In 1994, major league baseball hit one of the many low moments that would mark its life in the 1990s, when a players’ strike in August cancelled the rest of the 1994 MLB season, including the playoffs and World Series. It would be a terrible thing for a sport in any circumstance, but major league baseball lost several great storylines, both for individuals and teams.
San Diego Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn, perhaps the best pure contact hitter of his time, was making his strongest shot at being the first player to bat .400 since Ted Williams hit .406 for the Boston Red Sox in 1941. Gwynn was batting .394 when the strike ended the season.
Another hallowed individual mark was under assault. San Francisco Giants’ third baseman Matt Williams was making a noble run at the single season home run record, then 61. When play ended, Williams was at 43 home runs, precisely on a pace to tie Roger Maris. In future years, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds would all exceed 61 home runs in a season and all be linked to PED use. Williams had no such taint lingering over him.
Frank Thomas, the first baseman for the Chicago White Sox, wasn’t targeting an individual record, but he was having a breathtaking offensive season. When the strike hit, his on-base percentage was .487 and his slugging stood at .729, both numbers that are positively staggering for how late in the season it was.
Thomas at least got the consolation of being voted AL MVP, while Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell picked up the honor in the National League. There was nothing that could be done for Gwynn or Williams, and there certainly wasn’t anything that could be done for teams that were driving to the finish of special seasons.
The New York Yankees, after five years of being terrible and not having made the postseason since 1981, had a comeback year under the leadership of young manager Buck Showalter. The Yanks had the best record in the American League.
The Cleveland Indians, after a generation of being awful, were 66-47, a game back of the White Sox and holding on to the wild-card lead.
Though this isn’t much of an “achievement”, baseball did avoid being embarrassed—the Texas Rangers led the AL West with a record of 52-62—yes, ten games under .500. It was the consequence of baseball shifting to smaller divisions (1994 was the first year of the three-division format) and not playing an unbalanced schedule.
But the best story of all was the team with the best record in baseball. The Montreal Expos, the smallest of the small markets held a narrow lead over the Atlanta Braves in the NL East, and both teams were poised to make the playoffs in either case.
The strike not only derailed the Expos’ dream of their first National League pennant, but ultimately killed fan interest in baseball in Montreal, setting the stage for the franchise’s ultimate relocation to Washington. No team lost more from the strike than the Montreal Expos in the sad display that was the end of the 1994 MLB season.