The 1994-1995 MLB strike

May 4, 2022

On Aug. 11, 1994, Tony Gwynn was batting .394, the Montreal Expos were World Series favorites, and Ken Griffey Jr. had 40 home runs. On Aug. 12, none of that mattered: the players were on strike.

The most historic and famous strike in sports history began on Aug. 12 and didn’t conclude for another 232 days. The strike is also the most controversial baseball strike because it happened in the middle of the season. Fans were angry that no more baseball was going to be played; misguided, they blamed the players and the MLBPA, along with the owners, but to a lesser extent.

Many fans were upset Tony Gwynn’s potentially historic season was cut short, Yankee fans were upset Don Mattingly and the Yankees great season was cut short, and Montreal fans were upset because they knew the ‘94 Expos could’ve gone all the way (potentially saving their franchise from extinction).

The strike started because of the players’ growing distrust in the owners. Previously, the owners colluded to not sign free agents. The owners were also unhappy. In the 1990 lockout, owners were unhappy they weren’t able to implement a salary cap, and player salaries increased.

During that lockout Bud Selig entered the picture by arguing on behalf of the owners. He gained the trust of the owners, something then commissioner Fay Vincent didn’t have. Selig called for a vote of no confidence so Vincent would be removed as commissioner. The owners voted him out and Selig became the commissioner.

In Jan. 1994, the league approved a new revenue sharing, priming a salary cap. In June, the owners proposed a new CBA which introduced a salary cap, eliminated salary arbitration and gave the owners the right to keep free agents as long as they matched the best offer. The owners told them that the players would make more money in the aggregate but refused to show them their financial information. The players rejected that offer.

MLBPA executive director Don Fehr sought to strip the MLB’s antitrust exemption after the MLB withheld 7.8 million dollars worth of money they were required to pay. Congress didn’t strip their antitrust exemption, so Fehr set a strike date for Aug. 12.

The season, along with the World Series, was canceled in September, costing the owners 580 million dollars and collectively the players lost 230 million dollars in salary.

In the offseason, negotiations were slow, so slow that the then President Bill Clinton ordered them to get back to the negotiating table. They ignored him.

In January the owners decided to play the season with replacement players, aka “scabs.”

“We are committed to playing the 1995 season and will do so with the best players willing to play,” said Selig.

In February, replacement players showed up to spring training. In March, the players sued the MLB in federal court for violating labor laws. United States District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge Sonia Sotomayor filed a preliminary injunction against the owners, stating the league cannot play the season with replacement players.

After the owners weren’t allowed to start the season with replacement players, they caved to the union’s requests. The season started with low fan attendance that continued throughout the season. The players suffered more than the owners. Fans booed players when they took the field, but the owners, for the longest time, got little of the blame.

There hasn’t been a strike in baseball since, but there has been a lockout, which happened from December 2021 to March 2022.

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