Today in Texas History – August 11

From the Annals of Labor Relations –  In 1994, Major League Baseball players went on strike beginning the longest work stoppage in major league history.  The strike resulting in the cancellation of the World Series – the first time the baseball season did not end with a champion in 89 years.

Major League owners had the most enduring control over their players of any American sports league.  Until 1975, the reserve clause had effectively killed any notion of free agency in baseball and kept player salaries artificially low.  By 1994, the main source of conflict was the owners’ plan  to institute a cap on player salaries.  Making unproven claims of financial hardship, owners argued that player salaries had become unsustainable.  The players, led by union head Donald Fehr, refused to agree to a cap.

The level of distrust had been exacerbated by the 1985 secret agreement of the owners to not sign one another’s players.  The pact was remarkably successful in practice as all 28 major league teams sat tight for three seasons.  When the illegal conspiracy was discovered, the players’ union sued and won a $280 million judgment. Consequently, when the collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the Players Association expired in 1994 negotiations for a new deal were difficult. On August 12, the petulant and peeved owners locked the players out, and cancelled the rest of the 1994 season.

No progress during the off-season and on the eve of the new baseball season, 28 of 30 owners voted to field replacement teams.  On March 31, Judge Sonia Sontomayor stepped in, issuing an injunction against the owners. On April 2, 1995, the players returned to work.

Astros fans have long claimed that the strike robbed Jeff Bagwell of a landmark season.  Bagwell was hitting .368 with 39 home runs through the date of the strike.  But he had broken his hand on August 10 when he was hit by an Andy Benes pitch in the top of the third inning.  The real losers were the Montreal Expos who were 74-40 and cruising through the NL East at the time of the strike.  The franchise never recovered.

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