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1995: Win Above Replacements

The game was going to come back in some form. We were saved from a sham of a season at the last moment and were treated with a new era of baseball that would shape nearly a decade of the game. Who saved baseball? They all did.


Highest Paid Player: Cecil Fielder $9,237,500

US President: Bill Clinton

In the News

  • Oklahoma City Bombing

  • Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin slain by Jewish extremist at peace rally

  • US bail out of Mexican Economy as the price of the Peso crashed

First Class Postage Stamp: $0.32

Number of Games: 143-145

Number of Teams: 28

Teams of 1995 compared to 1994: the league was unchanged.

The Ruling That Saved The Game

From the New York Times in April 1995, “The judge ordered them to reinstate salary arbitration, competitive bidding for free agents and the anti-collusion provision of the free-agency rules.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Public Domain.

"This strike has placed the entire concept of collective bargaining on trial," Judge Sotomayor said. "It is critical, therefore, that the board assure and that I protect its assurance that the spirit and the letter of Federal labor law be scrupulously followed."” That’s future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor ruling against the owners finding that they had been negotiating in bad faith, striking some of their demands and resulting in a swift end of the strike on the part of the Player’s Union. Sotomayor found that an injunction was needed to get the parties back to negotiating because baseball holds a special place in American life. She held a concern for the real world consequences of her decisions on the parties involved. She concluded that the owners violated labor law.

The Replacements

Before the owners and players came to an agreement, the owners wanted to put out some kind of baseball product for 1995, not knowing if the MLBPA players would be back for the season at all. There was a spring training of replacement players, viewed by the striking players as scabs, that came in to play. Many of them were career minor leaguers that were just looking for an opportunity to play anywhere, some were guys that flamed out in the majors and were effectively out of the game, and some were guys that never were going to make it. When the strike ended and the replacement players were sent on their way without making it past a faux spring training, many had a hard time catching on with clubs with the real players and the union greeting their new teammates with resentment. Some players went on to have pretty successful careers in baseball but most went back to driving trucks or working in offices as they had been for years before.

Kevin Millar became a popular player, winning multiple awards for being a likable team player, winning the World Series with the Red Sox in 2004. After his playing career he transitioned into broadcasting where he became one of the biggest personalities on the MLB Network on his show Intentional Talk. Another Red Sox player, Lou Merloni was a close friend and training partner with Nomar Garciaparra and a bit of a fan favorite even though he was never an everyday player. After his playing career he eventually became one of the biggest personalities in Boston Sports Talk radio with a show on WEEI. Benny Agbayani made it to the Majors with the Mets three years later and was an underdog hero of the team in Queens in ‘99 and 2000, when he hit 14 and 15 homers and had OBPs of .363 and .391, respectively. Agbayani was the Mets starting left fielder in the 2000 World Series where he hit .278 with a .381 OBP. Brian Daubach ended up being the replacement for Mo Vaughn at first base for the Red Sox from ‘99 to 2002 and he hit 20 home runs and drove in more than 70 RBI each of those years. Kerry Ligtenberg made it into the Braves bullpen in ‘97 and had a pretty successful year as their closer in ‘98 saving 30 games with a 2.71 ERA. Ligtenberg missed the next season with an injury and couldn’t hold onto the full-time closer role ever again although he was a pretty successful setup man for the next four years, post six seasons with ERAs under 3.65 in his eight year career.

A 1987 Oil Can Boyd baseball card that was totally normal.

One of the biggest names for the former players that crossed the picket lines was “Oil Can” Boyd who starred for the Red Sox in the mid-80’s. He was one of the best Boston pitchers in ‘85 and ‘86, winning 15 and 16 games with ERA’s under 3.80 each year. He was “emotionally traumatized” when he was left off the All-Star team in ‘85 after he had won 11 games by the midway mark. He was suspended by the team soon after and checked himself into the hospital. In the second half of the season. Boyd had struggled with substance abuse, having smoked crack before a game in May of ‘86, and when his number was called during the decisive game seven of the World Series against the Mets he never made it into the game because he was too drunk to take the field. In ‘87 he had the police called on in in Florida for overdue video cassettes. Boston newspapers revealed that they were pornographic movies and so the run-in with the law was coined “The Can’s Film Festival.” He struggled from blood clot issues that plagued him for the rest of his career until he retired in 1991 as a 31 year old. Oil Can was a flamboyant player who was always ready to pitch, he didn’t just come out of retirement in the spring of ‘95, he went back to an independent league in 2005 at the age of 45. He continued to pitch in exhibitions until at least 2007 with his “Oil Can Boyd’s Traveling All-Stars” who would sometimes face a team headlined by the even older former Red Sock, Bill “Spaceman” Lee.

Replacement Tragedy

Cory Lidle had one of the longer careers for a replacement player. He debuted with the Mets in ‘97 winning seven games with a 3.53 ERA in relief. He pitched for seven teams in nine years and led the league in shutouts in 2004 while pitching for the Reds and Phillies. He won 82 games and had a 4.57 ERA in his career. His final stop was pitching in ten games with the Yankees in 2006 after a midseason trade from the Phillies. That offseason he had one apearence in the ALDS against the Tigers where he gave up three runs in an inning and a third and the Yankees had an early exit to the playoffs by October seventh.

On October 11th, 2006 Lidle took a sightseeing flight in his small plane up the East River in Manhattan. This is a main route for small planes to take where they fly about 1,100 feet, below major air traffic from the major airports. It’s rather challenging flight, just a half-mile wide in places and the banks are closely lined with skyscrapers. Lidle never flew the plane higher than 800 feet and was at 700 feet when it flew into the 42nd floor of a building, killing him immediately. It is assumed that the most likely cause of the crash was due to a lack of piloting experience. It was cloudy that day and Lidle may have lost his bearings and would have had only a few seconds to reorient himself if he had lost visual control of his flightpath. In the days after the crash the FAA required more contact with small planes and flight control towers while flying this route, but it went back to being a fairly unregulated practice again soon after. Lidle was 34 years old.

As seen in “The Last Dance,” Michael Jordan quit baseball after one season after he was asked to be a replacement player and went back to basketball. Most replacement players had been out of the game for years and had new careers and no owner wanted to ask any top prospects to cross the picket line as they didn’t want a young player to be alienated by union teammates when they joined the club for real.

One Coca-Cola plant supervisor, a former player from five years prior, Dave Shotkoski, was killed walking back to player housing from the park at random by a guy who had warrants out on him. Days before dying he had told his wife he was having the best spring training of his life. The Orioles owner refused to field replacement players and the province of Ottowa wouldn't let the Blue Jays use replacements and play in Toronto so the plan was for then to play in their spring training facility for the regular season. The Sotomayor injunction came down just before replacement players’ opening day was going to happen, owners mulled whether they were going to lock the players out after they agreed to end the strike right after the decision. Smaller market owners like Jerry Reinsdorf's White Sox wanted to lock out the players but big market owners like the Yankees' Steinbrenner.

Economic Balls and Strikes

It wasn’t exactly millionaires vs. billionaires in a baseball strike, as baseball labor relations are often described. As of last season, 40% of players with at least one day of service time earned less than a million dollars in CAREER earnings, median in that group is $357,718. Taxes, fees and dues mean that players earning more than a million take home less than half. “An average player likely needs to exceed three years of service time to net $1 million in major league pay — and 63.3 percent of players last season hadn’t hit that experience threshold yet.” careers are starting later and ending sooner, affording less of a time to make money in a baseball career. A player who is good at saving money and making the league median could walk away from their career with $156,200, but if they save like average Americans, around 8%, they would finish their career with just $50 in the back from playing baseball.

Mental health issues paired with the anxiety of the Coronavirus shutdown, some players are especially vulnerable AAAA outfielder (splitting time between the minors and the majors, too good for the minors, not good enough to stick in the majors) for the Dodgers Andrew Toles was recently arrested for trespassing and was found to possibly be be homeless as he waits for the season to start and struggling with anxiety issues.

Unfortunately, many times the obsession and repetition required to make it to be a professional athlete is either detrimental to mental health or is a byproduct of mental health problems. UConn star and former NBA player Ben Gordon recently wrote in a Players Tribune article about how his own mental health issues were exposed after he retired from basketball because he no longer had something to obsess over and he quickly lost touch with reality.

Fan Favorites

Cal Ripken breaks the all-time consecutive games record in September '95. Public Domain.

During the seasons that have been shortened by strike fans don’t come back right away. But the next season they come back to pre-strike levels and exceed those numbers within a year or two. The comeback after 1994 is attributed to more than one player or event in baseball. Ken Burns Baseball attributed the comeback of baseball to Cal Ripken’s consecutive game streak and his personability to sign autographs with fans for hours after every game. Others claim the star power of some of the brightest stars like Ken Griffey, Jr who came back from a wrist injury that should have ended his 1995 season to lead the M’s to a dramatic comeback against the Yankees in the ALDS while down 0-2, and he came back to put up 40+ homers over the next five years. The Yankees created a villain for the rest of the baseball world to root against when their reign of terror began in 1996. But it just might have been that Ted Turner had the Braves on national television every day and 1995 was Atlanta’s crowning season.

Atlanta Braves

Initially, the owners were successful in the messaging of the strike. Braves pitcher Tom Glavine came into the season facing boos for his role as one of the most visible player reps for the union. In the end Glavine finished third in Cy Young voting, one of his six career top three finishes in Cy Young voting on his way to the Hall of Fame. Another Hall of Famer on the Braves won his fourth of four straight Cy Youngs, Greg Maddux continued where he left off when the strike hit with a 1.63 ERA. It was a changing of the guard at third base from the 1991 NL MVP Terry Pendleton to the 1995 Rookie of the Year runner-up Chipper Jones, who would win an MVP of his own in 1999.

I believe that as a 13 year old I mailed away to get this special series of cards. Fred McGriff Upper Deck, 1996.

At the deadline in ‘93 the Braves traded for Fred McGriff to be the centerpiece power hitter in their lineup after trailing the Giants by nine games in the West. In the final 68 games of the season the Braves went 51-17 and McGriff hit 19 homers and won the division by a game. His production didn’t win the games alone, the players around him in the lineup started getting better pitches, as well. By the All-Star Game in 1994 the Crime Dog hit 23 homers and a game tying pinch hit homer in the 9th of the Mid-Summer Classic earned him the All Star Game MVP Award. The season would end a month later having hit 34 dingers and three weeks worth of games would be lost at the start of ‘95 when he would hit 27 more. Over the two seasons, 66 games would be lost in total. At the end of his career Fred McGriff would finish with 493 home runs, and it doesn’t take much imagination to think that he could have hit at least seven more if the strike never happened. Out of the 27 players to have hit 500 or more home runs, nine are not in the Hall of Fame. While Pujols and David Ortiz aren’t Hall eligible yet, and the other seven have either strongly been implicated of using PED’s, failed tests or admitted that they had. There isn’t any such implication that the long and lean McGriff ever used PED’s and he didn’t really come close to the voting threshold in ten years on the ballot.

Cleveland Indians

It was the first Championship for the Braves since 1957 when the Milwaukee Braves beat the Yankees in seven games thanks to Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Red Schoendienst, Warren Spahn and Eddie Mathews. Their opponent in the ‘95 Fall Classic, The Cleveland Indians, hadn’t won the World Series since they beat the Boston Braves in 1948 with help from their own healthy batch of Hall of Famers: Lou Boudreau, Larry Doby, Bob Feller, Joe Gordon, Bob Lemon and Satchel Paige. The 1995 Indians had a few Hall of Famers, Jim Thome had a break-out season as a 24 year old third baseman with 25 homers and a .438 OBP, Eddie Murray was 39 years old but still hit 21 homers with a .323 AVG and notched his 3000th hit, and Dave Winfield closed out his career at the age of 43. Tony Pena, Sandy Alomar, David Bell, Bud Black (2010 NL Manager of the Year with the Padres), John Farrell (managed the Red Sox to win the 2014 World Series) and Charles Nagy all went on to be coaches in the majors after their playing careers, Ruben Amaro, Jr went on to be GM of the Phillies (and a Goldbergs character), and Billy Ripken is an MLB Network analyst (along with Thome).

The stars of the ‘95 Indians are an especially great group of guys that were fringe HOFers. They were led by a young second baseman who had two 20-homer seasons before the strike seasons and hit .314 in both ‘94 and ‘95, Carlos Baerga. He was a three-time All-Star in that stretch from ‘92 to ‘95 and won two Silver Slugger awards. Although he played for eight more seasons after leaving Cleveland in ‘96, the best years were behind him yet he still managed 1583 career hits and a .291 AVG.

Baerga's greatest impact as Major Leaguer may have come in 2002 when he spent a season as a veteran leader DH and off the bench for the Red Sox. He was highly respected and gained the nickname “Papi” as a term of respect from the younger latin players. He wasn’t with the Red Sox in 2003, but the Red Sox had a new DH David “Big Papi” Ortiz, who didn’t wait long to become one of Boston’s leaders. Honestly, there isn’t any record that this is where Ortiz’s nickname comes from, all reports are that no one is really sure where the nickname came from exactly. It isn’t very far-fetched that Baerga teammate in both ‘95 with the Indians and ‘02 with the Red Sox who also spent several years with Ortiz in Boston, Manny Ramirez, may have had a hand in the carrying over of the moniker.

Manny ended his career with a series of failed PED tests that will probably cost him a Hall of Fame ticket, although his antics on and off the field were pretty lovable, losing a massive paycheck and not realizing it was gone until it was returned, cutting off a throw from the outfield while playing the outfield, and generally “Manny being Manny.” It’s really tough to think that he threw it all away with repeated PED fails after he had four trips to the World Series, two Championships, twelve All-Star Games, led the league in RBI (165) in ‘99, AVG and OBP in ‘02 (.349 and .450), OBP in ‘03 and ‘06 and home runs in ‘04 (43), while hitting 555 homers, 2574 hits, .312 AVG, .411 OBP and a 69.3 WAR.

While Randy Johnson ran away with the AL Cy Young Award by leading the league in ERA, WHIP, WAR and strike outs, Jose Mesa was the runner-up (he also came in fourth in MVP voting). 1995 was the breakout year for Mesa and easily his best year, saving 46 games with a 1.13 ERA. He had 321 career saves for twentieth all-time and a 4.36 ERA. The rotation was filled with veteran arms, Orel Hershiser was in his first year outside of Los Angeles as the age of 36, winning 16 games and a 3.87 ERA, the 1988 NL Cy Young winner had 204 career wins and a 3.48 ERA. Dennis Martinez was a 41 year old All-Star with the Indians thanks to his 3.08 ERA in 28 starts, was a 245 game winnin in his career, 3.70 ERA and “El Presidente” is the all-time winningest Latin pitcher. The guy with the best shot of being voted into the Hall of Fame is Omar Vizquel, a three-time All-Star and a guy who is considered one of the best fielding shortstops in MLB history as noted by his eleven Gold Glove Awards earned during a golden age of shortstops. Playing over 24 years, Vizquel managed to also be a prolific offensive player, racking up 2877 hits, 1445 runs and 404 stolen bases over his career.

Albert Belle

Albert Belle, 1997.

The best hitter on the Indians in 1995 was very well the best hitter in the Majors that year and had one of the most notable offensive years in MLB history. Albert Belle only played 12 years in the majors, only ten of those were full seasons, but he still had 1726 hits, 389 doubles, 381 homers, a .295 AVG and .369 OBP., a 40.1 WAR and he hit 30 home runs or more every season from ‘92 to ‘99. 1995 was by far the peak of his career. That year he became the first player to hit both 50 home runs and 50 doubles (50-52 to be exact), leading the league in both categories and also leading the league in runs (121), RBI (126), and slugging (.690) in only 143 games due to the late start of the season. The previous season Belle had been suspended seven games after one of his bats was confiscated for being corked. The actual bat in question sat in the umpire’s locker room for the rest of the game, or so was the intent. Indians pitcher Jason Grimsley crawled through a ventilator shaft to steal the bat and replace it with one of Paul Sorrento’s bats (all of Belle’s other bats were also corked) and return to the dugout.

Oddly enough, of all of the “cheating” in baseball, scuffing or lubricating a ball to create movement on a pitch, taking stimulants to be extra alert and energized during games, PEDs to add strength, endurance and recover from injuries, or stealing signs to know what is coming from the other team, corking a bat doesn’t actually seem to work. When a bat is corked a player will fill it with cork, or superballs or some other lightweight material in order to gain bat speed and create a so-called “trampoline effect,” supposedly creating a surface that will make the ball bounce off the bat and travel further. Apparently, the loss of weight in a bat actually means a loss of inertia and although the batter will be able to gain more bat speed, they will not make up for the loss of power by using a less heavy bat. The ball will not travel as far. Perhaps Belle didn’t cork his bat in 1995 and perhaps that is why he had a historic power surge, a power surge benefit for playing by the rules.

Belle was a man of a reputation. He was known for violent outbursts on and off the field, the corked bat incident was a mark on his name and he was a bit of a gruff perfectionist, a trait that did not make him very personable with MVP voters. Despite his great numbers and leading the Indians to a one hundred-win season, Mo Vaughn, who had tied Belle in RBI for the season, took home the AL MVP award. This season the Red Sox won their first division championship since 1990 and it wouldn’t be until 2007 that they would win another. It was a team that took the city of Boston by storm. Vaughn’s 39 HR, 126 RBI and .300 average were quite impressive, but they paled in comparison to Belle’s 50-50 season. They were two players that shared similar paths through their MLB careers. Both guys played in twelve seasons, both left the teams where they had the most success in their careers after eight years, both earned among the largest contracts in the league, both careers ended in chronic injuries, both ended up getting paid huge checks after they retired and both careers ended with over 300 home runs and averages over .290.

NL MVP: Barry Larkin, SS Cincinnati Reds

The Reds started the ‘95 season by winning just one game in the first nine. Barry Larkin held a closed-door meeting for the players and the result of the meeting was a 19-3 run. Larkin’s 1995 numbers were good, but not eye-popping, 15 homers, 66 RBI, career best 51 steals, .319 AVG and a .394 OBP. He won his second of three straight Gold Glove Awards although the only year of those where he was a better than average fielder was in 1994. Regardless, he was the glue of the Reds, fifth in the league in runs scored, setting the table for Ron Gant and Reggie Sanders to both nearly hit thirty home runs each. Barry was the leader of this team that had many bumps in the road, but any time the team was facing a funk, Larkin provided an example for the team either on or off the field to right the ship on the way to winning the Central Division. The next season, Barry proved that he was doing exactly what the team needed from him in a big way. The ‘96 Reds were struggling for power with Ron Gant signing with the Cardinals and Reggie Sanders only playing half a season due to injury. Larkin hit a career best 33 homers, the only time in his career with more than 20 in a season, and drove in 89 RBI, while hitting .298 and even besting his OBP of ‘95 by getting onbase at a .410 clip.

The NL MVP pool was pretty crowded, Dante Bichette tied for the league lead in hits with Tony Gwynn (197) while also hitting 40 home runs and driving in 128 RBI (both to lead the league) for Colorado. Another Hall of Fame middle infielder, the Astros' Craig Biggio, narrowly led the league in OBP over Gwynn (.406 to .404) and Mike Piazza was not far behind (.400). Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa both hit more than thirty homers and stole 30 bases.

The AL Rookies

The AL Rookie of the Year race was nearly as top loaded. Marty Cordova won the award, playing the best season of his career as a rookie for the last place Twins. It wasn’t exactly his fault that the team from the Twin Cities stunk, almost every pitcher in the staff was awful in ‘95, out of the top six starting pitchers, no one had an ERA under 4.90 and only closer Rick Aguilera had an ERA under 5.00 for the regular relievers. Cordova led the team with 24 homers and was among the best hitters with a .352 OBP and 20 steals he never came close to that knd of season for rest of his nine-year career and retired with only a 7.7 WAR.

The close second place in AL Rookie of the Year voting was Garret Anderson, a guy who was a three-time All-Star, won the 2002 World Series with the Angels and retired with 287 homers, 2527 hits, .293 ACT and a 25.7 WAR. His 16 homers and .321 AVG was just a tast of what would be to come and his 19 doubles were nothing like the numbers he would put up later in his career, leading the league in ‘02 and ‘03 with 56 and 49, respectively.

Third, fourth, fifth and sixth in rookie voting were all future All-Stars with great careers ahead of them. Andy Pettitte would win 256 games, five World Series, and retire with a 60.2 WAR. Troy Percival would save 358 games to finish eleventh on the all-time list, go to four All-Star Games, and win the World Series with the Angels in ‘02. Shawn Green was an All-Star and Gold Glover with a four-homer game on his resume, hit 328 in his career, hit at least 40 homers in three seasons, 2003 hits and had a 34.7 WAR. Ray Durham was a two-time All-Star second baseman with speed, power and ability to get on base, hitting 192 homers, stealing 273 bases, logging a .352 OBP and a WAR of 33.8. It turned out the only guy to fizzle out after ‘95 was the guy who took home the hardware.

NL Rookie of the Year: Hideo Nomo, RHP Los Angeles Dodgers

Nomo stretching like a cat that just woke up. 2005, Public Domain.

In the National League, the Rookie of the Year race was between Chipper Jones and Hideo Nomo. Nomo had the most pressure on him of anyone in the Majors in ‘95, he was the first pitcher from Japan to come play in the Major Leagues ever. His first year was his best season, leading the league in shutouts (3) and strikeouts (236) and posting the best ERA of his career (2.54). He did all of this while being followed by an army of media from all around the world. Not only were there large numbers of American reporters following the Dodgers, but even more Japanese reporters flocked to every city Nomo visited. Dodger games would be shown in Japan whenever he pitched and the whole country seemed to stop and watch.

This was the last season that the league stopped play with games that weren't made up until 2020. It was considered the end of labor disputes for a couple of generations of players.

Hall of Good Enough Players

Albert Belle, CLE OF, 12 YRS, 41.1 WAR, 1726 H, 389 2B, 281 HR, 1239 RBI, .295 AVG, .369 OBP, .564 SLG

Dante Bichette, COL OF, 14 YRS, 5.7 WAR, 1906 H, 401 2B, 279 HR, .299 AVG, .499 SLG

Oil Can Boyd, BOS RHP, 10 YRS, 17.3 WAR, 78 W, 799 K, 4.04 ERA, 1.292 WHIP

Ray Durham, CHW 2B, 14 YRS, 33.8 WAR, 2054 H, 440 2B, 273 SB, .277 AVG, .352 OBP

Orel Hershiser, CLE RHP, 18 YRS, 56.0 WAR, 204 W, 2014 K, 3.48 ERA, 1.261 WHIP

Cory Lidle, NYY RHP, 9 YRS, 10.7 WAR, 82 W, 4.57 ERA, 1.328 WHIP

Dennis Martinez, CLE RHP, 23 YRS, 48.7 WAR, 245 W, 2149 K, 3.70 ERA, 1.266 WHIP

Fred McGriff, ATL 1B, 19 YRS, 52.6 WAR, 2490 H, 493 HR, .284 AVG, .377 OBP, .509 SLG

Kevin Millar, BOS 1B, 12 YRS, 14.9 WAR, 1284 H, 296 2B, 170 HR, .274 AVG, .358 OBP

Hideo Nomo, LAD RHP, 12 YRS, 20.9 WAR, 123 W, 1918 K, 4.24 ERA, 1.354 WHIP

Troy Percival, CAL RHP, 14 YRS, 17.0 WAR, 709 G, 358 SV, 3.17 ERA, 1.108 WHIP

Andy Pettitte, NYY LHP, 18 YRS, 60.2 WAR, 256 W, 2448 K, 3.85 ERA, 1.351 WHIP

Manny Ramirez, CLE OF, 19 YRS, 69.3 WAR, 2574 H, 547 2B, 555 HR, 1831 RBI, .312 AVG, .411 OBP, .585 SLG

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