The Lost Season

1994 strike

It was 20 years ago today, August 12, 1994, that the last strike in Major League Baseball began. I was only 13 at the time, but I remember it pretty well. I remember it because, just over a month after the strike began, the World Series would be cancelled for the first time in history.

For a kid who was as obsessed about sports at the time as I was (and still am), particularly baseball, this was a crushing blow in and of itself. It didn’t make sense that there wasn’t going to be a World Series. There’s always a World Series.

What in the hell is the point of life without a World Series or a Super Bowl?

What made it even worse in my eyes, though, was not just that there wouldn’t be a World Series, but that the White Sox wouldn’t be winning it. Because they would have.

At the time I did not understand why the players were on strike, nor did I care. Whatever reasons players or ownership had, I just wanted baseball to watch. I was starting my freshman year of high school in a few weeks, and I felt like I only had a few weeks of my life left to be a kid.

High school was for adults after all. You had responsibilities! You had to remember your class schedule, which building each class was in, and how to get there in time while still managing trips to the bathroom and talking to your friends in the hallway.

Now I faced the prospect of living the last few weeks of my childhood without the sport that had defined it. I was angry, and why wouldn’t I be?

The White Sox were 67-46 at the time, with a one game lead over the Cleveland Indians in the newly minted AL Central. They didn’t have the best record in baseball at the time (Montreal, the Yankees and Braves were all ahead of them) but that really had no bearing on how I felt about the White Sox. The White Sox were the best team at the time simply because they had the best player on Earth: Frank Thomas.

When the season ended Frank Thomas was hitting .353/.487/.729 with 38 home runs and 101 RBI. In mid-August! After only 113 games! He was on pace to finish the season with 54 homers and 145 RBI. I was convinced that, behind Frank’s hitting (and Tim Raines’, Robin Ventura’s, and the age-defying Julio Franco’s), as well as the pitching of Jack McDowell, Alex Fernandez, Wilson Alvarez and Jason Bere, no team was going to stop the White Sox. Hell, I was surprised they ever lost a game period.

Before the World Series was officially cancelled, I remember holding out hope every day that when my dad brought home the Chicago Sun-Times I would see a headline in the sports section with an optimistic view of the strike.

“PLAYERS AND OWNERS NEAR AGREEMENT”

“THE BASEBALL SEASON EXPECTED TO RESUME MONDAY”

“FRANK THOMAS NAMED PRESIDENT”

I never got those headlines, though. Instead every day I lost a little more hope, as it became clearer to my 13-year old brain that really didn’t grasp the situation that everybody on both sides was an asshole. An asshole that didn’t care about me, or about what I wanted.

Summer finally ended, and high school began. My friends and I — both the old and the new ones I was making — talked about the baseball non-stop at first. It turned out that I was not the only one who felt everybody was an asshole, and we all argued about who the biggest assholes were, and why they were such big assholes.

We were in high school now, and our vocabularies were expanding with such new and interesting words thanks to those discussions in the hall between classes.

Eventually football season would start, and the Bears would serve as a distraction from the assholes. But that Bears team, under the excellent tutelage of Dave Wannstedt, would finish 9-7 and not be enough. At least, not for me. My mind was firmly centered on the fact that the White Sox were supposed to be on their way to a World Series title.

And the newspaper confirmed this fact for me.

While I never did find the headlines I hoped to see in the Sun-Times, the paper was running a simulation of the rest of the season every day. I can’t remember exactly what program they were using to do it, but every day the paper would have the simulated scores of the previous day’s games, as well as the new simulated standings.

In the simulation Frank Thomas continued to be amazing, and the White Sox continued to win. And win. And win.

After the World Series was officially cancelled I became even more interested in these simulated results, and it all ended in October when the White Sox reached the World Series and took care of the Atlanta Braves in six games.

If you talked to me at this time, you knew that. I celebrated this simulated season, even if it wasn’t real.

The celebration wouldn’t last. Like many baseball fans, it would only make me bitter about the sport. Oh, I returned in 1995 unlike many others, but that trust had been broken. There was a part of me that figured the White Sox would just correct the wrong of 1994 by winning the World Series in 1995, but that wouldn’t be the case. The offense, still led by The Big Hurt, remained strong, but Jack McDowell was gone and the pitching staff didn’t live up to its end of the bargain. The White Sox would finish in third place at 68-76, with the worst injustice of all being the beginning of the Terry Bevington Era.

I’d have to wait another 10 years for that World Series to actually happen, and I was extremely grateful when it arrived, but even then there was a small part of me that was angry about it. It should have been the second World Series title for the White Sox in 10 years, not the first in nearly 100.

Making matters worse in my mind was that, although Frank Thomas was on the team in 2005, and received a ring, he wasn’t really a part of that team. Frank was 37 and only played in 34 games before going down to an injury. He should have been the centerpiece of a World Series champion, not the aging veteran watching on the sideline.

He should have been the centerpiece of a few World Series champions, and I firmly believe he would have been if not for the 1994 strike.

I know this because I ran the simulation in my mind, and it worked out that way. Though I guess we’ll never know for sure, will we?

So thanks for that, assholes. Happy anniversary.

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