1994 was a historic baseball season, built for all the drama we eventually saw in 1998 and more. If not for the players going on strike in August 1994, here are some things that could have happened.
Just when Major League Baseball started hit the home stretch, play was suspended due to a dispute between owners and players over a new collective bargaining agreement leading to a strike.
The rest of the 1994 season was lost and the World Series was canceled that year for the first time since 1904. Play would resume in 1995, but this season was also shorter because of the strike.
Losing the rest of the ‘94 season had a huge impact on several players gunning for milestones — and on a few franchises. On the anniversary of the start of the 1994 Major League Baseball strike, here are some possible major accomplishments foiled by work stoppage.
The Montreal Expos could still be in Montreal
The Montreal Expos were poised for something special in the 1994 season. On the morning of August 12, the day MLB players went on strike, the Expos had the best record in baseball at 74-40. The team was loaded with talent with players like Moisés Alou, Pedro Martinez, Larry Walker, Cliff Floyd, Marquis Grissom, Mike Lansing, Jeff Fassero, Darrin Fletcher, Will Cordero and Ken Hill.
By the time the strike came to an end in the 1995 season, revenue sharing was not put into place in the league and it hit the franchise hard. The team had the second lowest payroll and were forced to trade away Hill, John Wetteland and Marquis Grissom. Walker would sign with the Colorado Rockies as a free agent and Martinez, Alou and Mel Rojas would also walk away.
The Expos would finish dead last in the NL East in 1995 and they would go on to have several more seasons of losing. Eventually the franchise was shipped down to Washington D.C. where they’d become the Nationals in 2005.
Tony Gwynn could have hit .400
Tony Gwynn was on the cusp of becoming the first player to hit .400 in a season since Ted Williams in 1994. When the season came to hault with Gwynn was batting .394 and in the midst of one of the best years of his career.
His former Padres teammate, Bip Roberts, told ESPN in 2014 that the team believed in spring training he was going to do something special that year. Gwynn was said to be motivated and full of energy that year.
“Everything he hit jumped off his bat. That’s when guys started talking about it in the clubhouse and on the bench: He just might hit .400. I’m telling you, we saw it early,” Roberts said.
Unfortunately the script was left unfinished for Gwynn that season and no one else has yet to match Williams’ .400 mark in a season since.
Michael Jordan may have continued his baseball career
The greatest basketball player of all-time decided to trade in his Air Jordans for metal spikes following the 1993-1994 NBA season. As a tribute to his late father, Jordan took a run at a professional baseball career when he signed a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox. He played for the teams Double-A affiliate, the Birmingham Barons, in 1994 where he batted .202 with three home runs and 52 RBIs. Just when it looked like Jordan could soon get a shot in the big leagues, the players went on strike.
When the strike went into effect, Jordan refused to join the White Sox as a replacement player in 1995. Since baseball was at a lull, Jordan started to inch his way back towards the NBA. With the words “I’m back,” Jordan returned to the Bulls and retired from baseball in 1995. He would go on to win another three-straight NBA titles with the team before retiring again in 1998.
Frank Thomas could have hit for the triple crown
The Big Hurt was just starting to take baseball by storm as one of the league’s top sluggers. Coming off an MVP season where he hit .317 with 41 home runs and 128 RBIs, Thomas was in the midst of a second-straight standout season. Thomas batted .353 and clubbed 38 home runs with 101 RBIs in 113 games before the season came to a sudden end. He also led the league with 106 runs scored, 109 walks and a .729 slugging percentage.
Thomas was looking to become the first player since 1967 to win the Triple Crown after finishing first in the league in average, home runs and RBIs. The Big Hurt was right in the middle of one of his best seasons and was in contention to accomplish the Triple Crown when the season came tumbling down. Although he didn’t achieve the goal, the American League MVP was awarded to Thomas for the strike-shortened season, becoming just the second first baseman at the time to win back-to-back MVP awards.
The Colorado Rockies chance to set attendance record is dashed
The Colorado Rockies were in their final year of playing baseball at Mile High Stadium before they moved over to the new Coors Field for the 1995 season. The Rockies were coming off their inaugural 1993 season where an MLB record 4,483,350 people came to see a game that year and the team averaged 55,350 people per game. Before the strike stopped the 1994 season, the Rockies were on pace the break their own record.
Up until the day of the strike, 3,3281,511 people had gone to see a Rockies game that year and the 57 home games played to that point had an average of 57,570. At that pace, the Rockies could set a new record by bringing in over 4.6 million fans. Instead the team never got to see if they could top themselves and before moving. To this day, attendance at Coors Field hasn’t beat the mark set by the team in 1993 and it still remains an MLB record.
Matt Williams, Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell could have beaten Roger Maris’ record
Before Mark McGuire broke the record in 1998, Roger Maris’ 61 home runs in a single-season was still the MLB record. San Francisco third baseman Matt Williams had 43 home runs in the 1994 season and was on pace to at least tie Maris’ record. When the remaining 47 games were cancelled, Williams chance to tie or break the mark was halted in its tracks. Frank Thomas had 39 and Jeff Bagwell had 38, much of the season they were keeping pace with Williams as well.
Williams told ESPN in 2014 that 1994 was a “weird deal” for him and he said “it was the year of the 1-for-4, with a solo homer,” after seeing more fastballs because he was batting behind Barry Bonds.
“I wasn’t having a very good year. I wasn’t hitting .330 and pounding the ball. I was even below my career average throughout that season. It’s just that every once in a while, I would club the ball,” Williams said.
Don Mattingly’s could have made his first postseason
Before the New York Yankees became the late ’90s dynasty, they were in the midst of a long playoff drought when the 1994 MLB strike came around. The Yankees were starting to turn things around in ‘94 and they were poised to join in the fall fun for the first time since 1981. When the strike went into effect, the Yankees had the best record in the American League at 70-43 and pitcher Jimmy Key led the majors with 17 wins, on a pace to reach 24. The team also featured Paul O’Neil, Wade Boggs and a 25-year-old Bernie Williams.
Had the team advanced to the playoffs, it would have marked the first time All-Star first baseman and captain Don Mattingly would’ve got to play in October. When baseball resumed in 1995, Mattingly finally got to experience playoff baseball, but it was cut short when the Seattle Mariners overcame a 2-0 deficit to eliminated the Yankees in the fifth game of the AL Divisional Series round.