Twenty years ago baseball as we know it changed forever as MLB players went on strike for what turned into the longest work stoppage in the history of major North American professional sports leagues. It was a grueling and depressing 7½-month process that included a bevy of hotel meeting rooms and dragged the federal courts and even the White House into the situation.
Baseball tremendously suffered in the aftermath. To fans, 1994 will forever live in infamy as the day baseball truly became more than just a game. In fact, fans found out how unimportant they are in the grand scheme of things.
MLB canceled the World Series for the first time in 90 years, cost players major loot and management lost about $1 billion.
The Games didn't resume until the following April 25, 3½ weeks after an injunction was issued restoring the rules of the expired labor contract.
Matt Williams had 43 homers when the lights went out around MLB. He was robbed of a shot to break the homerun record, which at the time, was still Roger Maris' 61 in 1961. Tony Gwynn was batting .394 and most players believe he was on his way to becoming the first guy to bang .400 since 1941 when the great Ted Williams went H.A.M. in a double header on the last day of the season to boost his average from .395 to .406.
Maris’ record was eventually crushed by Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds (73). To this day, no player has even sniffed the .400 mark. Besides Gwynn, hit masters George Brett (.390 in 1980) and Rod Carew (.388 in 1977) came closest.
It's got to be the right person, with the right temperament, with the right talent,'' Gwynn once told ESPN. "It will be really hard. It's hard for me to talk about hitting .400 because I never got to September hitting .400. Can you imagine the media pressure on a guy hitting .400 in September today? Whoever does it is going to have to be able to run a little, and the key factor is he's going to have to walk. He is going to have to be patient. I mean, look at Ichiro [Suzuki]. He set the hits record [with 262 in 2004] and he didn't come close to .400 [he hit .372].''
Attendance plunged 20 percent the following year, from a record average of 31,612 in 1994 to 25,260. Fortunately for baseball, the Steroids and PED era which fueled record-breaking power surges and eventually re the fans, combined with an influx of highly-skilled and cheaply signed Latin players, plus the inception of the billion dollar TV deal, to save baseball.
PETE ROSE: LEGEND IN EXILE
Five years before that strike – in August of 1989 - then baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti, with key information extracted from a Staten Island gambling case banned baseball’s all-time hits king Pete Rose for life and barred him from induction into the Hall of Fame.
"I have concluded that he bet on baseball," was Giamatti’s hardball indictment.
The commissioner died of a heart attack in a matter of weeks at 51- years-old and was buried in the earth. That’s also where the possible revocation of the ban against Rose has rested since that time – six-feet deep.
To this day, Rose and his trailer truck load of hits (4,256), championship pedigree, and switch-hitting prowess and totally dedicated, “Charlie Hustle” style of play can’t get into the Hall of Fame.
Former Commissioner Bud Selig wouldn’t reinstate him and don’t expect new commissioner Rob Manfred to do it either. Besides the fact that Rose committed MLB’s Cardinal sin – gambling on games – the guy who banned him and had total authority, jurisdiction and legacy invested in Rose’s saga, passed away. In keeping with tradition and showing respect for their predecessors, futures MLB commissioners are even less likely to revisit Rose’s situation. It will forever be known as Giamatti’s last, defining act as an MLB Commissioner.
Writer Jason Falls said this in an August 26th Special to The Courier-Journal :
“Look at the list of people banned from Major League Baseball. The vast … vast … vast majority are for gambling, associating with known gamblers and the like. The only lifetime bans currently upheld are all for gambling. It's the one thing you cannot do and be associated with Major League Baseball.”
As time wears on, most fans just feel sorry for Pete and want him to get his due as a stellar baseball player. Despite what the fans think, baseball’s “Godfathers” agree with Falls. All these years later the deabte rages on.
ESPN’s Bob Levy covered the entire scandal back in the day and recently he said: “This was the man who was this newly minted icon and this created debates across the dinner table. It was not as divisive as the Vietnam war but it was baseball’s Watergate...it had tapes, investigations and in the end no real clarity.”
Rose says he only bet as a manager. The famous John M. Dowd Report claims he bet as a player too. Rose insists he never bet against his team when he was managing, but we all know gambling is a sickness. That’s like a crack head saying that they stole regularly for money, but didn’t pawn all of their mother’s missing jewelry.
Before Giamatti passed he told one of baseball’s most beloved legends to, “Reconfigure your life, Pete Rose.”
Like many of baseball’s former stars, turned outcasts, Rose is still an ambassador for the game. He still talks baseball with players, fans still flock to him and he’s been making quite a living selling his “name” for autographs since baseball kicked him to the curb. Rose insists his lifetime ban has cost him nearly $70 million in potential career earnings, but his name is not mud in MLB circles. Just to a few self-righteous executive power wielders.
This year marks 25 years since baseball’s human hit machine has lived in exile. Most humans with a heart and philosophy that we all deserve second chances agree when I say, “It’s time to bring Pete Rose home.”