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1994: The Year That Fans Were Cheated

It was a year that lives in sporting infamy.

The 1994 MLB season managed to make it roughly two-thirds through the season (113-116 games depending on the team) before a players strike derailed everything; so much so that the World Series was canceled for the first time since 1904, and the 1995 season wasn’t even a full 162 games.

It’s sad whenever any sport’s season is cut short, but this is particularly true for Major League Baseball in 1994, because that season was delivering some of the most exciting moments and fascinating storylines in modern memory; all of which were curtailed before they could come to fruition, causing fans much anger and disillusionment. Take for example the case of the prospective World Series matchup for that year, the New York Yankees vs. Montreal Expos.

In 1994 the Yankees had an American League best record of 70-43; this was a team who hadn’t won the World Series since 1978 and hadn’t made playoffs since 1981. Anchored by hot-hitting veterans like Don Mattingly, Wade Boggs and Paul O’Neill, youngster Bernie Williams, and the outstanding pitching performance of Jimmy Key, the Yankees were in their best position to make the playoffs and potentially win a World Series in years. The same could be said for the exciting Montreal Expos. Their ’94 squad was a Major League best 74-40, had never won a championship and had only ever made the playoffs once before, also in 1981.

As good as the Yankees were that year, the Expos may have been even better. A team constructed of youthful superstars in the making, the Expos boasted a lineup containing a young Cliff Floyd, Wil Cordero, and an outfield of Marquis Grissom, Moises Alou, and Larry Walker; all 27 years old and entering the prime of their careers. In regard to pitching, Expos starter Ken Hill was in the middle of the best season of his career, 22-year-old Pedro Martinez was just starting to tap into the success that would make him a Hall of Famer, two other Expo starters had sub 3.00 ERAs, and future Yankee Closer John Wetteland and hard throwing reliever Mel Rojas were anchoring the bullpen.

If the season had continued to progress the way it was going, fans could very likely have experienced an historic World Series in 1994, but alas it was not meant to be. To add insult to injury, the Montreal Expos brand would never again make the playoffs, let alone the World Series. They rebranded as the Washington Nationals, moving to Washington D.C. in 2005, and had to wait until 2012 to have a chance at postseason glory again; but even then, the franchise didn’t win it all until 2019, a quarter-century after the player’s strike cut short their last best chance at greatness.

Besides team performances, there were some exciting statistical storylines taking place that year as well.

At the time of the strike there were nine players in Major League Baseball who had batting averages over .340 – Jeff Bagwell (.368), Paul O’Neil (.359), Albert Belle (.357), Frank Thomas (.353), Kenny Lofton (.349), Mike Kingery (.349), Wade Boggs (.342), Paul Molitor (.341), and the major league leader Tony Gwynn, who batted an astounding .394, and had a legitimate shot of being the first .400 hitter in over half a century.

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Home runs were high too, with ten men having over thirty home runs – Matt Williams (43), Ken Griffey Jr. (40), Jeff Bagwell (39), Frank Thomas (38), Barry Bonds (37), Albert Belle (36), Fred McGriff (34), Andres Galarraga (31), Jose Canseco (31), Kevin Mitchell (30), and five men with over 100 RBI – Jeff Bagwell (116), Kirby Puckett (112), Joe Carter (103), and Frank Thomas and Albert Belle each driving in 101.

From a hitting standpoint 1994 was shaping up to potentially have a .400 hitter, a few sluggers within striking distance of 50 home runs, and staggeringly unreal RBI totals from multiple hitters. If all that weren’t enough, the pitching that year wasn’t half bad either.

Five pitchers in 1994 had 16 or more wins (and yes, wins do matter) – Jimmy Key (17), Greg Maddux (16), Ken Hill (16), David Cone (16), and Mike Mussina (16); Randy Johnson led the majors with 204 strikeouts in only twenty-three starts, and Greg Maddux was outpacing everyone in baseball with a sparkling 1.56 ERA in 25 starts. What’s even more insane about Maddux’s season was that through those 25 starts, he had pitched 202.0 innings, an unbelievable pace reminiscent of an earlier era of the game. Given that he was averaging eight innings per start and had 10 complete games already, and that in prior years he was averaging under eight innings over 35-37 starts per year, it is not at all outside the realm of possibility that he could have reached close to 300 innings pitched. 

Other interesting and notable occurrences in the ’94 season included the Major League debuts of Alex Rodriguez, Garrett Anderson and Armando Benítez, and the dominance of the Houston Astros’ “Killer B’s,” with Jeff Bagwell’s outstanding season being joined by teammate and future Hall of Famer Craig Biggio’s .318 Avg., 139 hits, 88 runs, 44 doubles, and 39 stolen bases.

But perhaps one of the biggest losses of the ’94 season was the excitement of the fans for the following year; for when baseball returned in 1995, many fans did not, as they were still disillusioned with the players and the game. It wasn’t until 1996 that the baseball started to regain its popularity en masse with the emergence of monstrous home runs and the increased use of steroids and performance enhancing drugs…but that’s a topic for another day.

1994 was truly a season destined to be in the record books as one of the most exciting and significant of all time, if only it were allowed to continue. Baseball had experienced multiple strikes before, but this one hurt a lot more than others, and we should be thankful that the most recent lockout did not affect our game nearly as much, and we can only hope we never have to experience another strike like this again. 

Aaron is a Writer and communicator who has notably served on the communications team of the Westchester County Executive. Nicknamed "Mr. Baseball" in his youth, Aaron is a lifelong Yankee fan, Tino Martinez and Aaron Judge enthusiast, and a fierce defender of Craig Biggio's Hall of Fame worthiness. When he is not writing, or doing baseball related activities, Aaron is an avid foodie and culinarian. His non-baseball writing can be found at the Realety Check substack.

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