Most who follow the game, including Cubs fans, have their minds elsewhere. But it is there, lurking under the surface, slowly but relentlessly stalking baseball.
Under all the noise of a pandemic-shortened 2020 season, non-tendered players and free agent machinations, lies the Collective Bargaining Agreement showdown. It is coming and with it perhaps the most pivotal moment in professional baseball.
It has been 27 years since the last strike. In 1994 Bill Clinton was in his first term as President, Amazon had just been founded and AOL was the most popular online platform. The last play on that 11th day in August, the last day of baseball before the strike, was a Randy Johnson strikeout to end the game.
Will Cubs fans have to go without baseball as the two sides do battle?
More from Cubbies Crib
- Cubs should keep close eye on non-tender candidate Cody Bellinger
- Cubs starting pitching has been thriving on the North Side
- Make no mistake: the Cubs are very much about power hitters
- Cubs are giving pitcher Javier Assad a deserved shot
- Cubs: It’s time to start thinking about potential September call-ups
By 1994, the well had been truly poisoned by bad dealings on the part of owners and MLB, lawsuits and a complete misreading of the situation by those same owners.
On August 12, 1994, the longest strike in MLB history began. The issue du jour was the owners’ demand for a salary cap. But that wasn’t where it started. The seeds for the 1994 strike were sown with the Collusion I, Collusion II, and Collusion III scandals of the mid-to-late 1980s by the owners and MLB who conspired against free agents.
The consequences of these scandals were findings that the owners and MLB had robbed free agents out of hundreds of millions of dollars. The Cubs Andre Dawson was one. By the time the dust had settled in 1990, the owners had been forced to pay nearly $400 million in damages to individual players and the MLBPA.
A CBA was eventually reached in 1990 through the end of the 1993 season. Then, apparently unchastened by their losses, the owners stiff-armed the players until, on August 12, 1994, the players went on strike. It got uglier from there.
When it was over, the owners’ lead negotiator had resigned, the National Labor Relations Board ruled the owners had not negotiated in good faith and federal judge Sonia Sotomayor issued an injunction restoring the terms of the expired 1990-1993 CBA, allowing the players to return to the field. However, fan support had collapsed, attendance plummeted, TV ratings tanked.
Cubs: One key player from that strike remains: Rob Manfred
The fact that Rob Manfred is front-and-center is not reassuring for the continuation of a quarter-century of labor peace in baseball. It’s very disconcerting not just because he’s made some really head-scratching moves as Commissioner and it’s not just because he badly botched the negotiations over the rollout of the 2020 season, it’s all of that and the fact that one of those advising the owners during the 1994 strike was Manfred himself.
I’m hoping Manfred doesn’t botch this one. Fans are sick and tired of owners who rake in tons of dough off inflated ticket and concession prices and players who already make sums unrelatable to the average fan. That quarter-century of labor peace is a winning streak no owner or player should want to end.