John Lepore | March 24th, 2020
The Strike of 1994 devastated baseball. It was the first time since 1904 that the World Series wasn’t played. It cut short historic seasons, deprived franchises of turning their fortunes around, and cost the game some fans who had grown up on the crack of the bat and the smell of peanuts. But on August 11, 1994, after Randy Johnson struck out Ernie Young, there was no joy in Mudville or any other town where baseball was played.
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It was supposed to be the first season that the Wild Card would be instituted. The MLB split into three divisions so the postseason would include the division winners plus the team with the best record among the non-division winners.
Today I’m covering the American League. Later this week I’ll look at the National League and finally the World Series.
At the time of the stoppage, The New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox, and Texas Rangers were leading their respective divisions in the American League. The Wild Card team at the time was the Cleveland Indians. The Rangers were ahead in the West by one game over the Oakland A’s, and we could’ve seen a sub-.500 team actually make it as Texas was 52-62. The Indians were only a game back of the White Sox with the Kansas City Royals trailing first place by four games. The Baltimore Orioles were also in the mix at 63-49, only 2.5 games behind the Indians for the Wild Card spot.
The Playoff Picture
The Yankees hold on to their AL East lead. They entered August 12th with a 6.5 game lead over Baltimore and they have an easier schedule the rest of the way with only 19 of the remaining 49 against teams over .500. On the flip side, the Orioles have 20 and another six against AL West-leading Texas. The Yankees finish 98-64 and beat the Orioles by 10 games. Paul O’Neill and Wade Boggs fight for the batting title, but neither win it ending the season hitting .348 and .338 respectively. Jimmy Key gets to 24 wins.
The Indians have by far the easiest remaining schedule in the AL. The only teams they play with a winning record are the Royals six times, Yankees three times, and the Orioles three times. The lineup they have is dominant as they set the single-season record for HRs at 245. Albert Belle leads the team with 54 HRs and the league with 156 RBI. Third baseman Jim Thome and rookie Manny Ramirez both make their marks hitting 29 and 25 respectively. Charles Nagy and Dennis Martinez anchor the staff and each win 17 games. All of this carries them to a 96-66 record, finishing three games ahead of the White Sox.
The Rangers pull away in the AL West race and get hot. Kevin Brown figures it out and Kenny Rogers settles in. The lineup which has battled some injuries turns it on with Jose Canseco getting to 42 HRs and Will Clark and Rusty Greer both hitting over .320. The Rangers finish at 82-80, five games ahead of the Oakland A’s.
The Wild Card belongs to the White Sox. Just falling short of the AL Central crown, they manage a record of 93-69 to beat out Baltimore by five games and KC by seven. The Sox ride their top four starters as Jack McDowell, Alex Fernandez, Wilson Alvarez, and Jason Bere all win 15 games. Frank Thomas falls just short of the triple crown but leads the league in batting average at .367.
The Yankees face off against the White Sox. The first two games are played in Chicago. The Yankees are the home team and will play the last three in Yankee Stadium if necessary. In game one Jimmy Key outduels Jack McDowell and a seventh-inning HR from O’Neill give the Yankees a win 3-1. Game two is a different story as Jim Abbott gets lit up and Wilson Alvarez shuts down the Bronx Bombers. Frank Thomas walks four times and Tim Raines is the hitting star going 4-6 with four RBI and a couple of SBs. White Sox win 8-2. Game three heads to the Bronx and Melido Perez pitches the game of his life going eight innings allowing just three hits and striking out 10. Don Mattingly gets in on the action belting two HRs as the Yankees cruise 6-0. Game four is more of the same from the Yanks. Scott Kamieniecki and Bob Wickman combine to shut down the Sox. Paul O’Neill hits another HR and the Yankees win 4-1 taking the series.
The other AL series has the Indians against the Rangers. With two of the most potent lineups in the majors, the series doesn’t disappoint. With the first two games in Texas, the Rangers come out blasting the ball. Pudge and Gonzalez combine for three HRs and six RBI and Texas chases Dennis Martinez in the third inning. Kevin Brown pitches well enough and the Rangers hang on to win 8-5. The tables turn in game two. Rookie Manny Ramirez hits a three-run homer off of Rogers in the first, and Thome does the same in the third. Nagy pitches well and the Indians take it 9-5. Game three heads to “The Jake” and the Indians continue their assault. Roger Pavlik is tabbed to start and, as expected, doesn’t pitch well. The Indians offense can’t be contained and they explode for 13 runs. Jack Morris is the beneficiary and the Tribe wins 13-6. The Rangers aren’t done yet though. Pudge has the game of his life going 4-5 with two bombs and even throws out Lofton attempting to steal twice. The Rangers take game four 7-4. Game five sees Lofton redeem himself and put the team on his back. He goes 3-4 with two steals and makes an incredible catch in the gap in the eighth inning off the bat of Greer to save a couple runs. With the Indians up by one in the top of the ninth, Jose Mesa shuts the door with the tying run on second. The Indians are one series away from going to their first World Series in 40 years.
American League Championship Series
The Yankees host the Indians for the ALCS.
Game One: Key takes on Nagy in the Bronx. Nagy holds his own in the beginning, but Key absolutely shuts down the electric Indians lineup throwing eight innings of one-run ball. Bernie Williams comes through after a lackluster Wild Card series going 4-4 with a HR and four RBI. The Yankees take game one at home 5-2.
Game Two: Morris against Abbott. The old vet gets the best of the young lefty. Manny hits a 464-foot bomb in the first and Lofton steals two more bases and goes 2-4 as the Indians cruise to a 7-2 victory.
Game Three: As the series shifts back to Cleveland, the Indians throw Martinez against the game-four star of the AL Wild Card series Melido Perez. The Yankee righty continues his improbable run and shuts out the Indians for eight innings. Martinez pitches fairly well, but Mattingly rocks him for a three-run homer in the fifth. The Yankees win 5-1.
Game Four: Cleveland comes roaring back destroying Kamieniecki. Lofton continues his great all-around play going 3-6 with a triple, four RBI, and two more steals. Thome blasts two HRs and drives in five. Nagy pitches a gem on short rest going seven strong and allowing just a solo shot to Mattingly. Cleveland evens the series with a 13-1 victory.
Game Five: Key doesn’t manage to get through the Cleveland lineup twice and is charged with six runs through three innings. Half of them come on a bases-clearing double by Baerga. Morris holds his own and gets through six innings and Eric Plunk tosses the last three for a 9-4 Indians win.
Game Six: The series heads back to the Bronx and the Yankees won’t go down easy. They pounce on Martinez and it doesn’t stop when Grimsley comes in. Mattingly and Williams hit two HRs each and Jim Abbott pitches a solid six innings as the Yankees win 12-4.
Game Seven: Nagy vs. Perez. All of a sudden there is an absolute pitcher’s duel. With two unlikely players trading solo shots in the fifth in Luis Polonia and Omar Vizquel. The game stays tied until the top of the ninth as Wickman serves up a two-out solo HR to Carlos Baerga. Jose Mesa comes in to shut it down in the ninth but gets in some trouble when he walks Boggs to lead off the inning and allows a base hit to Mattingly. With two on and nobody out Danny Tartabull grounds to Thome at third who steps on the bag and gets him at first. Man on second, two outs, and O’Neill comes to bat. After working the count full, O’Neill drives one to deep right-center field. In a full sprint, Lofton runs the ball down on the warning track and slams into the wall. The Indians are AL champs.
Kenny Lofton wins the MVP award barely over Frank Thomas. The Indians CF finishes with .350/.424/.568, 150 runs, 77 RBI, 17 HRs, 94 SBs, and 227 hits. He also leads the AL in rWAR at 11.0. On a career note, between the end of 1994 and the first games of 1995 Lofton goes 91-262 which would allow him to finish his career with a .301 batting average as opposed to .299. It also helps to push his career OPS to .800
David Cone wins the CY award over Jimmy Key. Cone finishes with a 22-6 record, 2.67 ERA, 192 Ks, and 1.033 WHIP. Cone adds six wins to his career total which gives him 200.
Lee Smith finishes with 50 saves and also saves an extra five to start the 1995 season. Ultimately that will give him 500 for his career.
Randy Johnson adds 101 Ks onto his total in 1994 and another 24 in the beginning of 1995. He finishes with exactly 5,000 strikeouts for his career.
Jim Edmonds, between the rest of 1994 and the beginning of 1995, blasts 10 more HRs, has 53 more hits, 21 RBI, and 18 walks. These push his career totals to 403 HRs, 2,002 hits, 1,220 RBI, and 1,016 walks.
Albert Belle adds another 21 HRs onto his total which pushes his career number to 402.
Joe Carter adds another 11 HRs to his total bringing him to 407. He also adds an extra 55 RBI which puts him at 1,500 even.
Michael Jordan is brought up at the end of September to play for the White Sox. With the Sox locked into the Wild Card spot, MJ plays the final three games in Kansas City. He goes 2-11 with a walk and five Ks. He hits his first and only HR on October 2nd off Mark Gubicza
|Batting Average||Home Runs||Runs Batted In|
|Frank Thomas .367||Ken Griffey Jr. 57||Albert Belle 156|
|Albert Belle .353||Albert Belle 54||Frank Thomas 153|
|Kenny Lofton .350||Frank Thomas 53||Kirby Puckett 151|
|Paul O’Neill .348||Jose Canseco 42||Ken Griffey Jr. 150|
|Paul Molitor .344||Cecil Fielder 40||Joe Carter 143|
|Kenny Lofton 150||Kenny Lofton 94||Frank Thomas 1.244|
|Frank Thomas 150||Vince Coleman 75||Albert Belle 1.189|
|Ken Griffey Jr. 138||Otis Nixon 58||Ken Griffey Jr. 1.154|
|Albert Belle 134||Chuck Knoblauch 55||Paul O’Neill 1.053|
|Chuck Knoblauch 127||Lance Johnson 45||Kenny Lofton .992|
|David Cone 2.67||Jimmy Key 24||Randy Johnson 305|
|Roger Clemens 2.75||David Cone 22||Roger Clemens 245|
|Jimmy Key 2.90||Randy Johnson 20||Chuck Finley 202|
|Steve Ontiveros 3.03||Mike Mussina 20||Kevin Appier 200|
|Randy Johnson 3.04||Jason Bere 18||David Cone 192|
|Lee Smith 50||David Cone 1.033||Jack McDowell 245.1|
|Jeff Montgomery 42||Roger Clemens 1.089||Chuck Finley 241|
|Rick Aguilera 34||Steve Ontiveros 1.118||Randy Johnson 240.2|
|Dennis Eckersley 30||Mike Mussina 1.142||Mike Mussina 237|
|Mike Fetters 29||Randy Johnson 1.156||David Cone 236.1|
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Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images