Baseball could be headed for another mystery season

Sunday, August 25, 2002

Tony Gwynn knows full well how costly a baseball strike could be.

The last time players walked out and a season was canceled, so too was Gwynn's run at .400, Matt Williams' bid for Roger Maris' home run record, and a magical season in Montreal.

"There were a lot of guys having great years. We were all in the same position," Gwynn said. "I think we made a mistake in '94. Looking back on it, I don't know if we gained very much. I don't know if the owners gained very much. I think that should be an example. Both sides should look at what they accomplished and what they gained. I don't think a strike fixed anything."

Instead, it aborted a memorable season that also had the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians on the verge of ending playoff droughts and Frank Thomas and Albert Belle fighting for a Triple Crown.

Another lengthy work stoppage this season would slow Barry Bonds' run for the career home run record and end spectacular seasons for the Atlanta Braves, Anaheim Angels and especially the Minnesota Twins, who could be hurt as badly as the Expos were eight years ago.

Expos were never the same

Montreal went from the best team in the majors before the walkout -- leading Atlanta by six games in the NL East -- to years of fire sales and perhaps the end of the sport in the city.

"That was really tough on us, because it was the only time anyone has had Atlanta looking up at them in a long time," former Expos manager Felipe Alou said. "We were so good, and we were dominating the league, but there was always the cloud hanging over us."

The losses ran deep throughout baseball. Average attendance dropped 20 percent in 1995 and still hasn't fully recovered.

No team has been affected as much on that front as the Toronto Blue Jays, a model franchise that topped 4 million in attendance the three years before the strike and is now on pace for its third straight sub-2 million season.

But no team was hurt as much overall as the Expos, who have only gotten close to the playoffs once since 1994 and might be eliminated after this season.

"We were going to win it all, man," said Rondell White, the last player from that team to remain in Montreal before he was traded to the Cubs in 2000. "I was curious to see what we would have done, how it would have turned out. It was a great team."

But before baseball resumed in 1995, Larry Walker, John Wetteland, Marquis Grissom and Ken Hill had already left Montreal.

Pedro Martinez, Moises Alou, Cliff Floyd, Jeff Shaw, Jeff Fassero, Kirk Rueter, Darrin Fletcher, Wil Cordero and Mike Lansing departed in the next few seasons -- and so did the fans.

"That was a big disappointment for the fans to finally have a playoff team and it didn't happen," Walker said.

A career year for Gwynn

While the Expos never really got another chance, Gwynn feels better knowing that he had more opportunities to try to become the first player since Ted Williams in 1941 to hit .400 in a season.

"If that was my last year playing, I would have been very bitter," Gwynn said. "But I knew I was coming back and had the opportunity to do it again."

The closest Gwynn got to .400 after the strike was his .372 season in 1997. That's 22 points lower than he ended the 1994 season.

If just three of his line drives had found holes instead of gloves, Gwynn would have ended the season with a .401 average and all sorts of controversy.

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