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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Major League Baseball’s 1994 strike was game’s worst of times

Alan Greenwood

Until Aug. 11, 1994, the undisputed darkest days in Major League Baseball history came in the autumn of 1919, when select members of the Chicago White Sox were paid to throw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.

The Black Sox were inspired to take a dive because their shameless owner treated his players like chattel. For White Sox players, having a great season held the promise of not taking a pay cut. ...

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Until Aug. 11, 1994, the undisputed darkest days in Major League Baseball history came in the autumn of 1919, when select members of the Chicago White Sox were paid to throw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.

The Black Sox were inspired to take a dive because their shameless owner treated his players like chattel. For White Sox players, having a great season held the promise of not taking a pay cut.

Charles Comiskey cemented the fate of his legacy when he ordered that pitcher Eddie Cicotte be held out of his final start so he would end the 1919 season with 29 wins instead of 30, which would’ve required Comiskey to pony up a $10,000 bonus, as specified in Cicotte’s contract.

Seventy-five years later, the Black Sox were supplanted by a strike called by players whose average yearly salaries had increased from $51,000 at the dawn of free agency in 1976 to a bit under $1.2 million over the ensuing 18 years.

The common thread linking these two events was unadorned greed. There is at least a dash of irony there.

Within a few weeks the strike prompted Bud Selig to cancel the rest of the 1994 season. Selig, still owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, was chosen to serve as a de facto commissioner after Fay Vincent was forced out for believing that he could actually use his powers, as vested in the “best interest of baseball” clause.

With both sides barely on speaking terms over the winter, spring training in 1995 featured replacement players – or scabs, depending on your labor vs.
management leanings. Labor and management came to their senses in time for a 1995 season, which began about three weeks later than scheduled.

Remnants of the strike are still felt. The steroid-fueled home run boom in the late 1990s is said to have saved baseball, but the stain it left on the game may linger in perpetuity. TV revenue, which crashed and burned with the strike, rebounded as the home runs began flying, but the networks’ already powerful grip on the game tightened. The result is that fans in the stands are mere extras, paying dearly for the privilege, with schedules dictated by the networks, whose unquenchable thirst for advertising dollars has made 4-hour games commonplace.

The strike also obliterated Montreal as a baseball market. The Expos struggled through most of their existence, but were poised to change that in 1994. On Aug. 10, the Expos had a 74-40 record, the best in both leagues by a healthy margin.

On Aug. 11, the lights were extinguished. And by the time the game fully recovered, the Expos were on their way to Washington.

FROM UNDER THE HOODIE: Bill Belichick’s Tuesday press conference actually included an apology offered by the coach to a reporter ... sort of.

Q: You talk about how valuable practices are, there’s basically a flood watch in effect for tomorrow, is there any consideration taken toward perhaps practicing Thursday?

BB: Yeah, we have a schedule for Thursday.

Q: Joint or separate?

BB: Yeah, we’re working with the Eagles on Thursday just like last year. What am I missing?

Q: I didn’t realize that.

BB: OK, sorry.

SUGGESTION BOX: High school teams are starting their preseason practices this week, making this as good a time as any to seek some feedback on our high school coverage, in print and online.

In attempting to broaden our scope in the newspaper and complement it with online features, during the 2013-14 school year we devoted more resources to local high schools than we ever have. We tried new ideas, some of which worked well and some of which flopped spectacularly.

So, please feel free to let us know what you liked, what you didn’t, and what we should try next by submitting your thoughts via email or phone.

All of them will be read or heard, and considered.

Alan Greenwood can be reached at 594-6427 or
agreenwood@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Greenwood on Twitter (@Telegraph_AlanG).