In 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, baseball's first professional team, were crowned national champions after they romped through the entire season undefeated. Since then the country has annually feted a professional baseball champion. That string came to a rude end in the 1994 baseball season.
At midnight on August 12, both major leagues shut down when the players union refused to accept a salary cap proposed by the owners. Blocking a compromise settlement was the continued absence of a commissioner to mediate between the two parties.
Commenting on the strike, White Sox star Frank Thomas said, "I've had a career year, but I'm not going to finish it." Thomas's self-assessment was accurate. Though the White Sox played only 113 games, Thomas already had 101 RBI, 106 runs, 38 home runs, and 34 doubles to go with his .353 BA. Other performers had equally imposing stats. In an abbreviated 115-game schedule, San Francisco third sacker Matt Williams clubbed 43 homers, just 18 short of Roger Maris's record of 61.
Even more disappointing to fans expecting a banner finish was the fact that several long-slumbering teams had awakened in 1994.
Prior to the season both major leagues had been split into three divisions, and an extra playoff tier was added. The new structure called for five-team divisions in the East and the Central and a four-team division in the West.
The Braves and the Phillies, the two National League division winners in '93, were both situated in the East. After Phillies first sacker John Kruk was sidelined to undergo cancer treatment, the Braves looked like a lock to bag their fourth straight division crown. But Expos skipper Felipe Alou, helped by his son Moises, took a young team to the front early and seemed destined to hold the lead.
When the strike hit, the Expos stood six games up on the Braves with the best record in the majors (74-40). Second only to the Expos were the New York Yankees, who paced the American League East by 6-1/2 games. Absent from postseason play for 13 years, the Yankees were the antithesis of the home-grown Expos, as George Steinbrenner continued prowling the trade and free-agent markets.
Cleveland also profited in 1994 via the trade and free-agent route. Shedding their reputation for being one of the most ineptly run franchises, the Indians went for broke in conjunction with the opening of their new stadium.
Over the winter, Cleveland landed pitchers Dennis Martinez and Jack Morris, first sacker Eddie Murray, and shortstop Omar Vizquel. The four merged with earlier trade acquisitions Sandy Alomar, Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, and Mark Clark plus four draft prizes -- Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, and Charles Nagy -- to bring Clevelanders their best team in eons.
For the first time since 1954, Cleveland seemed likely to see postseason action. The Indians trailed the White Sox by only one game in the American League Central at strike time and headed the list for the loop wild-card berth. Texas Rangers fans were also ecstatic to see their club atop the American League West and possibly slated for the franchise's first-ever postseason engagement. The Seattle Mariners, another franchise that had never tasted postseason action, were a mere two games behind the Rangers when play stopped.
At midnight on August 12, nine American League teams and seven National League teams still had strong playoff hopes, and many other stars beside Frank Thomas and Matt Williams were enjoying career years. But there would be no finish to one of the potentially most remarkable seasons in the game's history. In September, Brewers owner and acting commissioner Bud Selig acknowledged that the strike had torn an irreparable hole in the game's fabric when he officially announced that the 1994 season was dead.
The next page provides headlines and summaries of for some of the top stories of the 1994 baseball season.
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