The Final Season: 1994 Revisited

Atlanta 6 – New York 2; CJ: 1-2, R, 2 BB

Watched football today, and there was a lot of comments on the return of the NFL’s referees. For the most part, they were positive, but not all.

Listening to them, though, got me thinking about whether or not the holdout was a good thing, or if it was handled correctly. And that got me thinking, as stream of consciousness often does, about the 1994 MLB player’s strike and whether or not it was good for the game.

It’s been 18 years since the strike caused MLB to miss a World Series. 18 years since the league seemed to have irreconcilably disappointed and outraged its fans. Yet here we are today. Baseball is not king of the American sports world. That honor goes to the NFL. It’s probably not even second, with college football ahead of it in terms of popularity. Yet, it’s not dead last. The NHL and the NBA seem to be in much worse condition. So, considering that, was it good or bad for baseball?

First, what caused the strike? Well, what every strike is caused by: money. The owners wanted to limit what players made with a salary cap, essentially, and the players felt that, if ownership needed more money to run their franchises, there were other ways they could do it then by limiting salaries. Essentially, it wasn’t their fault if the owners were short on cash, so why should they feel the consequences? Also, there’s a long history between ownership and players that has led to a lot of bad blood, so they weren’t exactly excited to work together on this.

Thus, common ground couldn’t be found, and the players went on strike in August of 1994 and did not return until April, 1995. As a young kid of 11, I remember not really understanding what was going on. My dad tried to explain it to me, but all I got out of it was that there wasn’t going to be any playoffs that year. To me, that meant no chance to stay up late on school nights and watch baseball with my dad.

I also remember, as a kid, not being angry when baseball came back. I know a lot of fans were, blaming both sides for ruining their game. I know attendance levels were at severe lows and that a lot of people wondered when, or if, they’d come back up. To me, though, I was just glad to see baseball again. Glad to have the chance to sit with my dad and learn about this game I was just starting to love. Plus, there was this young third baseman I thought was cute, so I didn’t have much time for anger.

I also don’t remember the way Tom Glavine was treated. Many years after the strike, when I would read about it, I learned how instrumental and vocal Glavine had been as one of the leaders of the player’s union. When he started playing again, he got it bad from fans, who, after hearing Glavine as the spokesman for the players, had someone they could direct their ire at. Knowing that, I have to say, I’m even more pleased with how Atlanta won the World Series in ‘95. To me, I think he was just doing his job, and it was likely unfair to target him.

But back to if it was good or not? I don’t know. Parity has been achieved to a certain extent, but not entirely. There are some large market teams, like the Yankees and the Red Sox and the Phillies who are consistently competitive. And there are small market teams, like the Royals and Pirates, who don’t seem to be able to get over that hump. However, I am very much aware that three of those teams I listed – the Red Sox, the Phillies, and the Pirates, to a certain extent – would prove that statement wrong this particular season. So like I said, it’s there, but not in its truest definition.

On the reverse, salaries are still going up. The luxury tax, created in place of the salary cap, doesn’t seem to function entirely as planned, particularly when you hear that recipients of (basically) Yankee tax money, such as the Marlins, are pocketing it and not using it to improve their clubs, as it was intended. Rich stay rich, give to poor, and the poor don’t share.

But that said, MLB doesn’t seem to be hurting for cash. Overall the league seems to be having a successful stretch. Attendance is back up and over pre-strike levels at most parks. The fans have forgave and moved forward. I can’t say the strike’s not in the back of my mind when I hear their collective bargaining agreement is up for negotiation again, and I imagine many fans feel the same way, but I don’t think about it all the time or feel betrayed in anyway. Of course, as I mentioned, I didn’t really live through it.

So, I’m undecided to be honest. I’ve always felt, in the sports world, there was a pendulum that swings between players and owners. The Pendulum of Power, if you will. And at different points in history, that pendulum has swayed toward one side or the other. At the time of the strike, it did seem like the owners were asking for too much from the players that they didn’t need and maybe that pendulum, or power, was too far on the owners’ side. Then the players had their strike, and it swung back to center. That’s essentially what these labor negotiations are, an attempt by both sides to retain control. And I think, after the strike, the power balance in baseball was more centered.

I suppose the only trick now is not letting that pendulum swing too far in favor of the players, as it seems to have done in the NBA, for example. Hopefully the players can keep the balance going.