1994: A Year Without Playoffs
It was a year as I was just starting to get excited by baseball and then it went away without a World Series. It was the heyday of cheap baseball cards, Sports Illustrated for Kids, and a slew of exciting stars of the 1990's. Ken Burns' Baseball documentary first aired on PBS. It was lost season that delayed a dynasty and was last shot for another franchise to succeed. Ironically, this was a great time for kids to get interested in the game that the league hasn't seen quite at this level ever since.
Highest Paid Player: Bobby Bonilla $6.3 million
US President: Bill Clinton
In the News
Nelson Mandella wins presidency in first interracial election in South Africa
OJ Simpson slow speed chase through LA
Kurt Cobain commits suicide.
First Class Postage Stamp: $0.29
Number of Games: 112-117
Number of Teams: 28
Teams of 1994 Compared to 1981
Expansion teams Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies joined the National League.
After the 1981 strike there were two more little strikes and a major court case against the owners. For three off-seasons in the ‘80’s the teams banded together to share their offers to free agents with each other in order to avoid driving up salaries against other teams. In 1984 the MLB was at a changing of the guard after long-time commissioner Bowie Kuhn retired and they hired the guy who successfully ran the Olympic Games in Los Angeles that year, Peter Ueberroth. He was not as successful with baseball. In court those three off-seasons were referred to as “Collusion I,” “Collusion II,” and “Collusion III.” It was scheme championed by many small market teams but the most enthusiastic proponents were the owner of the White Sox Jerry Reinsdorf and the owner of the Brewers, Bug Selig. This was a big, illegal, disaster for the owners and free agency matured into the market it has been in the last thirty something years after the Braves and Yankees took advantage of the available stars of the 1990’s. After Ueberroth’s four years as a terrible Commissioner, Bart Giamatti came in to act as commissioner to ban Pete Rose from baseball then tragically pass away before the year was over. Giamatti is regarded as a great Commissioner tasked with a really tough situation of having to deal with Rose tarnishing the game. He was replaced by Fay Vincent who was forced out by Bud Selig who then became Commissioner.
The MLB season only lasted about 114 games, much like the 1981 season, however once the games stopped being played, baseball didn’t come back until the next year. There would be no playoffs, and no World Series for the first time in over 90 years. More on the comeback later. In 1994 the players went on strike because the owners wanted to institute a salary cap, eliminate salary arbitration and give teams a chance to keep free agents that agree to sign with another team if they can match the offer, practically reinstating the reserve clause. While the NBA and NFL both already had a salary cap in their leagues, they don’t limit the free agent signings for an entire career.
1994 was the first year with three divisions in each league and would have been the first year with a divisional round of the playoffs since 1981 and it would have been the first year with Wild Card winners. The league had expanded the year before, adding the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies. It was a pretty interesting season, the Yankees had a great year after a few rough years in the ‘80’s and early ‘90’s, the Expos had the best record in the majors for the Montreal franchise’s best season ever. The Texas Rangers became the first team to win a division with a losing record as they lost ten more games than they won and nine out of the fourteen National League teams had losing records.
Without the playoffs, there wasn’t much of a way to tell if the Reds, Dodgers or Braves would make a postseason run, although they were all a year away from Larkin having his best season and Nomo and Chipper debuting. Those are stories for another year. The Astros had a great year from the Killer B’s, Biggio led the league in doubles and stolen bases and Bagwell out hit almost everyone.
The Astros, however, were nowhere near the well rounded team of the 1994 Expos, a team that only gained in momentum right up until the strike hit. While the 1981 Montreal team sported three Hall of Famers, the ‘94 team also had two, Larry Walker and Pedro Martinez. It was a banner year for a few unsung Major Leaguers. Shortstop Wil Cordero had his only trip to the All Star Game as a twenty-two year old. He was the best hitting shortstop in the National league winning the Silver Slugger for the position, hitting fifteen homers with a .294 AVG and .363 OBP, it was his best AVG and OBP of his career and his doubles, homers and RBI were well on pace for the best of his career. His next best offensive season would be in 1997 with the Red Sox but he would move to the outfield but he was never again the best at any position.
The Expos had speed up and down their lineup, they were scoring runs from good baserunning that other teams weren’t. The back end of the bullpen of John Wetteland and Mel Rojas was so good that they shortened the games so that starting pitchers only needed to go six or seven innings. The outfield of Moises Alou, Marquis Grissom and Larry Walker not only hit especially well, but was also considered one of the fastest, smartest and best fielding outfields in the league. The team was managed by Felipe Alou and his son, Moises, was a star in the outfield, and nephew, Mel Rojas, solidified the bullpen.
The rotation was either blossoming or overachieving, depending on the guy. For righty starter Ken Hill, there is no debate that 1994 was the best year of his career, and also his lone year as an All Star and not just his only year gaining Cy Young votes, but a year that saw him finishing second in voting for that award. Some of this might have been inflated value of his league leading 16 wins over 23 starts, but his 3.32 ERA was pretty impressive, but not even the best in his rotation, trailing Jeff Fassero’s 2.99. Hill would have an unsettled rest of his career moving in midseason trades twice in the following three years. The third best starter for the Expos in ‘94 was a new acquisition, Pedro Martinez who had just come from the Dodgers in a one-for-one trade for Delino DeShields that off-season. The Expos had a slow start but they ended on an incredible run just before their GM threatened them that if they went on strike while at an away series in Pittsburgh that the players would have to find their own way back home. After the players responded in outrage he claimed it was just a joke.
New York Yankees
Don Mattingly is perhaps the unluckiest Yankee of the 20th century. His rookie year of 1982 was the year after the Yankees last World Series appearance in the ‘80’s, and his final year was 1995, the year before the Evil Empire run for the second half of the ‘90’s. He was still on the team in 1994, the year they had the best record in the American League and there was so World Series hitting .304 and winning a Gold Glove Award at first. While the Expos were great, there is not a great track record for the best teams in baseball according to their records winning the World Series every year so the Yankees’ best record in the AL is probably a decent indicator that they would make the Series.
It was coincidental that the Yankees would be at the top of the league again in ‘94 for the first time since ‘81 just like the Expos, but it was no fluke that the Yankees, like the Braves just behind the Expos in the NL, would benefit themselves in the midst of the labor disputes of the time between strikes. George Steinbrenner (much like Ted Turner of the Braves) was happy to break from the owner’s collusion pact to open up his wallet before the ‘93 and ‘94 seasons in the name of competition. He tasked GM Gene Michael who had managed the Yankees in the 1981 season to sign high value free agents Wade Boggs, Paul O’Neill, Danny Tartabull, Jimmy Key and Jim Abbott in those two years. He also drafted the core of the Championship teams, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada and also championed Bernie Williams through tough times in the minors to make sure he made his way to The Show. That core would not all be up in the league together until the Yankees first World Series season in 1996. O’Neill led the team in homers (21), RBI (83) and AVG (.359) and Boggs had easily the best season of the second half of his career hitting 11 homers with a .342 AVG at the age of 36. Key had one of his best seasons winning 17 games despite the short season, the second best of his career for the winningest lefty starter in Blue Jays history. This team was managed by Buck Showalter who was replaced after the ‘95 season for Joe Torre who went on to win four World Series in five years for the Yankees. Showalter moved on to manage the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks two years before their first game as he took complete control, having a hand in designing the stadium and drafting their first player. He was fired by the Diamondbacks in 2000 and they went on to win the World Series in 2001 against the Yankees, but that’s another story for later.
1994 was a year of what could have been for a number of players who had career years even as it was cut short. It was some of the Hall of Famers that shined the brightest. Jeff Bagwell was the NL MVP thanks to 39 homers, league legging 116 RBI, a .368 AVG/ 451 OBP and an 8.2 WAR. Frank Thomas was just as impressive with the AL MVP leading the league in runs and walks (106 and 109 respectively) hitting 38 homers and 101 RBI while hitting a .353 AVG and league leading .487 OBP. Greg Maddux won his third of four straight NL Cy Young awards leading the league in wins (16), ERA (1.56), complete cames and shutouts (ten and three). There were other Hall of Famers with career years that didn’t win any awards, Tony Gwynn came the closest to a .400 season hitting .394, an average so high that he led the NL in OBP (.454) despite walking only 48 times, and Ken Griffey, Jr who led the league in home runs for the first time in his career with 40 and had his highest average in a season, .323. Griffey’s 40 homers nearly put him on Roger Marris’ home run pace.
Matt Williams had a less than spectacular batting average or on base percentage for his career, .268 AVG and .317 OBP and his 1994 was almost exactly average in those respects, hitting .267 and getting onbase at a .319 clip. His home run pace, however, was far beyond his career average, his 43 homers in 112 games was a career best on its own, but was also on pace for just about 61 home runs on the dot. And he did, in a way, in a 162 game stretch between September 1993 and May 1995 Williams did hit 62. He was shocked by what just cleared the wall, his doubles happened to be home runs, he just was making contact the same as ever. He says his 1994 was a series of games going one for four with a solo home run. It was all aided by the additional fastballs he would see thanks to Barry Bonds hitting in front of him in the lineup who happened to have a better all-around year than Williams, a 6.2 WAR to his 4.7 WAR. Bonds hit 37 homers of his own with a .312 AVG and .426 OBP, stole 29 bags and led the NL in walks. Both teammates won Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers and their positions and Williams finished second and Bonds fourth in NL MVP voting. Williams was also the beneficiary of bigger names in the home run chase that were magnets for the scrutiny of the record with Bonds, Bagwell, Griffey, and Thomas all close behind, and the impending strike that was an unavoidable barrier to any broken records.
Williams was quite possibly the best third baseman of the 1990’s going to five All-Star Games, winning four Gold Gloves and four Silver Slugger awards. There were only two years in the ‘90’s where he didn’t either win a Gold Glove or go to an All-Star game. He went to three World Series with the ‘89 Giants, ‘97 Indians and won one with the ‘01 Diamondbacks. After his playing days Williams took to coaching and even managed the Nationals for two seasons, winning the NL Manager of the Year Award in 2014.
AL Cy Young Award: David Cone, RHP Kansas City Royals
The AL Cy Young winner was not a Hall of Famer, but David Cone was one of my favorite pitchers of the ‘90s. He didn’t win any individual pitching categories in ‘94 while pitching for the Royals but he was a 16 game winner with a 2.94 ERA and three shutouts. He was a great pitcher who had to overcome freak injuries, most notably an aneurysm near his right armpit that require surgery in 1996. He came back for a full season in 1997 winning making the All-Star game, he won 20 games in ‘98 and threw a perfect game in 1999. Even though he was pitching for the Yankees at the time, I was kicking myself that I had to go in for my summer job that I hated instead of watching that game. One bright spot of the pandemic is that I finally caught the game at random on MLB Network.
NL Rookie of the Year: Raul Mondesi, OF Los Angeles Dodgers
AL Rookie of the Year: Bob Hamelin, DH Kansas City Royals
It was a strange year for the Rookie of the year race. Raul Mondesi of the Dodgers was the third of five straight Dodgers to win the award in the NL. He was a nice player with a couple of Gold Glove Awards, three seasons with 30+ homers in a career of 271 dingers, and a single trip to the All-Star Game that came in his sophomore season. Mondesi grew up with Pedro Martinez, and Pedro noted in his autobiography that Raul would use his status as a top prospect to fool around, breaking curfew, mouthing off and skip workouts while Pedro was a workaholic. Perhaps Raul wasn’t so bad but in the eyes of the Hall of Famer, anything less than constant focus on the game was denial of your abilities. The AL Rookie of the Year was much more of anomaly, Kansas City’s Bob Hamelin sported large glasses that came out of the 1980’s and hardly had the chiseled physique of AL ROY runner-up Manny Ramirez. “The Hammer” came into spring training in 1994 with a reputation of hitting mammoth blasts in the minor leagues that could only be mentioned in the same breath as Bo Jackson’s own tape measure shots. Before that spring training he had an injury scare after he got hurt during an ESPN sponsored arm wrestling tournament in Las Vegas. He won both of his matches and as a DH it didn’t hurt when he swung so it wasn’t much of a problem. Off the field he was known for two loves, poker and eating, to the point that he ballooned up to 260 pounds at times in his career. His rookie year he hit 24 homers in 101 games with a .388 OBP while almost completely avoiding left-handed pitchers. In 1995 he had a new manager less willing to protect him in the lineup after he showed up to spring training “a lot heavier,” and in 72 games he hit .168. He only hit 67 homer in his career and was out of the league five years after winning the rookie award.
After the game on August 11th, the head of the players union Donald Fehr told the players to go immediately home when the strike began to let ownership know they were serious. They wouldn’t go back to the clubhouses until 1995.
Moises Alou, MON OF, 17 YRS, 39.9 WAR, 2134 H, 332 HR, .303 AVG, .369 OBP, .526 SLG
David Cone, KCR RHP, 17 YRS, 62.3 WAR, 194 W, 2668 K, 3.46 ERA, 1.256 WHIP
Marquis Grissom, MON OF, 17 YRS, 29.6 WAR, 2251 H, 227 HR, 429 SB, .272 AVG
Bob Hamelin, KCR DH, 5 YRS, 2.5 WAR, 313 H, 67 HR, .246 AVG, .352 OBP, .464 SLG
Don Mattingly, NYY 1B, 14 YRS, 42.4 WAR, 2153 H, 442 2B, 222 HR, .307 AVG, .358 OBP
Raul Mondesi, LAD OF, 13 YRS, 29.5 WAR, 1589 H, 271 HR, 229 SB, .273 AVG, .331 OBP
Matt Williams, SFG 3B, 17 YRS, 46.6 WAR, 1878 H, 378 HR, .268 AVG, .317 OBP, .489 SLG