strike

Happy 20th Anniversary, 1994 baseball strike!

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Ballplayers went on strike on August 12, 1994. They didn’t come back to work until April 2, 1995. The work-stoppage cost nearly 950 games and, more importantly, led to the cancellation of the playoffs and the World Series. For those of you old enough to remember it, it was a total drag.

While popular opinion at the time (and since) has tended to characterize this as a pox-on-both-of-your-houses battle between greedy rich people, it is impossible to see the 1994-95 strike as anything but the owners’ fault. It was spearheaded by the owners of smaller-revenue teams — men like Bud Selig — who wanted to (a) impose a salary cap on the players; and (b) put all broadcast revenue into a pool and share it equally among the teams. It was a two-front war, really, small-revenue owners vs. large-revenue owners and owners vs. players.

And maybe the small-revenue owners would’ve gotten a full and fair hearing on those issues, but less than a decade before they had systematically and illegally colluded against free agents, earning the distrust of the players. And, it should be noted, the ire of other owners, who were on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in legal damages as a result of the arbitrator’s ruling on the matter. Were the small market teams really going to go bankrupt? Hard to say, but (a) they were unwilling to share their financial data with the players; and (b) had zero basis for being given the benefit of the doubt. Against that backdrop no union, strong or weak, was simply going to accept their unilateral decision to radically change the financial structure of the game to benefit them and harm everyone else. A strike was inevitable.

The strike ended when Judge Sonia Sotomayor — now Supreme Curt Justice Sotomayor – of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, issued a preliminary injunction against the owners, preventing them from unilaterally imposing a Collective Bargaining Agreement and using replacement players for the 1995 season. The players went back to work and, eventually, the sides reached a deal. There has not been a baseball work stoppage since.

There were many casualties of the 1994-95 strike. Most often discussed was the Montreal Expos’ dream season, which seemed destined to put them in the playoffs. And boy they were strong. Several records were in players’ crosshairs that year, including Roger Maris’ single-season home run record, which would have to wait four more years to be broken. Tony Gwynn very well could’ve hit .400 that year. A lot of veteran players decided to call August 1994 the end of their career rather than deal with all of the uncertainty ahead of them. The only possibly bright spot: we were pared a likely sub-.500 team winning the AL West. The Rangers were in first place at 52-62 when the music stopped. That would’ve been . . . awkward.

This week baseball will pick a new commissioner. Or at least it probably will. One who will succeed Bud Selig. A man who probably bears more responsibility for the 1994 strike than any one person. A man who, however, seems to have learned a lot from it over the years, even if he’s never fully and publicly copped to his culpability for it. We’ve seen some rumblings of old divisions among the ownership group over who will replace Bud, with some of that old territorialism creeping in to the conversation.

Here’s hoping, as the owners deliberate this week, they remember what happened 20 years ago today. And that they take action that will not increase the possibility of history repeating itself.

Shapiro, Murray defend Dellin Betances after arbitration feud

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 12:  Dellin Betances #68 of the New York Yankees and the American League pitches against the National League during the 87th Annual MLB All-Star Game at PETCO Park on July 12, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The dust hasn’t quite settled after right-hander Dellin Betances‘ arbitration hearing with the Yankees on Saturday. The case was decided in the team’s favor, awarding Betances with a $3 million salary for the 2017 season instead of the $5 million he initially requested. Yankees’ president Randy Levine held a press conference to voice his outrage over the figure presented by Betances and his agency, saying it had “no bearings in reality” since Betances does not have the elite closer status required for a salary bump of that magnitude.

Needless to say, the comments caused some consternation within Betances’ camp. The reliever publicly addressed the outburst, telling the press that he was prepared to put his differences with the team aside until he heard what Levine had to say. Via MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch:

Players union executive Rick Shapiro and Betances’ agent, Jim Murray, also spoke out in the right-hander’s favor. Shapiro presented Betances’ case during the hearing on Saturday and called Levine’s comments “an absolute disgrace to the arbitration process and to all of Major League Baseball.” In a report from FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, Shapiro added: “The only thing that has been unprecedented in the last 36 hours is that a club official, after winning a case, called a news conference to effectively gloat about his victory – that’s unprecedented.”

Murray spoke exclusively to Rosenthal, accusing the president of effectively bullying the 28-year-old during the arbitration process and claiming that Levine had both mispronounced Betances’ name throughout the hearing and blamed the reliever for “declining ticket sales and their lack of playoff history.” Like Betances, Murray said that the agency was ready to accept the arbiter’s decision and move on before Levine’s decision to air his grievances to the media. “The only person overreaching in this entire situation is Randy,” Murray told Rosenthal. “He might as well be an astronaut because nobody on earth would agree with what he is saying. Even the others in the room would disagree with him.”

Royals will experiment with Alex Gordon in all three outfield spots this year

CLEVELAND, OH -  MAY 7: Alex Gordon #4 of the Kansas City Royals reacts to a fan while on first base during the sixth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on May 7, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Royals’ manager Ned Yost is shaking things up in 2017, starting with left fielder Alex Gordon. Yost told MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan that “every scenario is open,” and expects to utilize Gordon in right and center field this spring while he figures out where to position Jorge Soler and Brandon Moss.

Gordon, 33, hasn’t manned right field since a three-game experiment with the Royals back in 2010 and has yet to play center field during any regular season to date. The focus, however, isn’t on Gordon’s capabilities. Among the three outfielders, he carries the best defensive profile and appears to be the most versatile of the bunch.

According to Flanagan, Soler and Moss are average on defense and will continue working closely with Royals’ coach Rusty Kuntz as the season approaches. One arrangement could see Gordon in center field, flanked by Soler in right field and Moss in left, though Yost foresees Soler taking some reps at DH if his defensive chops aren’t up to snuff.

While Moss is prepared to see starts at either outfield corner, Yost appears to be set on keeping Soler in right field, at least for the time being. The club is hoping for a bounce-back season from the 24-year-old outfielder, who was acquired from the Cubs in December after batting a lackluster .238/.333/.436 and sustaining a slew of minor injuries throughout the 2016 season.