Uncanceled: The 1994 baseball strike

In the first of a new series, NSJ figures out which team would have won the lost MLB season

Slugger Frank Thomas, pictured in 1999, and the Chicago White Sox came out on top in NSJ’s completed 1994 major league season. (Fred Jewell / AP Photo)

The coronavirus canceled the end of the NCAA basketball season and, at the very least, has interrupted the NBA and NHL. No MLB games have been canceled, but the start to the season is delayed, and it’s becoming less and less likely that the league plays the full 162 or anything close. There’s even been talk that the football season could be impacted in the fall.

All the hand-washing, social distancing and staying inside can’t change any of that. But there is one thing we can do.

The NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB have all lost games to labor strife in the past. The NHL has had three seasons shortened and one canceled. The NFL had two seasons shortened. MLB had three seasons impacted by labor woes, and the NBA had games wiped out in two seasons.

Over the next few weeks, while none of us have any live sports to watch, we’ll be un-canceling lost games from our past. We’ll do this not by any computer or video game simulations or by statistical tricks, but by actual action that took place on the field, or ice. Basically, for each canceled game, we’ll use the next time those two teams played (at the same venue) as a “make-up game.” For example, we would use games from the 2020-21 NBA and NHL seasons to fill in any holes left by the coronavirus in this year’s schedule.

In our first installment, we’ll look at the 1994 baseball strike that caused the first cancellation of a World Series in more than 90 years.

Fans bemoan the unfinished season — the Expos were a juggernaut and could have won the title, perhaps saving their team in Montreal. Tony Gwynn had a shot at becoming the first player in 53 years to hit .400, and Matt Williams led a group of players that were threatening Roger Maris.

So let’s go ahead and finish the season.

  AL East

The Yankees were running away with things, leading by 6.5 at the time of the strike. New York pulled away in the make-up games, while second-place Baltimore played sub-.500 to fade away. Boston passed Toronto for third place.

AL Central

The White Sox fell out of first, playing one game over .500 in make-ups. Cleveland, meanwhile, went 32-17 (.653) to run away with the division. The White Sox were still able to clinch the first American League wild card in baseball history. Milwaukee was able to leapfrog the Twins to stay out of last.

AL West

No one was able to get hot enough to give the division a champion with a winning record, but things certainly got shuffled, with no one finishing in the same spot they were when the strike hit. The Angels were able to go from worst to first.

NL East

First, some explanation: No one suffered more from the strike than the Expos. Fans rebelled against the team and the handwriting was on the wall as the 1995 season opened. The team traded away outfielder Marquis Grissom, starting pitcher Ken Hill and closer John Wetteland, all All-Stars, on consecutive days. So the team playing the make-up games was a pale imitation of the one that ran out to the big lead. The Braves were able to blow past them and take the division, while the Expos held on to the wild card.

NL Central

The Reds were ahead of the Astros by a smidge when baseball stopped. Cincinnati built a cushion during the make-up games, however, while the Astros were one game over .500. The Pirates fell from a tie for third down to last place.

NL West

Finally, a division where nothing changed! The Dodgers held onto their slim lead, and all four teams remained in the same spot they were at strike time.

Individual accolades

How amazing was Tony Gwynn’s 1994 season, which stopped with him hitting .394? He got hits in 36 of the 45 make-up games, had back-to-back hitless games one time, and had twice as many multi-hit games (18) as hitless ones … and his batting average fell. He went 57 for 175 (.326) over the make-ups to finish at .374.

In the home run race, Matt Williams had 43 at the break, with 47 games left to reach Roger Maris’ then-record 61. Behind him were four other sluggers with a shot at catching Maris. The injury bug bit the group hard, however. Williams missed 26 of the makeup games with a broken foot. Ken Griffey Jr. missed 26 games after breaking his wrist. Jeff Bagwell, who would have missed the rest of the 1994 season after breaking his hand right before the strike, missed a handful of make-up games due to injury. As a result, no one caught Maris or really even came close.

Three pitchers managed to reach the 20-win plateau: Greg Maddux, David Cone and Mike Mussina.

The champion

The White Sox became the first AL wild card team to win a series, beating the Yankees in the Bronx in Game 5 to take the series three games to two. In the other AL series, the Indians knocked off the Angels in four games.

In the National League, the Dodgers won in Atlanta in Game 5 to knock off the Braves in one division series, while the Reds won Game 4 at home to get past the wild card Expos, ending Montreal’s dream season.

Then came a pair of seven-game LCS battles. The White Sox won Games 6 and 7 in Cleveland to win the American League pennant, while the Reds won at home in Game 7 to take the NL.

After splitting two World Series games in Cincinnati and two in Chicago, the White Sox won Game 5 at home and Game 6 on the road to take the 1994 World Series crown, snapping a 77-year drought.