Since the first World Series in 1903 there have been only two seasons in which a World Series champion was not crowned. In 1904 the National League’s champion New York Giants (now San Francisco Giants) refused to play the American League’s champion Boston Americans (now Red Sox) because the Giants thought the American League was a “minor” league not worthy of the honor. The second season was in 1994 thanks to a strike by the MLB Players Association – the longest work stoppage in major league history – this week (Aug. 11).
The players struck in defiance of the team owners’ attempt to institute a new collective bargaining agreement that capped player salaries. Those salaries had skyrocketed since baseball’s reserve clause ended in 1975, ushering in the age of free agency in which players could field offers from any team interested in them. Free agency, the owners claimed, was financially unsustainable.
The players saw this as another attempt to exploit them, pointing out that before free agency they were extremely underpaid, and when the players’ union later discovered that beginning in 1985 the owners had secretly agreed not to sign one another’s players – resulting in just a trickle of free agent signings of inconsequential players for the next three years – it sued, winning a $280 million settlement.
Thus, when the collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners expired in 1994, no agreement replaced it and the players refused to take the field. The owners then locked the players out and canceled the rest of the season.
As the 1995 season approached, 28 of the 30 owners announced they would field replacement teams, but in March of that year, then-district court (now Supreme Court) judge, Sonia Sotomayer, ruled in Silverman v. Major League Baseball Player Relations Committee Inc. that the owners could neither implement a new collective bargaining agreement nor use replacement players. Sotomayer’s ruling effectively ended the strike and the 1995 baseball season began on schedule.
At which point the fans weighed in. Infuriated that both the owners and players had sacrilegiously tampered with the American pastime, attendance at baseball stadiums plummeted.
Attendance would remain spotty, until, in September, Baltimore Orioles third baseman, “Iron Man” Cal Ripken, broke the consecutive-games-played record of the “Iron Horse,” Lou Gehrig. The televised game was halted as Ripken jogged around the stadium to the cheers of the adoring fans, which was labeled “The Most Memorable Moment” in MLB history. In its wake, most baseball fans put the strike behind them.
Unsurprisingly, given the strike’s repercussions, when the collective bargaining agreement renewed in 1996 expired in 2002, both the owners and players quickly agreed to a new one.