Players who crossed picket line in 1995

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When I was a kid (I’m 31 now), the term “replacement player” had a totally different meaning than it does now. To me, back then, it meant a fill-in player in a video game meant to represent somebody else. There were a handful of stand-ins in video games because certain players crossed the picket line in spring training 1995 after the work stoppage. Because the strikebreakers were rightfully not welcome in the union, their names and likenesses could not be used in MLBPA licensed products, including video games. As a result, game developers used fake names and likenesses for those players.

As Craig pointed out to me in a brief chat we had while brainstorming our strike anniversary ideas, in High Heat Major League Baseball 1999, Braves reliever Kerry Lightenberg was dubbed “Terry Lyte.” Other code names included “Ron Mayday” (Ron Mahay), and “Shawn Spengler” (Shane Spencer).

The game I religiously played back in the day was MVP Baseball 2005. In that game, Barry Bonds — who was not part of the MLBPA for reasons unrelated to the work stoppage — went undercover as “Jon Dowd.” Lightenberg was dubbed “Scott Venema.” Mahay was “Neale Genereaux,” and Spencer was “Larry Reed.” Among other notables, Cory Lidle was “Alan Hughes,” Lou Merloni was “Paul Cruz,” and Damian Miller was “Roger Chamberlain.” I remember people being so invested in making the game as accurate and up-to-date as possible that they would go into the game’s files and edit them to make, for example, Cory Lidle actually look like Cory Lidle with his actual name.

Baseball scabs — a “scab” is a pejorative term for someone who crosses a picket line — weren’t just barred from video games. Players who happened to find themselves on playoff teams were not allowed to have their names or likenesses used on commemorative merchandise. Those players included Spencer and Miller as well as Brendan Donnelly and Kevin Millar.

Why did those players cross the picket line? They were offered $5,000 guaranteed to participate in spring training and another $5,000 if they made the Opening Day roster. For players with families to provide for and bills to pay, the immediate and guaranteed $5,000 (about $8,400 in present-day value) was too good to pass up. Others saw the opportunity as a way to accelerate their paths to the majors, even if it required the indignity of crossing a picket line.

While understanding their real and legitimate motivations, the scabs should be looked back on with much more scorn. Millar, for example, won the Charlie Hough Good Guy Award in 2001 from the Florida chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Two years later, when he was with the Red Sox, the local BBWAA gave him the Jackie Jensen Award, presented to the player who “best embodies the spirit and desire of the former Red Sox outfielder.” Crossing a picket line should automatically disqualify anyone from receiving an award with the term “good guy” in it. Merloni went on to have a successful post-baseball career as well, becoming a radio show co-host in Boston. The stink of crossing a picket line didn’t really stick with the scabs and it should have.

The strength of a union comes from its numbers. Individually, it is difficult for people to effect meaningful change, but when banded together, people can change the world. That is why business leaders since time immemorial have spent ungodly amounts of money trying to squash union efforts. Unions helped bring about the end of child labor while giving us improved work conditions, the eight-hour work day, and paid time off as well as better pay, all of which cost business owners more money. They hate that. Furthermore, an August 2016 study from the Economic Policy Institute found that a decline in union membership even lowered wages for people who don’t belong to unions — that’s how powerful and meaningful unions are. Unions help establish standards to which even non-union employees eventually hold their employers. To cross a picket line is to make a choice to weaken the collective to enrich or make things more convenient for oneself. That’s why much was made last October when the Yankees, in Boston, crossed a picket line by staying the Ritz-Carlton where workers were striking.

We should be looking back on the 1995 replacement players with much more scorn. And, should there be another work stoppage in the future, we should do our part as consumers of a product created by the players’ labor to shun any and all replacement players. And not just in baseball — any industry.

Yankees star Judge hits 61st home run, ties Maris’ AL record

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TORONTO — Aaron Judge tied Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs in a season, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run drive for the New York Yankees in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

The 30-year-old slugger drove a 94.5 mph belt-high sinker with a full-count from left-hander Tim Mayza over the left-field fence at Rogers Centre. The 117.4 mph drive took just 3.8 seconds to land 394 feet from the plate, and it put the Yankees ahead 5-3.

Judge watched the ball clank off the front of the stands, just below two fans who reached over a railing and tried for a catch. He pumped an arm just before reaching first and exchanged a slap with coach Travis Chapman.

The ball dropped into Toronto’s bullpen and was picked up by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann, who turned it over to the Yankees.

Judge’s mother and Roger Maris Jr. rose and hugged from front-row seats. He appeared to point toward them after rounding second base, then was congratulated by the entire Yankees team, who gave him hugs after he crossed the plate.

Judge moved past the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit in 1927, which had stood as the major league mark until Maris broke it in 1961. All three stars reached those huge numbers playing for the Yankees.

Barry Bonds holds the big league record of 73 for the San Francisco Giants in 2001.

Judge had gone seven games without a home run – his longest drought this season was nine in mid-August. This was the Yankees’ 155th game of the season, leaving them seven more in the regular season.

The home run came in the fourth plate appearance of the night for Judge, ending a streak of 34 plate appearances without a home run.

Judge is hitting .313 with 130 RBIs, also the top totals in the AL. He has a chance to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012.

Maris hit No. 61 for the Yankees on Oct. 1, 1961, against Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard.

Maris’ mark has been exceeded six times, but all have been tainted by the stench of steroids. Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 and 65 the following year, and Bonds topped him. Sammy Sosa had 66, 65 and 63 during a four-season span starting in 1998.

McGwire admitted using banned steroids, while Bonds and Sosa denied knowingly using performing-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball started testing with penalties for PEDs in 2004, and some fans – perhaps many – until now have considered Maris the holder of the “clean” record.

Among the tallest batters in major league history, the 6-foot-7 Judge burst on the scene on Aug. 13, 2016, homering off the railing above Yankee Stadium’s center-field sports bar and into the netting above Monument Park. He followed Tyler Austin to the plate and they become the first teammates to homer in their first major league at-bats in the same game.

Judge hit 52 homers with 114 RBIs the following year and was a unanimous winner of the AL Rookie of the Year award. Injuries limited him during the following three seasons, and he rebounded to hit 39 homers with 98 RBIs in 2021.

As he approached his last season before free agent eligibility, Judge on opening day turned down the Yankees’ offer of an eight-year contract worth from $230.5 million to $234.5 million. The proposal included an average of $30.5 million annually from 2023-29, with his salary this year to be either the $17 million offered by the team in arbitration or the $21 million requested by the player.

An agreement was reached in June on a $19 million, one-year deal, and Judge heads into this offseason likely to get a contract from the Yankees or another team for $300 million or more, perhaps topping $400 million.

Judge hit six homers in April, 12 in May and 11 in June. He earned his fourth All-Star selection and entered the break with 33 homers. He had 13 homers in July and dropped to nine in August, when injuries left him less protected in the batting order and pitchers walked him 25 times.

He became just the fifth player to hold a share of the AL season record. Nap Lajoie hit 14 in the AL’s first season as a major league in 1901, and Philadelphia Athletics teammate Socks Seabold had 16 the next year, a mark that stood until Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919. Ruth set the record four times in all, with 54 in 1920, 59 in 1921 and 60 in 1927, a mark that stood until Maris’ 61 in 1961.

Maris was at 35 in July 1961 during the first season each team’s schedule increased from 154 games to 162, and baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ruled if anyone topped Ruth in more than 154 games “there would have to be some distinctive mark in the record books to show that Babe Ruth’s record was set under a 154-game schedule.”

That “distinctive mark” became known as an “asterisk” and it remained until Sept. 4, 1991, when a committee on statistical accuracy chaired by Commissioner Fay Vincent voted unanimously to recognize Maris as the record holder.