Turn Back the Clock: The 1994 MLB Season
When people talk about the 1994 Major League Baseball season, nearly everyone will recall the date August 12th, 1994. This was the day when the players of Major League Baseball went on strike until April 2nd, 1995. This was the first season since 1904 that the World Series was cancelled, when Selig cancelled the World Series on September 14th. It was season of new beginnings as the newly acquired Wild Card berth was to begin. How would the remainder of the season played out? Would we have seen history made? Records Broken? Who would have won the World Series? Over the course of this column, I am going to attempt to answer some of the “unanswered” questions that many have asked over the past twenty years. I will go back in time and reflect on what could have been during the 1994 season if the strike never happened.
THE MONTREAL EXPOS
The Expos were undoubtedly effected the most due to the strike shortened season. At the time of August 12th, the Expos were 74-40, possessing the best record in the majors. They were six games ahead of three time defending National League Eastern division champion Atlanta Braves. The has one of the best top to bottom lineups in all of baseball, and had a dominant pitching staff to go along with it. The Expos, who up until 1994, had not sniffed the playoffs since their last playoff berth in 1981, ironically a strike shortened season where they made it all the way to the National League Championship series before falling in five games to the eventual champion Los Angeles Dodgers. Led by manager Felipe Alou, the Expos were on pace to reach the World Series in 1994 for the first time in history.
So what would have happened? The Expos would have made the playoffs withstanding a run by the Braves in the East. With the newly added Wild Card berth, both Montreal, and Atlanta would have made the playoffs. The Expos would have won the East by a couple of games, but experience would cause them problems in the post season. I do not think the Expos would have won, nor would have reached the World Series. The Braves still possessed the best pitching staff in all of baseball in 1994, and that would have proven to be too much for the talented Expos lineup. The Braves would have won the National League Championship by defeating the Expos in the NLCS. However, with the Expos winning the divison, the Braves consecutive division title streak would have been halted at an early stage. The Expos never recovered from this, and ended up not coming close to the post season again until they moved to Washington in 2004. Some call the strike the beginning of the demise of the Expos.
THE WILD CARD
Bud Selig introduced the Wild Card berth for the first time in 1994. The best second place team would also earn a spot in the post season and would play the best team in that particular league. It was supposed to be the beginning of major changes for baseball to help improve ratings, and fan base. It was to give more teams a chance to compete for a championship, and the hope was to create more excitement during the final weeks of the season. In the National League you had only two teams that would have posed a serious threat to the Wild Card Berth. The Braves who were leading the Houston Astros by 2 ½ games, with all other teams trailing Atlanta by more than 12 games. This was the beginning of a long term run by Houston, who went on to make the playoffs multiple times over the course of the next decade, even a trip to the World Series in 2005. The Braves, who were in the midst of the most dominant consecutive division championship run, would eventually go on to win division titles all the way though 2005, but I think they would have had to settle for a wild card berth in 1994.
In the American League, there were three teams in contention for the wild card berth. The Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, and Kansas City Royals were all within two games from each other for the final playoff spot. The Indians held the slight lead over Baltimore, and I think eventually would have pulled away with there dominant offensive lineup with Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, and Jim Thome leading the way. The Indians were just a year away from being the most dominant team in all of baseball as they won 100 games in a shortened 1995 season before falling to the Braves in the World Series. The Indians would have had a little more post season experience, and quite possibly could have been a little more prepared for the Braves.
THE AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
The American League West was the most contested division out of the six divisions in baseball. From top to bottom, they were separated by only 5 ½ games. Sound like a lot of fun to watch? Well hardly. Let’s start with the last place team the California Angels. Only 5 ½ games behind the division leader Texas Rangers, were on August 12th, a whopping 21 games under .500 posting a record of 47-68, and holding the second worst record in the majors. The Texas Rangers were 10 games under .500 while leading the Oakland Athletics by 1 game, and the Seattle Mariners by 2 games. In fact, the Rangers record was the worst among the Brewers and Tigers, who were in last place in their respective divisions.
Would we have seen a division champion with a sub .500 record? It sure looked that way, and it probably would have happened. Seattle was an up and coming team and would have went on a run to claim the championship, which they did a year later with a 1 game playoff victory over the Angels. Ken Griffey Jr, who was on a offensive terror, and Randy Johnson would have likely overcome the small deficit and won the west in 1994, though they may very well have been under .500 in doing so.
MATT WILLIAMS 61 HOME RUNS?
Matt Williams of the San Francisco Giants ended the shortened 1994 season with 43 Home Runs, just 18 shy of breaking Roger Maris’ record of 61 in 1961. The record would eventually be broken by Mark McGwire in 1998, but would we have seen the record broken in 1994? Williams was on pace to do just that before the strike. It was the first, and only time Williams would hit more than 40 homeruns in a season. It was by far his best season of his career.
Would Matt Williams have broken Maris’ record? I don’t think so. He would have ended up very very close, I am thinking around 56 or 57 for the season. Players tend to get tired towards the end of the year, and his pace would have been slowed a bit in the later weeks in the season. It would have been fun to watch over the final two months of the season, but I think he would have come up just short.
In 1994, Jeff Bagwell unanimously won the the National League Most Valuable Player award by posting a .368 Batting Average, 39 Home Runs, and 116 RBI’s. He beat out Matt Williams and Moises Alou to win the award. Let me tell you something that you may not know about this particular situation. I will start by saying that Jeff Bagwell would not have won the MVP award had the strike not happened. Why? On August 10th, Bagwell was hit by a pitch that broke his wrist and would have seemingly ended his season with only 7 weeks left to go in the season. Due to his injury, Bagwell would not have drawn the attention of the voters, and would have likely voted for Matt Williams instead.
Bagwell would go on to have 5 more seasons where he would match or beat his career home run total, having a career high 47 in 2000. He was runner up for MVP in 1999, and finished third in 1997. However, Bagwell would not win another MVP award in his career. Had the strike not occurred, he would not have this award in his arsenal.
THE NEW YORK YANKEES
The Yankees as we all know were probably the most dominant teams since the mid 1990’s. Their dominance started in 1996 when they defeated the Braves in the World Series, and would go on to win 3 out of the next four titles, including three straight from 1998-2000. The Yankees posted a record of 70-43, 6 ½ games over the Baltimore Orioles in the East, and had the best record by three games over the Chicago White Sox. The Yanks were led by Wade Boggs, Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, and Bernie Williams. This was also towards the end of the great career of Don Mattingly, who keep in mind never won a World Series championship. They had a strong pitching staff led by ace Jimmy Key who was runner up to the American League Cy Young Award.
Would the Yankees have won the pennant? I think that the Yankees World Series dominance would have started in 1994, and the Yankees would have represented the American League in the World Series, giving Don Mattingly his first taste at a World Series. I won’t say they would have won it because I still think the Braves were the best team in baseball and their pitching staff would have shut down anyone in the post season. I do think it would have been the start of the dynasty two years earlier.
So what do you think? What do you think would have happened if the strike had never occurred? Would the Expos have won the World Series, and perhaps ended up staying in Montreal? Would the Yankees dynasty have started earlier, and they would have won even more World championships? Would we have seen history made with records being broken? Or the latter, would we have prevented history being made down the road with a full season of stats? One thing is for sure the 1994 Major League Baseball season will go down as one of the biggest failures in the history of the game. Looking back, it had much more history that you would have thought. The question that we can all ask ourselves….What If?
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