The 1994 baseball season will always be remembered for the players’ strike that brought the campaign to a premature end. At midnight on August 12, both major leagues shut down when the players union refused to accept a salary cap proposed by the owners. The absence of a commissioner to mediate between the two parties prevented a compromise settlement from being reached that might have averted the play stoppage. Finally, in mid-September, Milwaukee Brewers owner and acting commissioner Bud Selig acknowledged that the strike had torn an irreparable hole in the game’s fabric when he officially declared the season over.
It subsequently took baseball several years to recover from this blight on its record, with the Yankees’ incredible record-setting performance and the epic home run race waged between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998 finally able to lure back much of the disenchanted fan base. However, 1994 was a sad year for baseball, with only slightly more than two-thirds of the regular season being completed, and with no World Series being played for the first time since the turn of the last century.
The 1994 campaign also marked baseball’s first major realignment in 25 years. The powers that be elected to adopt a new three-division setup in each league prior to the start of the season that provided for an extra round of playoffs. The new structure called for five-team divisions in the East and the Central, and a four-team division in the West. Under the new format, the three division winners automatically advanced to the playoffs. The second-place team with the best regular-season record also earned a postseason berth. The team with the best overall record subsequently faced the league’s wild-card entry in the opening round, while the other two division winners squared off against one another. The only exception to this rule occurred when the wild-card team and the division champion with the best record came from the same division. Those two ball clubs could not meet until the final round of the playoffs.
The initial division setup in the American League had the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees, and Toronto Blue Jays taking up residence in the East. The Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Brewers, and Minnesota Twins comprised the circuit’s Central Division. Meanwhile, the California Angels, Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners, and Texas Rangers formed the league’s Western Division entry.
The new alignment enabled more teams to remain in the pennant race for a longer period of time. Adding to fan interest was the awakening of several long-slumbering teams and the outstanding individual performances turned in by some of the league’s top players.
After several embarrassing seasons spent at or near the bottom of the division standings, the Yankees returned to prominence in the A.L. East, posting a league-best 70-43 record that placed them 6 ½ games ahead of the second-place Baltimore Orioles prior to the player walkout. The Yankees combined solid pitching with one of the league’s most well-balanced lineups to establish themselves as the class of the division. Jimmy Key served as the ace of the pitching staff, leading all A.L. hurlers with a record of 17-4, while also compiling a 3.27 ERA. On offense, Don Mattingly batted .304 and compiled a .397 on-base percentage. Bernie Williams batted .289 and scored 80 runs. Mike Stanley hit 17 home runs and batted .300. Wade Boggs placed among the league leaders with a .342 batting average and a .433 on-base percentage. Paul O'Neill had a fabulous year, leading the team with 21 home runs and 83 runs batted in, topping the circuit with a .359 batting average, and placing among the leaders with a .461 on-base percentage and a .603 slugging average.
While the Yankees created a comfortable 6 ½-game margin between themselves and the Orioles in the A.L. East, the Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics, and Seattle Mariners competed for the top spot in the decidedly mediocre A.L. West. The Rangers had a record of 52-62 when play ended on August 12, leaving them one game ahead of the Athletics and two games in front of the Mariners.
Juan Gonzalez and off-season free-agent acquisition Will Clark both performed extremely well for the first-place Rangers. Gonzalez hit 18 homers and drove in 85 runs. Clark hit 13 home runs, knocked in 80 runs, and placed among the league leaders with a .329 batting average.
Ruben Sierra was Oakland’s most productive hitter, leading the team with 23 homers and 92 runs batted in.
Seattle had the division’s two best players in Randy Johnson and Ken Griffey Jr. Johnson finished 13-6 with a league-leading 204 strikeouts. Junior topped the circuit with 40 home runs, and he also finished among the leaders with 90 runs batted in, 94 runs scored, and a .323 batting average.
The Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians rivaled New York as the junior circuit’s strongest team. The White Sox held a slim one-game lead over the Indians in the A.L. Central when play ended, compiling a record of 67-46 that appeared to have them headed for a postseason berth.
Chicago claimed the top spot in the division by combining one of the league’s highest-scoring offenses with the circuit’s most effective pitching staff. Chicago led the league with a 3.96 team ERA, featuring four starters who posted double-digit win totals. Wilson Alvarez and Jason Bere each won 12 games, while Alex Fernandez and Jack McDowell posted 11 and 10 victories, respectively.
The White Sox also had a very deep lineup. Robin Ventura hit 18 homers and drove in 78 runs. Tim Raines scored 80 runs. Julio Franco batted .319, hit 20 homers, and drove in 98 runs. Frank Thomas earned A.L. MVP honors for the second straight year by placing among the league leaders with 38 home runs, 101 runs batted in, and a .353 batting average, while also topping the circuit with 106 runs scored, a .487 on-base percentage, and a .729 slugging average.
The second-place Indians featured the league’s most potent offense, finishing first in the league rankings with 679 runs scored, 167 home runs, a .290 team batting average, and a .484 team slugging average. Although Eddie Murray, Manny Ramirez, Paul Sorrento, Carlos Baerga, and Jim Thome also made significant contributions to the Cleveland attack, Kenny Lofton and Albert Belle served as the team’s top two offensive threats. Lofton led the league with 60 steals and 160 hits, and he also finished among the leaders with a .349 batting average and 105 runs scored. Belle earned a third-place finish in the A.L. MVP balloting by leading the league with 294 total bases and placing near the top of the league rankings with 36 home runs, 101 runs batted in, 90 runs scored, 35 doubles, a .357 batting average, and a .714 slugging average.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• August 11 - The final games of the major league season were played. The players’ strike began the next day.
• September 14 – Major league owners voted 26-2 to officially cancel the remainder of the season, including the playoffs and the World Series. No World Series was played for the first time since 1904, and, for the first time since 1869, professional baseball had no national champion.
• On July 18, Kenny Rogers of the Texas Rangers became the first American League hurler since 1984 to throw a perfect game, beating the Angels 4-0. Rogers’ perfecto was just the 14th in major league history.
• The Indians unveiled the new Jacobs Field.
• The Rangers also opened a new home site, The Ballpark in Arlington.
• Kansas City’s David Cone earned A.L. Cy Young honors by going 16-5 with a 2.94 ERA.
• Royals teammate Bob Hamelin earned A.L. Rookie of the Year honors by hitting 24 home runs and compiling a .599 slugging average.
• Minnesota’s Kirby Puckett hit 20 home runs, scored 79 runs, batted .317, and led the league with 112 runs batted in.
• Boston's John Valentin became the second player in big-league history to perform an unassisted triple play and hit a home run in the same inning.
• The Hall of Fame inducted Steve Carlton, Leo Durocher, and Phil Rizzuto.
• Albert Belle was suspended for three games when a White Sox claim that he used an illegally corked bat against them was upheld.
• Chicago signed basketball megastar Michael Jordan to a minor-league contract.
• Jordan batted just .202, with only three home runs and 51 RBIs in 436 at-bats for the Double-A Birmingham Bulls.
- 1994 strike, Albert Belle, Alex Fernandez, American League, Bernie Williams (New York Yankees), Bob Hamelin, Bud Selig, Carlos Baerga, David Cone, Don Mattingly, Eddie Murray, Frank Thomas, Jack McDowell, Jacobs Field, Jason Bere, Jim Thome, Jimmy Key, John Valentin, Juan Gonzalez, Julio Franco, Ken Griffey, Jr., Kenny Lofton, Kenny Rogers, Kirby Puckett, Manny Ramirez, Mark McGwire, Mike Stanley, Paul Sorrento, Randy Johnson, Robin Ventura, Ruben Sierra, Tim Raines, Wade Boggs, Will Clark, Wilson Alvarez