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.