In sports, there’s always the wonderment of yesterday. What ‘if’ this happened instead of that. That’s always been on my mind when it comes to the 1994 baseball season.
On August 12, 1994 the Players Association went on strike thanks to the stubborn leadership of evildoer Donald Fehr. It resulted in the rest of the season being canceled including the postseason making it the first time there was no World Series since 1904. With it came a crashing halt to the pursuit of Roger Maris’ home run record of 61. Three star players all had shots at it. Two days earlier, Matt Williams his his league-leading 43rd against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Ken Griffey, Jr. had 40 and Frank Thomas had 38. Pre-juicer Barry Bonds had 37. NL MVP Jeff Bagwell had 39 but broke a bone in his left hand.
“I hope the sucker lasts three to five weeks, at least,” then Astros skipper Terry Collins said in regards to the strike which ruined one of the best seasons. If only logic had prevailed.
How good was the ’94 season? Not only did you have supposedly clean sluggers chasing Maris but Tony Gwynn was trying to become the first player since Ted Williams to hit .400. Instead, he finished six points shy hitting .394 to lead the majors.
“To this day, I really believe I’d have hit .400,” he said a few years back in a feature Yahoo’s Big League Stew did back in 2010 recalling his chances. Of course, it’s impossible to say whether Gwynn would’ve become the first player since Teddy Ballgame turned the trick in 1941.
That also was the year the Expos had the best record. They were 74-40 (.649) atop the NL East by six games over the Braves. A great team that featured Larry Walker, Moises Alou, Marquis Grissom, Cliff Floyd, Pedro Martinez and John Wetteland. It was easily Montreal’s best team. They were robbed of the opportunity to win a World Series.
So too was my favorite player Don Mattingly. The 1994 Yankees had the second best record at 70-43 leading the AL East by six and a half games. A team that also featured Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, Wade Boggs, Danny Tartabull, Mike “Opposite Field HR” Stanley and ace Jimmy Key. Remarkably, Steve Howe was the closer and Bob Wickman set up. They were managed by Buck Showalter.
I’ll never forget when the work stoppage ended the following Spring and Showalter led his team out to cheers at The Stadium. They made the postseason that Fall in my freshman year at Fairleigh Dickinson in Madison, New Jersey. Mattingly hit .417 in his only October hitting that memorable home run as called by Gary Thorne who beckoned, “Hang onto the roof! Good-bye! Home-run!”
Yeah. Those were the days. Jim Leyritz hitting that walk off in extras to put them up 2-0 before the roof caved in at the King Dome. I was heartbroken by ALDS MVP Edgar Martinez’ series clinching extra base hit that scored a flying Griffey from first. Twenty-one years later, I still don’t know what Jack McDowell was doing on the mound instead of Wetteland. Granted. He struggled mightily. But come on. It was an awful decision.
Who knows. Maybe Buck would’ve survived had they won that series. But how would that have changed history? Of course, handpicked George Steinbrenner choice Joe Torre managed the Yanks to four World Championships. Buck’s still never won one despite doing great jobs in Arizona and Baltimore. I met him once when I worked at ESPN and thanked him. He was gracious.
Looking back at ’94, I can’t help but wonder if that Yankee team would’ve gone to the World Series. Mattingly’s best chance to win and it got canceled. The Expos with all those stars and they got canceled. Williams with that classic swing driving No.43 to the opposite field in the ivy 18 away from Maris and canceled. Griffey, Jr. with that sweet swing up to 40 with 50 games left and canceled. Greg Maddux had a 1.56 earned run average and 16 wins in his second season with the Braves winning his third straight NL Cy Young. He won four in a row from ’92 thru ’95. One of the great pitchers of that era.
It was exciting to be a fan. Anything was possible. Too bad we’ll never know how the final script went.