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Baseball Strike Hurts Teams, Players, Fans

Column by Thomas Kettler
Staff Reporter

By a 262 vote (Marge Schott of the Reds and Peter Angelos of the Orioles refused to sign), the baseball owners closed the 1994 baseball season in a fax to the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA).

Consequently no World Series shall be played for the first time since 1904, when John McGraw, manager of the National League champion New York Giants, refused to play the American League Champion Boston Pilgrims (now Red Sox).

The entire debate focused on the owners' desire to impose a salary cap on the players. The problem is that a salary cap works against a free market which is one of the fundamental tenets of this country.

People hurt by the strike

The cancellation of the season hurt these people:

1) Cleveland, Montreal and New York Yankees fans and players.

The Cleveland Indians have not made it to a World Series since being swept by the 1954 New York Giants. This year's team had an excellent shot to either win the American League Central or at least get the American League (AL) wildcard. Now they may not make future playoffs with this team since their two starting pitchers, Dennis Martinez and Jack Morris, are both over 35 and could fade at any moment, and another pitcher, Charles Nagy, has a history of arm problems.

The Montreal Expos ended the season with the best record in baseball, 7440. This was easily the best Expos franchise in its 25-year history and had the Atlanta Braves thinking wildcard. However, this group of players will probably not make it to future playoffs since Claude Brochu shall likely break up the team because of his financial "difficulties."

The New York Yankees had not made it to the playoffs since 1981. Also, Don Mattingly is second to Julio Franco on the list for the most games played without playing in a playoff game. This would have likely been his last chance since injury problems have shortened his career.

2) Frank Thomas, Ken Griffey Jr., Kenny Lofton, Albert Belle, Matt Williams, Jeff Bagwell and Tony Gwynn and their fans.

Frank Thomas had an excellent shot at winning both the official Triple Crown (batting average (BA), home runs (HR) and runs batted in (RBI) ) and the sabermetric triple crown (BA, slugging percentage (SLG) and on-base percentage (OBP)). Carl Yazstremski won the last official triple crown in 1967 for the Red Sox while George Brett won the last sabermetric triple crown in 1980 for the Kansas City Royals.

For the season he finished third in BA with .353, second in HR with 38 and tied for third in RBI with 101 while leading in SLG with .729 and OBP with .487. He could have been the first player to finish with better than a .500 OBP since Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle did in 1957. As it is, he finished with the 34th best OBP and 14th best SLG ever. He also finished the season first in runs scored with 106 and finished out of the top 10 in only triples and stolen bases amongst the major offensive categories.

Ken Griffey Jr. had the best season of his six-year career. As a 24-year old, his season of 40 HR, 90 RBI, .323 BA and .674 SLG are outstanding since it is unlikely that he has yet reached his prime. He also surpassed his father, a 19-year veteran, in HR this year.

Kenny Lofton's season continues to indicate how insane the Eddie Taubensee-Lofton trade was in 1992. While Taubensee, a left-handed hitting catcher is now second-string with the Reds after the Astros traded him, Lofton of Cleveland finished fourth in the AL in batting with a .349 BA, while leading the league in hits and stolen bases and second to Thomas in runs scored.

Albert Belle continued to impress as a power-hitting left fielder for Cleveland. This season, he also had a chance to win the triple crown. He finished the season second in BA at .357, third in HR with 36 and tied with Thomas for third in RBI with 101. He also finished with a .714 SLG and .438 OBP.

Matt Williams finished the season with the best season of his career. He was on a pace possibly to break Roger Maris' HR record of 61 by hitting 43 in the Giants 115 games. Also, he and his teammate Barry Bonds had 80 HR's and could have easily broken the National League (NL) record of HR's by teammates which is 91 set by Willie Mays and Willie McCovey in 1965 while possibly becoming the first set of teammates in the NL to both hit 50.

Jeff Bagwell had a season that makes a true Boston Red Sox fan cry. The player that the Astros received for 22 innings of Larry Andersen in 1990 had a season which would have almost won him the triple crown in the AL. He finished with a .368 BA, 39 HR, 116 RBI, a .451 OBP and a .750 SLG which places him seventh on the all-time list in that category and is the best since Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig slugged .772 and .765 in 1927! Since he only played in 110 games, this was also the first time since 1950 that a player had more RBI than games played.

Finally, Tony Gwynn finished with a .394 BA. This was the best BA since Ted Williams' .406 season in 1941 and the best in the NL since Bill Terry's .401 in 1930. It ranks as the 35th best ever.

3) Advertisers.

This year marked the first time that a baseball-only player signed a shoe contract. Thomas first signed with Reebok and Griffey signed with rival Nike. Griffey also signed a contract to promote a baseball video game by Nintendo for Super NES. Sales may nosedive as a result of a consumer backlash.

People helped by the strike

People helped by the strike include:

1) Chicago Cubs Fans.

The strike may finally cause Cubs fans to wise up and realize that the Tribune Co. does not care about them. By its actions the Tribune has consistently demonstrated that they are only concerned with the money that Cubs fans spend or advertising dollars from WGN. Until the fans demonstrate that they will not go out to see a losing team, the Tribune will continue to never work at building a winning team.

2) AL West and the AL.

At the end of the season, the Texas Rangers led the AL West "Worst" with a 5262 record. If the season were 162 games long, then the "winner" would have a far worse record than the previous worst teams: the 50-53 1981 Kansas City Royals that made the playoffs by winning the second season of that strike season and the 83-79 1973 Mets. Since flukes are more likely to occur in five or seven-game series than the regular season, it would not have been impossible for the winner to represent the AL in the World Series.

Consequences of the action

The season cancellation will result in several consequences:

1) Antitrust exemption.

Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, has discussed resuming his bill to remove baseball's antitrust exemption. If the owners declare an impasse in the negotiations with the MLBPA, then it would likely be removed. Removal of the exemption would make it far easier for other leagues to start and allow the players to sue the owners in court.

2) Players league.

A players league in which the players would be the owners, with the exemption of some people to provide start up money in return for a percentage of profits, has been discussed. However, it suffers from a few problems.

The first is where the players teams would play. A few cities, such as Washington, would love to have a baseball team, and some cities like Baltimore have baseball stadiums without any teams. However, most stadiums are already tied up in leases with the baseball owners.

Another problem is startup money. It is not obvious that many people would provide money merely to be partners with the players.

Finally, would superstars such as Bonds, Thomas, and Griffey be willing to accept much lower salaries to be a part of such a league. Since the first few years would not likely be very profitable, they would be sacrificing millions of dollars for the right of ownership.

3) 1995 season.

Presently, the 1995 season is in jeopardy. A lockout of spring training is on the horizon. The owners will likely try to see how long the players will go without their salaries since only 180 of the 750 players are under contract and most owners lose money through the All-Star break anyway.