Twenty years ago this week, the longest work stoppage in MLB history was underway. It began on August 12, 1994. The 1994 season’s final games were played on August 11, and for the first time since 1904, there was no World Series.
Unlike their division rival Montreal Expos, the 1994 Mets weren’t in the midst of any record-breaking seasons or newfound successes. They finished the shortened season at 55-58, 18.5 games back of Montreal.
Nonetheless, some Flushing performances could have been memorable, if only the final month and a half of the season had been played. Starter Bret Saberhagen finished the year 14-4 with a 2.74 ERA and 143 strikeouts. It was the second-best ERA of his career. The strikeouts led the league when the season ended in mid-August.
Closer John Franco had 30 saves at the time MLB closed up shop. As it stood, he led the National League by two saves over San Francisco’s Rod Beck.
Of course, we know now that the strike led to the cancellation of more than 900 games and postseason play. We also know that the league would resume play the following April, a bit late, for an abbreviated, 144-game season. But twenty years ago today, as Major League parks shut their gates on what would otherwise be a normal Thursday, the road ahead wasn’t exactly clear.
"Right now, it just seems like a day off," Franco said in an August 13 article -- one day into the strike. "My daughter keeps asking me, and I said it could be one day, two days, three days, and it could be more. Who knows?" (NYT, 8/13/94)
Two days earlier, before the strike had gone into effect, Franco had voiced even more uncertainty.
"Who knows?" he said. "These could be my last two days in a Met uniform." (NYT, 8/11/94)
Franco became a free agent after the 1994 season, but would re-sign with the club on April 5 of the following year. He would go on to be a Met for another ten years, but at the time, it was anybody's guess.
At the time, though, there was still a vague hope that the season might resume. Or rather, whether or not the strike would cancel the rest of the season was simply not yet known.
“Realistically, we have to look at this as if it might be the end of the season,” Mets GM Joe McIlvaine said on August 10 (NYT, 8/10/94).
As work stopped, at least temporarily, the players scattered across the country.
Outfielder/1B David Segui planned to drive to Kansas City, Mo., where he lived in the offseason. With 19 hours behind the wheel ahead of him, he joked when asked how long he thought the strike might go.
"As long as it lasts at least 20 hours, I'll be all right," he said on August 11. "I don't think I'll have to turn around." (NYT, 8/12/94).
Mets manager Dallas Green’s didn't seem concerned what his players might do to make ends meet with a work stoppage.
“I don't anticipate too many of them going out and getting a job anytime soon," he said. "But a few of them might have to fire their gardeners and chauffeurs." ( NYT, 8/12/94)
With the majors on strike, though, the minors were still open for business. This meant that young players still had ample in-game action to develop.
A few members of the Mets organization certainly took the time to grow. The club trotted out three rookies over the course of the following season who’d been developing over the past few years and had quite a lot of hope pinned on them -- Generation K. As was said on June 14, 1995, and countless times since (for example, two weeks ago, about Jacob deGrom, in Newsday), “The future is now” (NYT, 6/14/95).
The Mets final game of the '94 season was a 2-1 walk-off loss in Philadelphia. The final Mets pitch of the season -- thrown by Mauro Gozzo -- was hit for a single to left field by Ricky Jordan to score Billy Hatcher in the 15th inning.
Regular season baseball wouldn't return for another 258 days.