, mainly weather-related). The cancellation of the 1994 World Series was the first since 1904; meanwhile, Major League Baseball became the first professional sport to lose its entire postseason due to a labor dispute.

Contents

Background

Owners demanded a salary cap in response to the worsening financial situation in baseball. Ownership claimed that small-market clubs would fall by the wayside unless teams agreed to share local broadcasting revenues (to increase equity amongst the teams) and enact a salary cap, a proposal that the players adamantly opposed. On January 18, 1994, the owners approved a new revenue-sharing plan keyed to a salary cap, which required the players’ approval. The following day, the owners amended the Major League agreement by giving complete power to the commissioner on labor negotiations.

The dispute was played out with a backdrop of years of hostility and mistrust between the two sides. What arguably stood in the way of a compromise settlement was the absence of an official commissioner ever since the owners forced Fay Vincent to resign in September 1992. Vincent described the situation this way:

"The Union basically doesn’t trust the Ownership because collusion was a $280 million theft by Bud Selig and Jerry Reinsdorf of that money 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 Fehr has no trust in Selig."[1]

On February 11, 1994, the owners greatly reduced the commissioner's power to act in "the best interests of baseball."

Owner representative Richard Ravitch officially unveiled the ownership proposal on June 14, 1994. The proposal would guarantee a record $1 billion in salary and benefits. But the ownership proposal also would have forced clubs to fit their payrolls into a more evenly based structure. Salary arbitration would have been eliminated, free agency would begin after four years rather than six, and owners would have retained the right to keep a four or five year player by matching his best offer. Owners claimed that their proposal would raise average salaries from $1.2 million in 1994 to $2.6 million by 2001.

Major League Baseball Players Association leader Donald Fehr rejected the offer from the owners on July 18. Fehr believed that a salary cap was simply a way for owners to clean up their own disparity problems with no benefit to the players.

On July 13, 1993, Fehr said that if serious negotiations between the players and the owners did not begin soon, the players could have gone out on strike in September of that year, threatening the postseason. On December 31, 1993, Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement ran out with no new agreement yet signed.

Strike

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June

As negotiations continued to heat up, the owners decided to withhold $7.8 million that they were required to pay per previous agreement into the players' pension and benefit plans. The final straw came on June 23 when the Senate Judiciary Committee failed to approve an antitrust legislation by a vote of 10-7. According to Donald Fehr, the action left the players with little choice but to strike. "We felt in '94 we were pushed into it," said Donald Fehr, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association. "I still think that's a justified conclusion."[citation needed]

July–August

On July 26, the Players Association executive board set August 12, 1994 as a strike date. When that day came, the players went ahead with their threat to walk off the job.

On August 31, three-and-a-half hours of negotiations with federal mediators produced no progress in the strike, and no further talks were scheduled as the strike went into its 4th week. According to then-acting commissioner Bud Selig, September 9 was the tentative deadline for canceling the rest of the season if no agreement was reached between the owners and players. The MLBPA offered a counterproposal to ownership on September 8 calling for a two-percent tax on the 16 franchises with the highest payrolls to be divided among the other 12 clubs. Teams in both leagues would share 25% of all gate receipts under the MLBPA's plan. The owners responded by claiming that the measures wouldn't meet the cost.

The rest of the season, including the World Series, was called off by Bud Selig on September 14. Selig acknowledged that the strike had torn an irreparable hole in the game's fabric. The move to cancel the rest of the season meant the loss of $580 million in ownership revenue and $230 million in player salaries. In 1994, the average MLB salary was an estimated $1.2 million.

Reaction

The Montreal Expos' best season in their history was interrupted by the strike. They had the best record in baseball, 74-40, and were six games ahead of the Atlanta Braves in the NL East despite having the second-lowest payroll in the Majors. Most baseball writers were considering the Expos as major World Series contenders. Coincidentally, the only time that the Expos actually made it to the postseason was in 1981, the last time that there was a significant players' strike in Major League Baseball.

Chicago White Sox star Frank Thomas, who wound up winning the American League's Most Valuable Player Award in 1994, said "I've had a career year, but I'm not going to finish it." Tony Gwynn had a chance to be the first to finish a season over .400 since Ted Williams, as he was batting .394 at the time of the strike. The strike also cost Matt Williams of the San Francisco Giants a chance to beat Roger Maris' single season home run record. When the strike forced the cancellation of the remaining 47 games of the season, Williams had already hit 43 home runs, on pace to match Maris' single season record of 61 home runs. Cleveland Indians second baseman Carlos Baerga was unable to extend his record two-year streak of 20 home runs, 200 hits, and 100 RBI by a second baseman because of the strike. Seattle Mariners star Ken Griffey, Jr., who led the American League with 40 home runs at the time of the strike summed it up best by saying, "We picked a bad season to have a good year." Kevin Mitchell of the Cincinnati Reds, Julio Franco of the Chicago White Sox, and Shane Mack of the Minnesota Twins, all .325 hitters in 1994, opted during the strike to play in Japan in 1995.

New York Yankees captain Don Mattingly lost his best hopes to be in the postseason for the first time during his 13-year career. The Yankees, who had the best record in the American League, were last in the postseason in 1981.

One of the few positive notes was that fans were spared from witnessing one of the worst division races in history. The Texas Rangers were leading the newly reformed American League West despite being 10 games under .500. The last-place California Angels were only 5 ½ games out despite having the second-worst record in the majors at 21 games under .500 — on pace for 96 losses. In fact, two last place teams in separate divisions had better records than the Rangers.

By the third day of the strike, Cleveland Indians owner Richard Jacobs directed that all souvenirs being sold at the Indians' gift shop carrying the words "inaugural season at Jacobs Field" be sold at half price.

The strike also led to an absurdity: Minnesota traded Dave Winfield to the Cleveland Indians for a player to be named later before the season was officially canceled, so no player was named. To settle the deal, the executives of the teams went to dinner, and Cleveland picked up the tab, meaning Winfield had been dealt for dinner.[2]

December

On December 5, it was announced that Richard Ravitch would step down as negotiator for the owners on December 31, 1994. Ravitch instead resigned on December 6, 1994. On December 14, labor talks headed by federal mediator Bill Usery broke down. The next day, the owners approved a salary cap plan by a vote of 25–3, but agreed to delay implementing it so that another round of talks with the players could be held. On December 23, with negotiations at a standstill, the owners unilaterally implemented a salary cap.

January 1995

On January 1, 1995, five bills aimed at ending the baseball strike were introduced into Congress. Four days later, Donald Fehr declared all 895 unsigned Major League players to be free agents in response to unilateral contract changes made by the owners. On January 10, arbitrator Thomas Roberts awarded 11 players a total of almost $10 million as a result of collusion charges brought against the owners. On January 26, both players and owners were ordered by President Bill Clinton to resume bargaining and reach an agreement by February 6. Unfortunately, President Clinton's deadline came and went with no resolution of the strike. Just five days earlier, the owners agreed to revoke their arbitrarily imposed salary cap and return to the old agreement.

Replacement players

After the deadline passed with no compromises, the use of replacement players for spring training and regular season games was approved by baseball's executive council on January 13. Replacement players (among them, former Boston Red Sox pitcher Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd) were reportedly guaranteed $5,000 for reporting to spring training and another $5,000 if they made the Opening Day roster. Declared Selig, "We are committed to playing the 1995 season and will do so with the best players willing to play."

Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, on the other hand, announced that his team wouldn't use replacement players (due in no small part to the fact that Cal Ripken, Jr. was going for Lou Gehrig's consecutive games record, but mainly due to Angelos' career as a union side attorney). On March 20, Angelos' Orioles canceled the remainder of their spring training games because of the team's refusal to use replacement players. The next day, the Maryland House of Delegates approved legislation to bar teams playing at Camden Yards from using replacement players.

In addition to Peter Angelos' problems, Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson was put on an involuntary leave of absence as he refused to manage replacement players. Two days after Anderson's punishment, the Toronto Blue Jays assigned manager Cito Gaston and his coaching staff to work with minor league players so that they wouldn't have to deal with replacement players. On March 14, the players' union announced that it would not settle the strike if replacement players were used in regular season games, and if results were not voided. On March 28, the Ontario Labour Board announced that replacement umpires would not be allowed to work Blue Jays home games. Under the Ontario labor law then in force, replacement workers were not permitted to be used during a strike or lockout. The Blue Jays opted to play their home games at their Spring Training facility in Dunedin, Florida as long as replacement players were used.

Strike ends

On March 29, the players voted to return to work if a U.S. District Court judge supported the National Labor Relations Board's unfair labor practices complaint against the owners (which was filed on March 27). By a vote of 26–2, owners supported the use of replacement players. The strike ended when federal judge Sonia Sotomayor issued a preliminary injunction against the owners on March 31. On Sunday, April 2, 1995, the day before the season was scheduled to start, the 232 day long strike was finally over. Judge Sotomayor's decision received support from a panel of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which denied the owners' request to stay the ruling.

Consequences

The 1995 season, which was revised to 144 games instead of the normal 162 (a decision that was made on March 26), began on April 25 under the conditions of the expired contract despite the lack of a collective bargaining agreement. The regular officials continued to be locked out until May 3.

Post-strike

On Opening Day in 1995, three men, who were each wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the word "Greed," leaped onto the field at Shea Stadium and tossed more than $150 in $1 bills at players.[3] In Cincinnati, one fan paid for a plane to fly over Riverfront Stadium that dragged a sign reading "Owners & Players: To hell with all of you!"[3] The meager crowds at the openers often booed at the players for their rusty fundamentals, shoddy defense, and in response to frequent high-scoring contests. Fans in Pittsburgh disrupted Opening Day by throwing sticks on the field, and holding up the action for 17 minutes before being warned that there would be a forfeit of the game between the Montreal Expos and Pittsburgh Pirates.[3] However, they continued to boo afterwards.[3] A mere 50,245 fans showed up for the New York Yankees' home opener, the smallest opening crowd at Yankee Stadium since 1990, five years previously. There, fans booed at MLBPA President Donald Fehr, who attended the game.[3] Ironically, the opening games were played with replacement umpires, the first time since 1984 that replacement umpires were used. Attendance at the games plummeted, as did television ratings, like during the last significant players strike. The reaction at the games showed that fans declared the strike as an act of war.[3] The strike had shaken baseball and the fans to its core.[3]

On August 3, 1995, the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a bill calling for the partial repeal of baseball's antitrust exemption to the full Senate. The vote was just 9–8. On August 9, George Nicolau, baseball's impartial arbitrator since 1986, was fired by Major League owners.

On September 29, 1995, a three-judge panel in New York voted unanimously to uphold the injunction that brought the end to the strike in April 1995. The owners had appealed the injunction issued last March 31, but the panel said the Players Relations Committee had illegally attempted to eliminate free agency and salary arbitration.

In 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2004, certain players who were part of the World Series-winning New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks, Anaheim Angels and Boston Red Sox were not permitted to have their names or likenesses on commemorative merchandise because they had been declared replacement players for having participated in the 1995 spring training. The players who were noted are Shane Spencer of the 1998, 1999 and 2000 New York Yankees, Damian Miller of the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks, Brendan Donnelly of the 2002 Anaheim Angels and Kevin Millar of the 2004 Boston Red Sox.

The names or likenesses of replacement players, since they are not permitted to join the MLBPA, may not be published in officially-licensed video and tabletop games. Many games nevertheless include them, with blank or fictional names and different appearances.

Arguably the largest impact was to the Montreal Expos. Not only did their dream season (first in MLB, 6 games ahead of the Atlanta Braves in NL East) end abruptly, they were forced to lower payroll even further because of losses due to the strike, and with the strike almost completely destroying its fan base, the Expos would never recover from the incident. Despite respectable performances in 1996 and 2003, the team never came close to contending again. The team was purchased by Major League Baseball after the 2001 season, and would become the focus of contraction rumors until the team was moved to Washington, D.C., to become the Washington Nationals after the 2004 season.

One final bookend to the strike's legacy: Sonia Sotomayor, the 2nd Circuit Appeals judge whose injunction ended the strike, was appointed by the President to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States in 2009. MLBPA representatives (most notably David Cone) testified for her at her confirmation hearings.

See also

References

  1. ^ Business of Baseball Fay Vincent interview
  2. ^ Keegan, Tom (September 11, 1994). "Owners try on global thinking cap". The Baltimore Sun. p. 2C. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Maske, Mike (April 30, 1995). "After the Strike, Baseball's Disgusted Fans Decide to Strike Back". The Washington Post: p. A01. 

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