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25 Years Ago - 8/12/94 - Baseball Strike

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Long article in The Athletic, which is worth a read.  Only excerpts are allowed, so here are a few:

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Randy Levine, lead negotiator for MLB starting in 1995: Let’s talk about revenue sharing, because it was the issue at that time. Everybody thinks the salary restraint was. It wasn’t. There had been meeting after meeting, one in Fort Lauderdale, one in Kohler (in 1993). You ask anybody around at that time, Kohler was the worst meeting in the history of Major League Baseball. After Kohler, to come up with any plan that worked, the people who devised it would deserve a Nobel Peace Prize.

When I arrived, I asked about the tie between revenue sharing and the cap, and was told the two together was the only way the owners could agree.

Did the owners need relief overall, on player compensation? Yes. But only to achieve revenue sharing. The two were together. The problem with the owners’ argument is very, very simple at that time: Nobody’s forcing you to spend money. Or spend money you don’t have.

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David Cone, pitcher for the Kansas City Royals, player representative for the American League: That was our best leverage, there’s no two ways about it. We thought that would get them to the bargaining table and come up with some sort of agreement. There was no meaningful bargaining negotiation prior to the cancellation of the World Series, which led us to believe that was what they wanted all along.

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Fehr: The subsidiary issue was, XYZ small franchise — by the way, the phrase is small-income, not small-market — XYZ small franchise needs help. They can’t keep up. The initial reaction is, who picked them? Who put a team there, who determined what the capital structure is? And all the rest of that. The argument was, what the owners would like is a system so that the most poorly located, most highly undercapitalized and worst managed team could still make a nice profit. 

What all of these restrictions do is to in effect say, we’re going to insulate from your management. That’s sort of the purpose of it. Our standpoint is to look at it. And if we can figure out a way to address those concerns consistently, the players’ goal is, you try and do that.

Kasten: Don’t rile me up reminding me of those old things. Come on, alright? What should we do, Don? Just have teams in the 12 best markets with the 12 best management teams? You’d still have a top team and a bottom team. You would just have 18 fewer teams. Come on, arguments like that don’t get us anywhere. But those are the kind of arguments you’d have to hear.

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Orza: Bud once told me — he guaranteed me — there would be a salary cap in baseball someday. And all I did was I sang a couple of verses from “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” from Mick Jagger.

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On Feb. 16, 1995, spring training opened with replacement players. The NLRB issued a charge of unfair labor practice against the owners on March 14 to prevent implementation.

On March 26, the NLRB voted to authorize the injunction request. Five days later, U.S. District Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor upheld the injunction request and restored the system in place before the strike.

The replacement players were released on April 1. Camps opened and the strike ended April 5.

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Orza: Had they figured out a way to lawfully implement it, and open the season with scabs playing the games — because we would’ve still been on strike — we would’ve buried them. Five franchises would have gone out of business. The players would have held.

The fans would have destroyed the game. The quality of the play, the product they were putting out there would be laughable. And the writers would see it, and they would write it that way. It was the worst thing they would have done, to think that somehow, by opening the season with scabs, they were going to fight the players to succumb.

Glavine: Even that first year back, there was still a lot of animosity. Attendance was down. I remember my first game that I pitched that year. I was warming up in the bullpen in Atlanta, and some guy was giving me crap: “Greedy players,” and the whole nine yards. And he’s like, “Here, let me start passing the hat around, get some money for you, you greedy bastard.” There was a lot of that stuff that went on for a while.

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Levine: We’re in Atlanta during the World Series, Yankees are playing, and Rob and I meet with Don. And he gives us a little more on all of these things. Plays with the luxury tax, plays with the revenue-sharing plan and so forth. And we go back to Bud and the owners, still not good enough.

So Don says to me, “I’m done. I’m not doing anything. I want to go see Bud Selig.” So Rob and I go to Milwaukee with Don, and it’s just fucking brutal. I mean, Don just ripped into Bud like you couldn’t believe and said, “#@$% you, now you’re not at impasse anymore.”

The whole world knows, the media knows, we have a tentative agreement. And Bud Selig in the World Series at Yankee Stadium goes and gives an interview to people and says, “We don’t have an agreement.” It was famous, this had been widely reported.

In an office right outside of George’s office at the stadium, Don runs up there. I’m in the room, Bud’s in the room, and Don just ripped into Bud. Pardon my language: “#@$% you, can’t trust you, any of them.” Bud started screaming back at Don. It’s really, really ugly.

The World Series is going on at the time, and George sticks his head in and says, “Both of you, shut the #@$% up, we got a World Series going on here, you’re affecting my guests!”

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Orza: They’re moguls. They are all terribly wealthy people investing hundreds and hundreds of millions dollars, all for a cause that history has subsequently proven was not worthwhile. I mean, not one owner has gone bankrupt. Not one owner’s franchise has been devalued. Not one owner has been forced to sell his car.

They all said the sport was going to go down the tubes if we didn’t agree to a salary cap. You think baseball’s gone down the tubes since 1994?

Manfred: I’m not a win-lose in labor disputes. That is a very kind of — I won’t be pejorative. I think it’s the wrong way to look at labor negotiations. Everybody lost in ’94. Everybody.

And what do I mean by that? We didn’t accomplish everything that we were looking to accomplish. But the players inflicted damage on the game that took us literally years to recover from, in terms of our revenues. And to the extent that our revenues were down, their salaries were down. So it was not just the lost days of pay that they endured in ’94. It was in the ensuing three or four years, we had revenues that were lower than they would’ve been. And as a result, players earned less money.

 

ESPN also has a story:  https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/27161035/oh-my-god-how-do-oral-history-1994-mlb-strike

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232 days in the dark

Key dates in the 1994 MLB strike:

Aug. 12, 1994: Players, amid the looming threat of a salary cap, go on strike. All MLB games are canceled.

Sept. 14, 1994: Commissioner Bud Selig announces that the owners have voted to cancel the postseason and World Series, the first Fall Classic to be skipped since 1904.

February 1995: Spring training begins using replacement players, some of them minor leaguers, some retired major leaguers and still others who have never played pro ball.

March 31, 1995: After 232 days, the strike ends when a future Supreme Court justice, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, issues an injunction against the owners, saying they had illegally eliminated free agency and salary arbitration. Her judgement is affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals. With free agency and arbitration back in place, the players vote to return to work. The injunction binds both sides to the terms of the expired collective bargaining agreement.

April 25, 1995: Baseball returns for the start of a regular season shortened from 162 games to 144.

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GENE ORZA (MLBPA associate general counsel/COO, 1984-2011): I was the guy who made the phone calls to the player reps, to tell them "OK, we are on strike. Go home." That was all I had to say. The day itself doesn't hold any particular significance for me -- I know what the date is -- because I knew it was coming. The players were being distributed licensing revenue, we did it two or three times that year, they got $10,000 per check. One of the general managers said, "It's hard to beat the union when they have $300 million in the bank." We had a lot of money. Don [Fehr] ran a very tight ship.

The players were fully prepared [to go on strike]. There wasn't a peep from the players on the 12th, not a peep. In the weeks after that, there was an occasional moment when Joe Bag Of Donuts said something, and someone had to get on the horn, but there was very little of that. The focus was simply on getting a deal. But I pretty much knew on Aug. 12 [that we were going to be on strike for the rest of the season]. We couldn't make them cancel the season. We didn't want them to, but they were going to. We knew that before Aug. 12.

There were some players who complained about not playing, but not many, a handful maybe. But it was usually the players that hadn't attended the meetings. All of the big guns in the sport -- the [Cal] Ripkens, the [Dave] Winfields, the [Eddie] Murrays, the [Kirby] Pucketts, the [Orel] Hershisers -- they were really, really solid. I don't know if this is right, but I always had the feeling that there was a constellation of reasons that we were able to go on strike from April 12 to March, 232 days, without one current player defecting. It was an unheard of level of solidarity. I always felt there was a desire among baseball players to prove that they were tougher than football players and basketball players. You know, "We are different. We can't be pushed around as much as they can."

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FELIPE ALOU (Montreal Expos manager, 1992-2001): Four days before the strike, my dad died in the Dominican Republic. I went home to bury my dad. I knew the strike was imminent, I was just hoping it wouldn't happen. When I got back from the Dominican, we were in Pittsburgh, I went straight from the airport to the ballpark. Zane Smith shut out the Expos. Before our game was over, they had called a strike. But we had to finish the game first. There were still people in the stands.

I couldn't believe the season was ending. I thought they could fix it. But I don't know who "they" is. I thought the game was bigger than that. When the strike began, we went back to Montreal, then I went to my home in West Palm Beach [Florida]. I went to the ballpark, and I ran into [Atlanta Braves pitcher] Tom Glavine [the Expos and Braves shared a spring training facility in West Palm Beach]. Tom was picking up stuff from spring training that he had left at the ballpark. That was not a good sign. He was on the committee that represented the players. He said it was too bad this was over, then he said, "It's too bad for you guys. You guys put fear in us." I believed right then that that was the end of the season.

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BUCK SHOWALTER (New York Yankees manager, 1992-95): We were hoping it was just a three- or four-day thing, so I went straight to instructional league. But we were all in uncharted territory.

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SELIG: After three weeks [into the strike], Bando and Garner told me, "We're done, the players were out of shape, they can't play." But Don didn't want to hear about it. It was a sad, stunning moment when you think that we lost a World Series, and we lost a wonderful season. It was terrible. Horrible. Terrible.

[Angels owner] Jackie Autry told me, "Don't make the announcement, they'll blame you." Someone had to make the announcement. I did get blamed for it: The guy that canceled the World Series. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. I inherited a mess. The system hadn't been changed since the '30s. I was in the middle, I'll take responsibility for our side.

ORZA: They [the owners] were gunning for a stoppage. It goes back to 1990. The Basic Agreement was completed that year in the old conference room in the commissioner's office. The executive council was in New York; they were all in [commissioner] Fay Vincent's office. We had a deal, we were packing up our stuff, when I heard them screaming and yelling at the commissioner. I could hear them from 60 feet away. I said to [Mark] Belanger [who worked for the union], "Well, this one is done, but the next one is going to be worse."

I knew in 1990 that Fay was on the ropes. Bud was going to take it over. Bud fancied himself as the great negotiator. He had a salary cap on his mind. And he was going to show everyone how to get it.

On the day that they canceled the World Series, there was laughter coming out of that room. They were laughing, they were happy that they were able to hold the group together. They weren't happy that the World Series was canceled, no one wanted that, but they held to their strategy to hold firm because this was going to take the players into the offseason, and they were going to bang them with replacement players. Aug. 12 was not a big deal to me because I knew we were going on strike because we had no alternative. They were going to get a salary cap. That was their objective.

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ALOU: If we had finished that season, and they kept that team together, Montreal would have a new stadium right now, and the Expos would be playing it in. We had the best team in baseball. That really was the end of baseball in Montreal.

That is something that you take to your grave. We had won 20 out of 24 games heading into that strike. Our club was destroying teams. We were getting better. What makes it harder is that we were so good. That was the best team I ever managed. That was an invincible team. There was no telling how good that team could be. We had all the ingredients, but we didn't have the money to protect our players. We were packing Olympic Stadium, 40,000, 45,000 fans, every night. After the strike, they broke up that team just because of money. Our club president, Claude Brochu, was a promoter of playing with replacement players. He was on the committee that recommended that for baseball.

I can talk about all this more comfortably now, I couldn't talk about it at all for a long time. I was 58. I had a chance to manage a team in the World Series. It was tough. It was really tough for the fans. Montreal became a real baseball town with that kind of team. They learned to love the kids on our team. Everyone took to baseball because of that team.

They have the land to build a new stadium there now. I hope it works. The fans want the Expos back. They can't believe that they left. They felt they were robbed of a team.

SHOWALTER: We were back, we were taking off for the first time in forever. We had moments that we had not had in forever. How we had pieced that team together, how the people fit, Don Mattingly would have been a shoo-in Hall of Famer if that season had been played. I don't want to be self-serving about this, but this affected a lot of people. It cost a lot of people their jobs. We came to camp the next year. We had the best team in the league the year before, and it took until August [1995] before we found our step again.

That's what it did. The passion our players took for that strike, what they were fighting for, I'm not sure that exists today. I'm not sure the game could withstand another strike. The next spring, with replacement players, was the worst part of my baseball career. It was awful.

When [Selig] said we were going to cancel the rest of the season ... I wish everyone today could see how that happened that day, and they would make sure there was no way that could possibly happen again. It sounds sinful, but you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when you heard that President Kennedy had been shot? I felt the same way when Bud said the season had been canceled. I thought to myself, "Oh my God, how can we do this?"

 

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And as I recall the owners got nothing out of it.   The deal they signed in April 1995 pretty much would have been accepted by the players in August 1994.

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