SI.com Fantasy Minors College Baseball Baseball

 

Season interrupted

Gwynn lost chance at .400; Expos denied playoff berth

Posted: Monday August 26, 2002 12:43 AM
  Tony Gwynn Tony Gwynn raised his batting average to .394 the day before the 1994-95 strike began. AP

NEW YORK (AP) -- Tony Gwynn knows full well how costly a baseball strike could be.

The last time players walked out and a season was canceled, so too was Gwynn's run at .400, Matt Williams' bid for Roger Maris' home run record, and a magical season in Montreal.

"There were a lot of guys having great years. We were all in the same position," Gwynn said. "I think we made a mistake in '94. Looking back on it, I don't know if we gained very much. I don't know if the owners gained very much. I think that should be an example. Both sides should look at what they accomplished and what they gained. I don't think a strike fixed anything."

Instead, it aborted a memorable season that also had the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians on the verge of ending playoff droughts and Frank Thomas and Albert Belle fighting for a Triple Crown.

Another lengthy work stoppage this season would slow Barry Bonds' run for the career home run record and end spectacular seasons for the Atlanta Braves, Anaheim Angels and especially the Minnesota Twins, who could be hurt as badly as the Expos were eight years ago.

 
SI Writers
Donovan: Selig wins the big one 
Fish: Joe Fan still loses 
Cannella: Will deal help the weak? 
Deford: Baseball still unbalanced 
Features
The deal | Luxury tax projections 
CNNmoney: Problems unresolved 
CNNmoney: Stocks rise on news 
From SI: How to save baseball 
SI Flashback: No Games Today 
SI Flashback: In the Strike Zone 
Eight work stoppages since 1972 
Statitudes: Labor, By the Numbers 
Head2Head: Which side is at fault? 
SI Fan Poll | Milestones Threatened 
Multimedia
* Season saved
Baseball players and owners strike a deal for the first time without a work stoppage.
Click here for multimedia archive 
 

Montreal went from the best team in the majors before the walkout -- leading Atlanta by six games in the NL East -- to years of fire sales and perhaps the end of the sport in the city.

"That was really tough on us, because it was the only time anyone has had Atlanta looking up at them in a long time," former Expos manager Felipe Alou said. "We were so good, and we were dominating the league, but there was always the cloud hanging over us."

The losses ran deep throughout baseball. Average attendance dropped 20 percent in 1995 and still hasn't fully recovered.

No team has been affected as much on that front as the Toronto Blue Jays, a model franchise that topped 4 million in attendance the three years before the strike and is now on pace for its third straight sub-2 million season.

But no team was hurt as much overall as the Expos, who have only gotten close to the playoffs once since 1994 and might be eliminated after this season.

"We were going to win it all, man," said Rondell White, the last player from that team to remain in Montreal before he was traded to the Cubs in 2000. "I was curious to see what we would have done, how it would have turned out. It was a great team."

But before baseball resumed in 1995, Larry Walker, John Wetteland, Marquis Grissom and Ken Hill had already left Montreal.

Pedro Martinez, Moises Alou, Cliff Floyd, Jeff Shaw, Jeff Fassero, Kirk Rueter, Darrin Fletcher, Wil Cordero and Mike Lansing departed in the next few seasons -- and so did the fans.

"That was a big disappointment for the fans to finally have a playoff team and it didn't happen," Walker said.

While the Expos never really got another chance, Gwynn feels better knowing that he had more opportunities to try to become the first player since Ted Williams in 1941 to hit .400 in a season.

"If that was my last year playing, I would have been very bitter," Gwynn said. "But I knew I was coming back and had the opportunity to do it again."

The closest Gwynn got to .400 after the strike was his .372 season in 1997. That's 22 points lower than he ended the 1994 season.

If just three of his line drives had found holes instead of gloves, Gwynn would have ended the season with a .401 average and all sorts of controversy.

"Hitting .400 is .400 but it would have had an asterisk on it. You can bank on that," said Gwynn, who added that he wouldn't have counted it as a legitimate .400 season.

"It's a much better position not to have gotten there. If I had gotten there, people would have to remember it and say it was because of the strike year."

Had there not been a strike, Gwynn has no doubt which side of .400 he would have ended on.

"Of course I say, 'Yeah I could have gotten there,"' Gwynn said. "No doubt in my mind."

Matt Williams, whose 43 homers put him a fraction behind Maris' pace of 61 homers in a season, doesn't know if he would have broken the record before Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa did.

But he does know one thing that makes him feel better: "It would have been shattered now anyway."

Bonds was only six homers behind Williams, his Giants teammate at the time, when the 1994 season was called off. At the time, he wasn't thinking about records such as Maris' and Hank Aaron's 755 career homers.

Now that he has the single-season mark and could threaten Aaron's as well, that missed time really hurts. At the pace he was homering in 1994-95, Bonds would have hit 17 home runs in that span if no games had been canceled, which would have put him at 619 through Friday.

But most of the players hurt by the walkout agreed that there was something more important than their individual accomplishments.

"The way baseball players think about it is guys before us have sacrificed things to enable us to have a healthy game," Williams said. "We're a strong union because we're all on the same page. We need to keep it that way."


 
Related information
Stories
Eight work stoppages since 1972
From SI: 15-point plan to save baseball
Strike would knock out bids for milestones
Owners make another pitch to players' union
Multimedia
Visit Video Plus for the latest audio and video

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 


 
CNNSI