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.

Phillies owner John Middleton is in Las Vegas with Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper
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Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports that Phillies owner John Middleton flew to Las Vegas for a meeting with Bryce Harper on Friday. Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, it’s “more of a meet-and-greet than a sign-a-deal” affair, but as the club is still at the forefront of trade rumors involving the All-Star slugger, there remains a possibility (however slight) that something could be completed in the days to come.

Even now, the Phillies aren’t alone in the race to sign Harper, but recent rumors have helped whittle down the competition from five or more teams (Phillies, Nationals, White Sox, Giants, and Padres) to three strong contenders. The Giants are said to be interested in a lucrative short-term deal with the outfielder, while the Padres remain in the conversation despite inking Manny Machado to a mammoth 10-year, $300 million contract this week. It’s not yet clear just how far either team would go to outbid Philadelphia as talks with Harper intensify.

As for the Nationals and White Sox, the former officially bowed out earlier today, and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman adds that the latter won’t make a strong play for Harper as they feel the asking price and competing offers are “getting too high” for the 26-year-old’s services. If a mystery team is still in the mix, there’s been no word on their standing with Harper in the last month or so.