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1994 Baseball Owners Lockout

By Wikipedia

The 1994 baseball strike and lockout resulted in the cancellation of the World Series for the first time ever (the Series was not a mandatory event in 1904, when the Pirates refused to play). It lasted 232 days (August 12, 1994–April 2, 1995), led to the cancellation of 920 games overall, and dragged into the next spring. Baseball became the first sport in history to lose its postseason to a labor dispute. For the first time since 1869, there was no national professional baseball champion. It was the eighth work stoppage in baseball history and the third work stoppage in 23 years.

It is called both a strike and a lockout because the players went on strike and then Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig effectively locked them out by cancelling the season a little over a week later.

Background

Owners demanded a salary cap in response to the worsening financial situation in baseball (i.e. keep expenditure down). Ownership claimed that unless teams agreed to share local broadcasting revenues (to increase equity amongst the teams) and enact a salary cap, small-market clubs would fall by the wayside, a proposal that the players adamantly opposed. (Despite this, every single team is intact and far richer a decade later without a salary cap). 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 of 1992. Incidentally, on February 11, 1994, the owners greatly reduced the commissioner's power to act in "the best interests of baseball." Not that Selig was about to do anything that benefited anyone but his fellow owners.

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've 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. Many observers believed the strike put Fehr in over his head. Some claimed that given the mercurial mentality of the owners Fehr was matched against, even Disraeli would've been in over his head.

On July 13, 1993, Fehr said that if serious negotiations between the players and the owners didn't 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.

June '94

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 fell 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."

July '94

On July 28, the Players Association executive board approved of August 12, 1994 as the date for a strike. The timing was set to allow players to continue getting paid, but put real pressure on the owners with the threat of no lucrative postseason.

Strike in Effect

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 MLPBA 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 MLPBA'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 lost of $580 million in ownership revenue and $230 million in player salaries. In 1994, the average MLB salary was an estimated $1.2 million. Those who were hurt the most were the low-paid street vendors, parking attendants, and others who work around ballparks. They lost their livelihoods during this mess without so much as an apology from the millionaires (and billionaires) on either side.

Reaction

Many baseball fans lament that, while two World Wars, the Great Depression, earthquakes, and other disasters could not cancel a World Series, Bud Selig could and did. Many analysts blame the strike and the cancellation of the World Series for baseball's sharp drop in popularity in the ensuing years. Some analysts also blamed it for the eventual relocation of the Montreal Expos, who had the best overall record at the time of the strike.

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." The strike also cost Matt Williams of the San Francisco Giants a chance to beat Roger Maris' single season home run record - he was on pace for over 60 homers when the strike hit with 47 games left to play. 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." Former MVP Kevin Mitchell of the Cincinnati Reds, Julio Franco of the Chicago White Sox, and Shane Mack of the Minnesota Twins, all .300 hitters in 1994, opted during the strike to play in Japan in 1995.

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 formed American League West division despite being ten games under .500. The last-place California Angels were only 5 ˝ games out despite having the second-worst record in the majors at 21 games under .500 — on pace for 96 losses.

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.

December '94

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.

"We are committed to playing the 1995 season and will do so with the best players willing to play." - Bud Selig

Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos on the other hand, announced that his team wouldn't use replacement players. 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 are used in regular season games, and if results are not voided. On April 28, the Ontario Labor 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.

See also: List of Major League Baseball replacement players

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 232 day long strike was finally over. What helped the decision was the 2nd Court of Appeals denying the owners' request to stay Sotomayor's decision.

Consequences

The 1995 season, which was revised to 144 games instead of the normal 162 (a decision that was made on March 26), resumed 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.

Some fans never returned, even during the steroid-enhanced 1998 season. If you think they were all just fair weathered fans, understand this: I (Patrick Mondout) created this site because of my love of baseball and yet I have been to exactly two games (one at Fenway in 1995 and one at old Tiger Stadium in 1996) since the strike/lockout. The sport has not been the same since MLB effectively eliminated the office of commissioner and put owner Bud Selig in charge.

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. In Cincinnati, one fan paid for a plane to fly over Riverfront Stadium that dragged a sign reading "Players and Owners - To Hell With You!" The meager crowds at the openers often booed at the players for their rusty fundamentals, shoddy defense, and in response to frequent high-scoring contest. Fans in Pittsburgh disrupted Opening Day by throwing sticks on the field (at least they weren't throwing batteries, as they had a decade earlier to show their displeasure with Dave Parker), and holding up the action for 17 minutes. Despite just 6,300 fans at the New York Yankees' pre-opening workout, 50,245 show up for the opener, the smallest opening crowd at Yankee Stadium since 1990. Incidentally, the opening games were played with replacement umpires.

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.

You can find the team standings for that fateful aborted season here.


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