Regardless of whether you sided with players or the owners at the time (a salary cap being the main issue), one thing is for certain: the health of the game was impacted dramatically at the turnstiles. It took more than a decade to get the average attendance back to pre-stoppage levels.
With 1994 as a backdrop, it was both refreshing and exciting this off season to see the game arrive at a new agreement, achieving labor peace through 2016. The new deal will give major league baseball a stretch of 21 consecutive uninterrupted years.
My first season broadcasting in the major leagues was 1995 with the Angels. At the time, there was no guarantee that there would even be a 1995. In fact owners had decided that after major league players walked off the field, they would employ replacements. Broadcasting spring training games that season with replacement players bordered on farcical.
I remember riding on the team bus from Angel Stadium to Dodger Stadium with those replacement players for the annual exhibition Freeway Series between the Angels and Dodgers. Opening Day was literally days away. Half way to LA, we received word that the work stoppage was over and the bus turned around and headed back to Anaheim. The dream ended that day for the fill-ins, but fortunately for the sport, they never took the field in a regular season game. Major league players returned to the field in time to play a 144 game schedule that season.
Though the big leaguers were back, the damage had been done. Attendance headed south for the next decade as fans showed their displeasure to both sides over a cancelled World Series. Today, the game is flush with cash. Most of those bitter feelings have disappeared and players and owners both seem to be reluctant to mess with a good thing.
The one lasting memory I still have from the ’94 work stoppage is the effect it had on the hard working individuals who relied on the extra income generated by working at the ballpark. Vendors, ushers, parking attendants and the like all suffered financially. It’s encouraging to see that the financial health of the game is strong and its popularity is flourishing. And, those that depend on baseball can rest a little easier knowing the current agreement will last another five years.