Strike in 1994-95 ended several careers

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Sports strikes are not like, say, factory strikes or grocery store strikes. There are not constant picket lines, mostly because there are no customers or — usually — potential replacement workers who need to be informed that they should not cross the line. As such, when the 1994-95 baseball strike hit, a lot of players had a lot of time on their hands.

Some of them, like veteran Mike Gallego, then of the New York Yankees, got regular jobs. Really. As Jim Caple of ESPN wrote several years ago, Gallego took a job stocking shelves at K-Mart. Most players went home or went fishing, waiting for the their union reps to call and tell them that the strike was over. Some of them liked it so much that they never came back.

Bo Jackson had been diminished by injury by then, but he was an above-average hitter for the California Angels in 1994. While he was a free agent heading into 1995, given how tremendous an athlete he was he might’ve hung on as a left fielder or DH as he entered his age-32 season. But then a funny thing happened when the strike hit. The longer he stayed at home in the summer and fall of 1994, the more he liked it. On April 3, 1995 he announced his retirement from pro sports.

A similar story unfolded with Dave Henderson. The 14-year veteran was clearly nearing the end of his career, but the strike hastened it. Here’s what he told Bob Nightengale of USA Today a few years ago about his thought process in 1994-95:

“They should never, ever let a baseball player have the summer off. As a baseball player that was my first summer off. Ever. And I liked it. Once I got introduced to the thing they call Labor Day, and had a family barbecue and everything, I said, ‘Hell with it, I’m not going back.’

Other players — such as Harold Reynolds, trying to make the Colorado Rockies in the spring of 1995 — were cut and left the game due to having gotten too out of shape during the extra-long offseason. Other players said they were simply disillusioned by the strike and lost their love of the game as a result. Hall of Famer Rich Gossage and  1989 World Series MVP Dave Stewart are two of them. 1984 Cy Young Award winner Rick Sutcliffe likewise said that the strike is why he retired.

Which may or may not be true. Or, at the very least, may or may not be fully true. There’s no reason to doubt that Henderson enjoyed his Labor Day barbecue and there’s no reason to doubt that Gossage, Stewart and Sutcliffe all grew disillusioned with the labor strife. Indeed, Gossage probably had more reason to be disillusioned than anyone, as he was one of only two players — along with Charlie Hough — who played during every single work stoppage in baseball history, beginning with the 1972 strike and enduring through the three other strikes and two owner-led lockouts.

Still, a baseball case could be made that none of them would’ve found work in 1995. They were in the twilight of their careers. Gearing up for a new season in ones late 30s or early 40s is probably hard enough. Imagine how hard it is when you haven’t played since the previous August. If you can get a job, that is. In this way, the strike, I suspect, gave a lot of guys cover to say they were leaving the game on their own terms rather than have the game, as it almost always does otherwise, tell them that they’re no longer good enough or young enough to hack it.

But no matter the details of any individual player’s case, it’s undeniable that the strike led to a ton of players to call it quits, whether they hung up it up in 1994 after the season was canceled or announced they weren’t coming back in early 1995 when the strike ended. Indeed, the most famous athlete to announce he’d no longer play baseball after 1994 did so in early 1995. And he wasn’t even a major leaguer. His statement was short and to the point as well. It came in a faxed press release:

I’m back.

With that, Michael Jordan returned the basketball and the Chicago Bulls. Both he and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf said later that, had the strike not occurred, he would’ve tried to play one more season in the minor leagues to see if he couldn’t get some traction behind his nascent baseball career.

Which, I suppose, is literally the only good thing that came out of the 1994-95 strike.