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The COVID-19 pandemic has shortened the Major League Baseball season from 162 to 60 games. The season begins later this month.
Recent disputes by owners and the MLB Players Association has brought the 1994 work stoppage to the forefront of some minds. The season ended in mid-August with fewer than 50 games remaining for most teams.
The work stoppage left many to wonder what might have been. Looking back more than a quarter-century, here are three things related to the 1994 season worth pondering:
1. What Would Have Become of the Montreal Expos?
Few probably remember, but at the time of the 1994 strike, the owners of the best record in baseball were the Montreal Expos. With a 74-40 record, Montreal held a 6-game lead over the Atlanta Braves in the National League East and a 3.5-game lead over the New York Yankees for the best record in baseball.
The Montreal offense consisted of then former, current and future All-Stars to include Wil Cordero, Marquis Grissom, Moises Alou and Larry Walker. The strength however, was the pitching. Starters Ken Hill, Pedro Martinez, Jeff Fasero and Butch Henry all had winning records and sub-3.50 ERAs. John Wetteland was at the back end of the bullpen along with Jeff Shaw, Mel Rojas and Gil Heredia. Hill led the National League with 16 wins.
Among National League teams, only the Houston Astros had as many All-Stars. No team had more.
When the union and the owners finally came to an agreement to start the 1995 season, Grissom, Walker, Hill and Wetteland had new homes. The Expos won 88 games in 1996, but that was not enough to make the postseason. Over their final 10 seasons in Montreal, the Expos had just three winning seasons.
From 1998 until their final season in Montreal in 2004, the Expos ranked dead last in baseball in an average attendance each year. In 1994, Montreal averaged nearly 25,000 fans per game. By 2004, that number had dwindled to less than 10,000.
In 2005, the Expos relocated to Washington D.C. and became the Washington Nationals. Since 2012, Washington has made the postseason five times. Last season, the Nationals won the first World Series in franchise history.
Had there been no work stoppage in 1994 however, it is worth wondering whether or not Montreal would still have a franchise today. The Expos may even have a pennant or world championship to their names. From 1991 through 2005, 1994 was the only year that the Braves did not finish atop their division at season’s end.
2. Would Roger Maris’ Home Run Record Have Gone Down?
The summer of 1998 when St. Louis Cardinals’ first baseman Mark McGwire and Chicago Cubs’ outfielder Sammy Sosa combined for 136 home runs is credited with saving baseball. The previous home run record was 61 by the New York Yankees’ Roger Maris in 1961.
McGwire wound up besting that mark by nine when he hit 70 in 1998. Sosa’s 66 was five better. But there is a chance that the work stoppage in 1994 prolonged Maris’ record by four years.
At the time of the strike, San Francisco Giants’ third baseman Matt Williams had 43 home runs. That was on pace for 61, based on team games played to that point. But if you take Williams’ per game average and assume he would have played in each of the Giants’ final 47 games, Williams was actually on pace for 62 home runs.
With 40 long balls, Ken Griffey Jr., an outfielder for the Seattle Mariners, was on pace for 58 home runs. Griffey led the American League, but was capable of hitting 21 home runs over Seattle’s final 50 games.
Williams had a nice Major League Baseball career, appearing in five All-Star Games and hitting 378 career home runs. It is worth pondering however, what Williams’ legacy may be today had he been the player to best Maris’ 33-year-old record.
3. Would Tony Gwynn Have Hit .400?
It’s been nearly eight decades since a Major League player batted .400 in a season. That as most know was Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox in 1941.
That season, Williams hit .409. The closest that anyone has come since then came in 1994 when San Diego Padres’ outfielder Tony Gwynn hit .394.
One of the best hitters of his era, Gwynn was a 15-time All-Star and 8-time batting champion. Gwynn was a .338 career hitter, but his .394 average in 1994 was 22 points better than in any other season.
Carrying a .400 average becomes tougher as the season goes on, but Gwynn was actually on a tear when the work stoppage came. During the month of August, Gwynn had raised his average nine points. He needed to raise it six more over San Diego’s final 45 games to reach the .400 threshold.
As an aside, Gwynn also scored the winning run in the 1994 All-Star Game. After Fred McGriff’s 2-run home run in the bottom of the ninth tied the game, Gwynn singled to lead off the bottom of the 10th before coming around to score on an Alou double to lift the National League to an 8-7 victory in Pittsburgh.