Twenty years ago, after Major League Baseball had already done the unthinkable in cancelling the World Series for the first time in nearly a century, they almost did the unthinkable the following spring - try to play Major League games without Major League players.
The players went on strike in mid-August of 1994 in response to owners unilaterally imposing a salary cap and revenue sharing structure without union approval. After the unprecedented cancelling of the World Series that fall, the labor impasse headed into the spring of 1995 with no resolution in sight. The owners voted to use replacement players, although the Baltimore Orioles refused to go along (owner Peter Angelos had been a labor attorney, and the Maryland House of Delegates banned the use of replacement players at Camden Yards). The Toronto Blue Jays were also prohibited by law from using replacement players, so they announced they would play their games at their spring training facilities in Dunedin, Florida that year.
Owners lured a number of fringe former Major Leaguers to cross the picket line with a guarantee $5,000 bonus for reporting to spring training, and a $5,000 bonus for making the Opening Day roster. Former Royals players Steve Crawford and Darryl Motley showed up the first day, thought the better of it, and went home. Among the bigger name veterans crossing the line were Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd, Ken Oberkfell, Shawn Abner, Pedro Borbon, Doug Sisk, and Lenny Randle.
Teams still conducted minor league camps however, and management pressured many minor leaguers to cross the picket line. Some MLB veterans like Glenn Wilson and Lance Parrish in Royals camp refused, causing them to be tossed out of camp, only to be brought back in a confusing situation for everyone.
A few minor leaguers did cross the picket line to appear in exhibition games, including future Major Leaguers Kevin Millar, Cory Lidle, and one-time Royals pitcher Rick Reed. Minor leaguers everywhere had difficult choices to make - participate in Major League replacement player games, or risk being tossed out of camp and blackballed.
"In my opinion, I'd be cutting my own throat as far as a job."
-Royals minor leaguer Jeff Garber
In March of 1995, the Royals opened camp with new manager Bob Boone at the helm. But instead of leading David Cone, Kevin Appier, and Wally Joyner, Boone led a camp full of a motley array of has-beens and never weres. Mitch Lyden. Scott Anderson. Pat Perry. Mike Brakebill. These were your new Royals.
"People come to see names. If it's Bo Jackson hitting a fly ball, everybody goes, `Oooooooh. ' When we hit it - nothing"
-Royals centerfielder Mike Loggins
Many of the Royals replacement players had some Major League experience. Greg Mathews won 22 games over his first two seasons with the Cardinals. Pat Perry had been an established reliever for the Cardinals and Reds in the late 1980s. Infielder Eddie Jurak appeared in nearly 200 games over six seasons, mostly with the Red Sox. Pitcher Scott Anderson got a cup of coffee with the Rangers and later the Expos. Mark Huisman, a reliever who threw nine innings for the 1985 championship Royals, returned after two years out of baseball to come back as a knuckleballer.
But there were also a lot of guys who had little business being in a big league uniform. Mark Brakebill was competing for the third base job despite spending the previous season in the independent Texas-Louisiana League. Ramy Brooks was competing for a job catching, despite no experience above A ball. Pitcher Orlando Lind - whose brother Jose was the Royals starting second baseman and at home on strike - had not pitched professionally in two seasons. Catcher Jamie Nelson had been working as a janitor a few years earlier after a stint as a Royals farmhand.
"We're a little rusty."
-Royals catcher Jamie Nelson
Players would earn a salary of $115,000 plus their $5,000 bonus and up to three players on each roster could have a contract as lucrative as $275,000. There would be no waivers, no disabled lists, simply a 32-man roster in which 25 players would be active for any game. The Royals even made a replacement player trade, acquiring outfielder Ted Williams - not THAT Ted Williams, but this Ted Williams - from the Pirates.
Here was Bob Boone's expected starting lineup for Opening Day.
|CF Mike Loggins||Five seasons in AAA including Omaha, none since 1991|
|DH Eddie Jurak||193 MLB games, 37-year old hadn't been in AAA since 1990, spent a few seasons in Mexico|
|1B Jeff Grotewold||72 games with the Phillies in 1992, spent 1994 in the independent Northern League|
|LF Jeff Schultz||40 games in the big leagues, longtime Omaha farmhand. Was playing professionally in Italy.|
|RF Keith Hughes||93 MLB games, persuaded to cross the picket line from minor league camp|
|3B Steve Kiefer||105 MLB games, hadn't played since 1990. Brother Mark was a pitcher on strike.|
|SS Rick Allen||Released from organized ball in 1992, never made it above AA|
|C Mitch Lyden||Longtime minor leaguer spent six games with the Marlins in 1993|
|2B Dwayne Lewis||21 year old had never played affiliated ball, was in Texas-Louisiana League|
|SP Scott Anderson||12 big league games with the Rangers and Expos, spent 1994 in AAA|
Scott Anderson, Kevin Brown (not THAT Kevin Brown, this Kevin Brown), and Orlando Lind, would make up the rotation with Boone suggesting Tom Paskievitch and Greg Mathews (who was nursing an injury) could piggyback for the fourth spot in a four-man rotation. Pat Perry would lead a bullpen filled with other fringe former Major Leaguers like Gary Eave, Don Strange, and Rob Malicoat. It was a team that was reportedly solid on defense, but very light on power.
"We don't hit it over the wall, but I think we can play a different game with this club. We're not going to have much power, but we're going to be a contact-type team. From a fans point of few, it'll be a fun game to see."
Spring training wrapped up at the end of March with owners affirming their intent to use the replacement players in the regular season. The Royals would open the season in Detroit with Scott Anderson on the mound instead of Kevin Appier (Tigers manager Sparky Anderson, however, refused to manage replacement players and would not be present). The Royals finalized their roster and headed north. Only 25,000 tickets had been sold for the Royals home opener.
"It would really be a drag if they dropped the hammer on us. The aura here was awful in the beginning. My body was awful. Too many things were leaning toward me to get this over with and get out of here. "Now I'm feeling good about my production. I feel good about my offense and my defense. I feel like I can play again."
On April 1, 1995, U.S Circuit Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor granted an injunction to restore the terms of the last Collective Bargaining Agreement. The writing was on the wall for the replacements. After first stonewalling, the owners finally relented and dropped their unilaterally imposed labor agreement. The regular players came back to work. The work stoppage had cost the game of baseball an estimated $700 million. More importantly, it had cost the trust of the fans that would take years to recover.
The replacement players were quickly disposed of. Some were offered minor league contract. Scott Anderson and Jeff Grotewold impressed the Royals so much they were assigned to Omaha and made appearances with the big league club that year. But most players departed with just a severance of a few thousand dollars. The Montreal Expos gave their replacement players a severance package that included just a jersey, while the Phillies were generous enough to include a signed baseball.
The replacement players were mere pawns in a dangerous game played by owners. Many of them needed the money badly, but had to live with the consequences of crossing the line for the rest of their life. Pitcher Rick Reed crossed the line to pay his sick mother's medical bills, but when he later made the big leagues after the work stoppage resumed, he was labeled a "scab" by teammates. Many were also chasing the dream of being in the big leagues once again, if even for a day. To get so close to that dream, only to have it swept aside seems a cruel gesture.
Major League Baseball has had relative labor peace for two decades now, and that peace in large part is due to the self-destructive work stoppage it suffered in 1994-1995. Baseball learned a valuable lesson when it cancelled the 1994 World Series, and that is, DO NOT CANCEL THE WORLD SERIES.