Baseball had been pretty much free of labor trouble since a brief stoppage in 1985. Owners and players did butt heads over free agency in 1986-87 (the players accused the owners of collusion to drive the market down), but there were no extended work stoppages, as there were in 1972 and 1981.
But as the 1994 season began, the spectre of another nasty battle betwen owners and players was on the horizon. At issue was the owners' desire to impose a salary cap, which the players adamantly refused to consider.
The Tigers were coming off an 85-77 season and were looking forward to a full season with new center fielder Eric Davis, acquired on August 31, 1993. The team also introduced new road uniforms to replace the ones they'd worn since 1972.
But the Tigers, as they were in 1972, had the roster of an old team just trying to get by. Fans could only hope that Sparky Anderson's old-timers could pull off the same feat that Billy Martin's over-the-hill gang did in '72---win the AL East.
But even the divisions were different in 1994.
MLB had gone to a three-division alignment per league in 1994: East, West, Central. The Tigers were still in the East, but the division had five teams, not seven: New York, Boston, Baltimore, Toronto and Detroit.
As they did the winter previously, the Tigers dipped into the free agent pitcher market prior to the '94 season, signing 32-year-old Tim Belcher, who'd spent 1993 with the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox.
With the exception of C Chad Kreuter and IF Travis Fryman, the Tigers were pretty long in the tooth when it came to starting position players. All had passed the age of 30, and some were well past it, like Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell.
The pitchers weren't all that young, either. Belcher joined returning Tigers starters Mike Moore, Bill Gullickson and David Wells---and all were over 30 years old.
The season began with a three-game sweep at the hands of the Red Sox in Boston, and it careened out of control from there. Davis, the oft-injured center fielder, came up with a sore neck almost from the get go. It affected his play, and after two months the Tigers shut him down, his average well below .200. Davis came back in late-July, but after just two games he went back on the disabled list, killing the rest of his season.
Belcher was Mike Moore, redux. The free agent signee struggled to get batters out, as Moore was still doing in his second year as a Tiger.
The Tigers, just as they did in 1992, never contended. Not that it mattered, because on August 12, the MLB players walked off the job, thanks to the impasse in their negotations with the owners on a new collective bargaining agreement, which had expired on December 31, 1993.
But unlike in 1972, '81 and '85, the strike of 1994 didn't end soon enough to save the season. In fact, it didn't end at all. Acting commissioner Bud Selig, on September 14, canceled the remainder of the season and the post-season, meaning baseball would have to wait to implement its new two-tiered playoff system: three divisional winners plus a Wild Card would play a divisional series, THEN the winners would play a league championship series.
Baseball became the first major professional sports league to have its entire post-season wiped out by labor strife.
The World Series was not played for the first time since 1904.
For the record, the Tigers finished 53-62. Cecil Fielder led with 28 home runs, 37-year-old Kirk Gibson had 23 dingers---many in dramatic fashion---and Moore led the team in wins with 11. Belcher, the big free agent catch, also led the Tigers--and the league--in a major category: losses, with 15.
To make matters worse, baseball's labor troubles didn't end with the cancellation of the rest of the '94 season. Issues were still unresolved, threatening the start of the 1995 campaign.
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- 1994 strike, Bud Selig, Cecil Fielder, Chad Kreuter, Detroit Tigers, Eric Davis, Kirk Gibson, Mike Moore, Radical Realignment, Tim Belcher, Travis Fryman