Tuesday, September 14, 2010

September 14, 1994: A long October

NEW YORK - It had been a tradition in America since 1905. Every October, the World Series officially announced the end of summer and the beginning of Fall. The two best teams squaring off to end the baseball season and create memories for years to come.

Since 1903, the World Series had only been cancelled once. The New York Giants refused to play the Boston Americans in 1904, saying they didn't feel the need to play a series against the champions of an inferior league. The public outcry was so great that the Giants had no choice but to play in the series in 1905. Since then, the championship had been played every year, despite two world wars, a depression, and labor movements. Every year, the World Series persevered.

Until 1994.

It remains a black day in baseball, a day that cause nearly irreparable damage to the game. On September 14, 1994, 33 days after the beginning of the players' strike, baseball's owners voted to cancel the World Series.

The damage was immediate. From simply a monetary standpoint, it was disastrous, with owners losing an estimated $580 million and players losing an estimate $230 million. Afterwards, it was even worse. When play finally resumed in 1995, the players were greeted with half-full stadiums, even on opening day, withstanding constant booing and derogatory signs from fans who did bother to show up. Television ratings plummeted. It took about five years for the game to recover attendence-wise, and baseball has since been passed by the NFL in terms of national popularity, a standing it may never be able to reverse.

Among the most damaging, though, was the season the strike destroyed. At the strike, Tony Gwynn had a .394 batting average, the closest anybody has ever come to hitting .400 since 1941; Matt Williams was on pace to break Roger Maris' home run record when the strike started, with Ken Griffey Jr. right behind him. The New York Yankees had the best record in the American League in 1994, so the strike cost long-time star Don Mattingly a chance at his first appearance in the postseason.

But perhaps most damaged by the strike was the Montreal Expos. A truly dominant team in 1994, the Expos had the best record in baseball when the players walked away. Instead of their first division title and a likely World Series bid, the Expos got nothing. With the loss of revenue they suffered because of the strike, they were forced to severely slice payroll for the next year, trading away nearly all of the stars that made them so good in 1994. The backlash from fans was extreme, and the Expos never recovered. They currently play as the Washington Nationals.

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