This year marks the 20th anniversary of the baseball strike of 1994. For most of us, it is simply known as "the strike."
For White Sox fans, the work stoppage of 1994-1995 is one of the most heartbreaking "what if" moments in the history of the franchise. Barring an unforeseen collapse, the 1994 White Sox would have made the post season. It would have been the first back-to-back playoff appearances in White Sox history.
The White Sox and the Montreal Expos were the two teams that were hurt the most by the strike. Both teams were playoff-bound. Both teams spent the next decade trying to repair the damage. The Expos would eventually decamp for Washington. They finally made the playoffs 18 years after the strike.
The White Sox spent the next 11 years trying to recover. The bad feelings were finally wiped away in 2005.
On Aug. 12, 1994, the White Sox had a record of 67-46. They had a one-game lead over the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central.
The stretch run of the 1994 season would have been exciting. The Sox were one game up on Cleveland. They were four games up on the third-place Kansas City Royals. They had a three-game lead over Baltimore in the Wild Card standings.
There were plenty of reasons to spin the turnstiles at Comiskey Park in the late summer of 1994. There was drama of the pennant race, followed by Frank Thomas' quest to win his second consecutive AL MVP award.
A playoff appearance would have pumped more money into the White Sox coffers. Regardless of how the White Sox would have fared in the playoffs, the team would have started 1995 on different footing.
For instance, the White Sox would have been more willing to spend money. The team would have been flush with cash. Second, ownership would have been more willing to spend it.
Jerry Reinsdorf was one of the owners who wanted to rein in player salaries. Since he was one of the hard-liners during the strike, the White Sox weren't going to spend an excessive amount of money to preserve the 1994 team. Instead of getting a contract extension, Jack McDowell was traded to the Yankees. Darrin Jackson and Julio Franco opted to play in Japan.
A listless, dispirited White Sox team stumbled out of the gate in 1995. By June, manager Gene Lamont was fired. The strike hangover didn't end until September of '95. By then, the team was 27 games behind Cleveland. They were good enough to guarantee that Terry Bevington had a job in 1996.
Thanks to the strike, the Sox had a public relations problem that would dog them for years. Reinsdorf, along with Bud Selig, led the charge on behalf of ownership during the work stoppage. To White Sox fans, Reinsdorf was the cold-hearted owner who cost his team the chance to appear in the World Series.
The bad feelings from the strike also prompted Sox fans to reevaluate everything that had happened since New Comiskey Park opened in 1991. Instead of being a monument to the modern baseball experience, New Comiskey was a soulless concrete monstrosity with an unbelievably steep upper deck.
It was a living, breathing symbol of everything that was wrong with modern baseball.
From 1991 until 1994, New Comiskey Park was one of the better draws in baseball. From from 1995 onward, it was at the bottom of the attendance rankings in the American League. The facility would not see 2 million fans until 2005.
The attendance crash in the second half of the 1990s forced the White Sox to do something. Naming rights were sold in 2002 and the proceeds funded a top-to-bottom rebuild that would last through the opening of Bacardi in the Park in 2011.
Now, let's imagine a world where the strike didn't happen.
It's an era of good feelings. Frank Thomas is the AL MVP for the second year in a row. The Sox wind up meeting the Yankees in the ALCS (I'll leave it to you, the reader, to imagine how it turned out).
Without the need to be the spokesman for fiscal responsibility, Reinsdorf might have been more inclined to keep the 1994 team intact. Or, he might have been more willing to spend money on actual lineup protection for Frank Thomas.
In the real 1995, pitchers could walk Frank Thomas knowing that the shells of Chris Sabo and John Kruk were coming up next. What if the Sox kept Julio Franco, who had one of the best years of his career in 1994? What if the Sox decided to sign Mickey Tettleton, who hit 32 home runs for the Rangers in 1995?
Perhaps the good feelings from the 1994 post-season would have caused the White Sox to bury the hatchet with Jack McDowell? He finishes career with the White Sox, instead of flipping off the fans at Yankee Stadium.
Just 31,000 people attended Opening Day on April 27, 1995. There were 13,000 empty seats in the ballpark.
In alternate 1995, Comiskey Park would have been a packed house. After all, the White Sox were finally a powerhouse in the American League, coming off of their second consecutive playoff appearance (they hadn't -- and haven't -- ever made the postseason two years in a row). Could they make it three in a row? In that world, a Sox ticket would have been the hottest item in town.
Alas, it is a baseball season that exists only in the imagination.