What could’ve happened with certain tweaks in the historical timeline of professional sports. What if Mickey Mantle hadn’t crashed head on into Joe DiMaggio, ending the latter’s career almost instantly? What if the Lakers never traded for Kobe, allowing him to remain with the Michael Jordan owned Hornets? What if Tony Romo had been traded to the Saints in 2006?
Without further ado, here’s the 5th installment of what I like to call, Into the Multiverse:
As fans of the great game of baseball gritted their teeth through tense labor negotiations this past winter, older generations were forced to uncork repressed memories of a similarly bad time in the sport back in 1994.
In January of that year, MLB owners approved a new revenue-sharing plan centered around the creation of a salary cap, which would require the players’ approval. The MLBPA rejected the offer, believing that a salary cap was simply a way for owners to amend their own disparity issues with no discernable benefits for the players themselves.
Negotiations did not go well in the following months, bleeding into the season itself. In June, the MLBPA decided to organize an official strike that would begin later in the summer if their demands for fair negotiations were not met by ownership. Then on August 12, 1994, the threats of a work stoppage came to fruition, as players from all 28 big league ball clubs did not report to their teams’ facilities.
The strike lasted right up through March of 1995; cancelling the remainder of the ’94 regular season, the playoffs, and the World Series (for the first time since 1904). A sour taste was left in the mouths of players, owners and fans alike as a Supreme Court ruling forced the MLB season in ’95 to be played under the rules of the expired-CBA until a new one could be reached, essentially meaning that the remainder of the ’94 campaign could have been played under the same gudelines.
So let us then take a look at what the rest of 1994 might have looked like for Major League Baseball’s 28 existing franchises and what the impact of a full season might’ve meant over time, as we step into the multiverse…
American League East
The American League East in 1994 very much featured a pair of legit contenders, and a trio of sub-par baseball teams destined to miss the playoffs altogether as of August 12th. In the latter group, the Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers sat 16, 17 and 18 games back of first place respectively, with none of them really worth delving much into as we move forward here.
The New York Yankees held the claim of the AL’s top record, and many deemed them as the favorite to win the Pennant and advance to the World Series at year’s end. Devoid of any of the game’s top sluggers (who were quickly becoming all the rage), the Buck Showalter managed Yanks predicated their offensive attack on contact, speed and clutch hitting to drive in runs. On the other side of the ball, they graded out as baseball’s premier defensive unit, while their pitching staff did just enough to keep them in games.
Behind the Yanks in the standings, sat the Baltimore Orioles, who were 6.5 games out but gaining ground quickly. A post-All-Star surge by Rafael Palmeiro and Cal Ripken Jr. pushed the team to a 7-3 record through the first couple of weeks in August, culminating with a series win in New York. A 25-year old Mike Mussina was emerging as one of baseball’s best arms for the O’s, and they seemed to all be clicking at just the right time down the homestretch of the season.
If the season continues with the original slate of games, both teams are about to play almost identical schedules. The crucial differentiator though stems from how the two teams handle the AL Central. The O’s to this point have split the season series with every Central team with the exception of the Milwaukee Brewers (who they’re 6-4 against), while the Yankees have dominated every single team in that division.
With the division very much on the line with a month and a half remaining, the Yankees’ ability to pummel the AL Central (21 of 49 remaining games), means that they’ll win the division handedly. Fangraphs projects the season to end with the following AL East standings:
- New York Yankees (99-63)
- Baltimore Orioles (88-74)
- Toronto Blue Jays (78-84)
- Boston Red Sox (75-87)
- Detroit Tigers (71-91)
The Yankees hold tight to the American League’s best record, drawing the lone Wild Card team in the old playoff format. Sadly for Baltimore, they’re missing the playoffs altogether, falling behind a pair of those Central teams that they couldn’t quite gain any traction against.
American League Central
The American League Central in 1994 was easily the most exciting division to watch through early August. With the exception of the Minnesota Twins and the Milwaukee Brewers, this division is too close to call through the dog days of summer.
The Chicago White Sox’s offense is being paced by Frank Thomas (declared the strike-shortened season’s AL MVP in our universe). Thomas to this point has already launched 38 homers and driven in 101 runs, all while carrying a league best OPS of 1.217. A good, but not great, lineup surrounds him and the same can be said of the pitching staff that the South Siders are carrying down the stretch.
Albert Belle is the Cleveland Indians’ answer for the super-slugging Thomas. Belle to this point has matched Thomas in nearly every statistical category, but is aided by having a substantially deeper supporting cast which includes superstar center fielder, Kenny Lofton, and the young combination of Manny Ramirez (RF) and Jim Thome (3B).
The Kansas City Royals in the meantime, have no discernable offensive figure head. They’re a fairly middle of the pack lineup, and to many that qualifies them as an odd dark-horse candidate. But the Royals tout one of the best rotations in the American League at this point, led in large part by eventual Cy Young Award winner, David Cone.
Down the stretch run of the season, there’s a pretty sizable difference in scheduling that helps one of these ball clubs far more than the others. The Cleveland Indians are set to play to play more than a dozen consecutive games against the floundering franchises of the AL West, while the White Sox and Royals are slated to trade home-and-home series’ before having to face the East-leading Yankees six times a piece. The standings per Fangraphs look like this:
- Cleveland Indians (96-66)
- Kansas City Royals (91-71)
- Chicago White Sox (91-71)
- Milwaukee Brewers (76-86)
- Minnesota Twins (73-89)
The Indians ride their easier schedule to the division crown while the other two clubs find themselves squaring off for a game 163 to decide the Wild Card team. With Cone taking the mound for the Royals in the due-or-die game, and owning a 1.02 ERA against the White Sox that season, I’ll give them the nod as the Wild Card winner with the misfortune of facing the Yankees in the ALDS.
American League West
If I told you that in this division, the difference between the first and last place teams was only 5.5 games at this point, you’d think it was the best the league had to offer. But sadly I must also inform you that every single other team in the American League (including the last place Twins and Tigers) would be in first place if they were in this division.
That’s right…the four teams in the AL West held the four worst records in the junior circuit.
I will not give a whole lot of attention to the teams here, because quite frankly they don’t deserve it. So instead, I’ll include a small detail below each club’s projected record for ’94:
- Oakland Athletics (72-90)
- Rickey Henderson’s third stint with Oakland was not his best.
- Seattle Mariners (70-92)
- Griffey Jr. had 40 HRs, the Big Unit had 200 Ks and A-Rod debuted…they were still really bad.
- Texas Rangers (65-97)
- 22-year old Ivan Rodriguez is the only watchable player on this team.
- California Angels (62-100)
- Tim Salmon probably thought he’d be baseball’s most beloved fish forever.
Oakland becomes baseball’s worst division winner in history with a .444 winning percentage, but hey at least they made it…I guess…
National League East
The bottom three teams in this division can be summed up as such:
- A sub-par New York Mets roster is floated up to the middle of the pack by Bret Saberhagen and Bobby Bonilla in their age-30 seasons…both of whom they’re still paying nearly 30-years later…LOL
- Technically, the Philadelphia Phillies would’ve been leading the division if they played in the AL West…but since that isn’t the case their roster can best be described as a who’s-who of who’s-that.
- The Florida Marlins’ lone bright spot in ’94 was the always exciting to watch Gary Sheffield. Still though they’re not a terribly bad team, especially considering they’ve only existed for about a year.
The division’s second place team at this point in the season is the Atlanta Braves, who’ve gone to two of the last three World Series (losing both). Fred McGriff is an absolute stud in the heart of their order, but this team is justifiably all about pitching. Still considered to be one of the greatest rotations ever assembled, the Braves boast a trio of future Hall of Famer starters: Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz.
The division leader on August 12th is the Montreal Expos, they’re up a full six games on the Braves and actually boast baseball’s best record to this point. In the same vein as the Yankees in the AL, the Expos’ claim to fame is a balanced roster with production throughout it. Their pitching staff is being paced by a 22-year old Pedro Martinez, and their contact oriented lineup is led by Moises Alou and Larry Walker.
Picking apart the remaining schedule, the Braves are actually aided by no longer having to do battle with an NL Central that has really done damage to them all year long, aside from a three game set to close out August against the Houston Astros, who have been the lone exception. The Expos on the other hand, fear absolutely no one, owning a winning record on the season against every single team in the Senior Circuit with the exception of the Braves and Colorado Rockies. So despite continuing to struggle for a pair of series with their division foe, they are able to win more three-game sets than not as they head towards the end of the year:
- Montreal Expos (103-59)
- Atlanta Braves (98-64)
- New York Mets (80-82)
- Philadelphia Phillies (74-88)
- Florida Marlins (71-91)
Montreal makes the Postseason for just the second time in their 25 year history. They’ve essentially run coast to coast dominating the entirety of the NL with the exception of their divisional rival and a fluke team out West. The Braves pickup a game on the Expos in the division, but the latter lays claim to the best record in the big leagues. The Braves do however get to utilize a favorable September schedule to pad their Wild Card lead immensely, ultimately finishing with the NL’s second best record and MLB’s third best mark overall.
National League Central
Another division, another two team showdown with looming playoff implications ahead. In the Central, the teams that are out of it to this point are the Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals and lowly Chicago Cubs. There’s not really a whole lot for us to unpack with these clubs, so we’ll push on to discuss the top dogs in the division.
The Cincinnati Reds are a confusing team at this point in their history. After a dominant run in the 70s that culminated with a pair of championships courtesy of the Big Red Machine, the 80s saw them cool a bit to play perennial second-fiddle to nearly every team in the previously constructed NL West. They reclaimed World Series glory in 1990, and have since pin-balled between the top and bottom of the division on a year-to-year basis. Now in the newly formed NL Central, the Reds have again found themselves rising to upper-echelon courtesy of particularly strong play from MVP Runner-Up Kevin Mitchell. The rest of their lineup is a strong one, and their pitching still holds some remnants from their most recent championship run.
Only slightly behind in the standings at this point are the Houston Astros. They’re being led by the Killer-B’s, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio; the former of whom is set to be this season’s runaway NL MVP. On the pitching side, 31-year old Doug Drabek is having a phenomenal year to date with a shockingly sub-3.00 ERA in what is considered to be a very potent division on the offensive end.
Looking ahead at what’s to come for them, the Astros have done well to dominate the teams in their own division, but hold losing records against teams from both the East and West. In particular, they’ve struggled mightily against the better teams in the standings and are set to end August playing two series against the Expos, one against the Los Angeles Dodgers and a series versus the Braves. On the flipside, the Reds have faired pretty well against a wide range of ball clubs, and are set to face one of the weaker schedules in all of baseball in the month of September. The standings to end the year reflect this scheduling disparity pretty well:
- Cincinnati Reds (94-68)
- Houston Astros (88-74)
- St. Louis Cardinals (74-88)
- Pittsburgh Pirates (73-89)
- Chicago Cubs (69-93)
The Cincinnati Reds woke up on August 12th with a .5 game lead over the Houston Astros and are able to ride out a fairly light schedule with favorable matchups down the stretch, to the first ever NL Central Division crown. The Astros on the other hand have a lot of issues with the teams that they’re due to face later in the season, and sputter out. They end up missing the playoffs altogether, finishing an additional 10 games out from the Braves in the Wild Card race.
National League West
The newly reconstructed National League West isn’t a particularly competitive division by any means. It isn’t quite as off-putting as the AL West, but it still leaves a lot to be desired at this point because of the quality of the rosters that comprise it.
Of the four teams in the division, only the Los Angeles Dodgers own a winning record to this point in the year, and they only sit two games above the .500 mark themselves. In reality at this point the San Diego Padres own the worst record in baseball and are rapidly approaching mathematical elimination from the playoffs. So we have to focus on the three conceivable division winners here which are the Dodgers, San Francisco Giants (3.5 GB) and the Colorado Rockies (6.5 GB).
Most of September will exclusively see the teams in the West face off with one another, in a bloodbath of mediocrity. The Dodgers and Giants will face each other for three different series in September, as well as both having meetings with the Expos and Braves to boot. The Rockies’ remaining schedule is by far the most appealing, the remainder of their divisional bouts will be played against the lowly Padres and they inexplicably own the Expos this season ahead of their final matchup this year. Throw in a number of games scheduled against the Cubs and Marlins, and the Rockies quietly have a chance to get into the division race despite being an atrocious 11 games below .500 on August 12th:
- Los Angeles Dodgers (87-75)
- Colorado Rockies (85-77)
- San Francisco Giants (80-82)
- San Diego Padres (61-101)
The Rockies narrowly miss a divisional crown in just their second season of existence, but unfortunately had too much of a hill to climb in order to jump back into contention. For all of the teams in the West, just like the Central, a division title was their only path to the Postseason on account of the 98-win Braves holding top billing in the Wild Card spot. The Dodgers ultimately get the nod out West and will move into the NLDS.
ALDS & NLDS
There’s a lot to touch on in terms of formatting for the playoffs in 1994 that might confuse fans of the modern game. So to help with that, here’s a fun little graphic that shows you exactly what the playoff bracket would look like back then, and I’ll throw in some context as we go:
In the first ALDS matchup, the team with the best record in the American League, the New York Yankees should have a fairly decent time against the Kansas City Royals considering that they won’t have to face David Cone until Game 3 at the earliest after he had to pitch the play-in game for KC. In 8 games against the Royals in ’94 (excluding the gem that Cone pitched at Yankee Stadium that May) the Yankees teed off on their pitching staff to the tune of a nightmarish 5.26 ERA for Kansas City hurlers. So the Yankees forge ahead to the ALCS with a 3-1 Divisional Series win.
In the other ALDS bout, the Cleveland Indians have next to no competition from the Oakland Athletics much to the surprise of…absolutely nobody. As previously mentioned, the AL West only produced a playoff team because they sort of had to, with not a single real contender existing in the division at this point. Cleveland sweeps Oakland in unceremonious fashion, 3 games to none, to advance to the ALCS against the Yankees.
On the NL side, things get a little strange. From 1994 (when the Wild Card was first introduced) to 2012, if the team with the best record in either league was from the same division as the Wild Card winner, the two were not allowed to play one another in the Divisional Series. Instead, the division winner with the second best record would play the Wild Card team while the team with the best record would play the remaining division winner.
So since the Montreal Expos can avoid playing the Atlanta Braves who own the season series against them handedly, the Expos instead get to take on the Los Angeles Dodgers. Against LA, the Expos were absolutely dominant all season long. Of their first 9 meetings of the season, Montreal won 7 games, with the lone exceptions being a pair of one-run pitching duels at home in June. Montreal gets to trounce Los Angeles in four games, winning the series 3-1 to advance to the NLCS for the first time since 1981 (their only other playoff appearance).
Montreal’s lucky break is an unlucky one for the Atlanta Braves. If the rules instead reflected what they are today, the Braves would face the Expos (who they owned), and moved on to the NLCS to likely face another of their more favorable matchups in the Dodgers who had one up on the Reds all season long. Instead though, the Braves have to play a pair of contests in Cincinnati to open the Postseason (a place where they had not won a game since the ’92 season) and likely another one or two later in the series. The Reds advance in a fun 3-2 series.
ALCS & NLCS
Here’s a fun fact for all the folks at home: with this ALCS matchup, it would mean that either Cleveland or New York would represent the American League in every World Series from 1994 until 2001. In this particular bout, the Yankees are the on-paper favorites given their higher seeding and home field advantage. Adding to the Bombers’ win probability is how they’ve fared against the Tribe’s starters all season long; sticking them with a horrendous 5.44 ERA in ’94. The series goes a respectable six games, but ultimately New York is headed to the World Series this time around, giving Yankee-great, Don Mattingly his first taste of the Fall Classic after being held out of the Postseason altogether for the first 11 seasons of his otherwise illustrious career.
In the National League we get a whole lot more of the same. The NLCS between the Montreal Expos and the Cincinnati Reds, will see the former impose their will on the latter if we’re to believe what we’ve already seen for much of the year. Again this is a Reds team who was able to waltz into the playoffs because of a pretty weak September schedule, and get passed the NLDS strictly because they drew the most favorable possible matchup for themselves. That luck very much runs out against a Montreal Expos team that is a class ahead of them and has already proven it time and again throughout their regular season meetings. The Expos issue a straight sweep of the Reds 4 games to 0, and head to the first World Series in franchise history.
Here’s another fun fact for you: with the Yankees and Expos making it to the World Series, it’s the first of only six times since the Wild Card Era began in baseball that the team from each league with the best record actually plays each other in the World Series. It’s a fact that might astound some, but also proves to be a further testament to the whole “anything can happen” school of thought. For people familiar with the typical argument surrounding the cancellation of the 1994 World Series, you knew that this was where we were headed…
For fans of the Bronx Bombers, there’s a good amount of precedence to declare that with the World Series getting played in ’94, the Yankees would win their 23rd championship (thus bringing their current total up to 28). Despite not having been to the Fall Classic in well over a decade, the Yanks have a very veteran roster that should fare quite well in the bright lights of October baseball.
Fans of the Montreal Expos would argue that from start to finish in 1994, there was no better team in the Major Leagues than the squad from Quebec. Their young and hungry roster would be far more willing to go the distance to bring a World Series ring to the city of Montreal.
Ultimately though, this article has been all about using stats from what we do know about the 1994 campaign to fill in the blanks to follow. The Montreal Expos’ greatest strength in the early going of ’94 was their ability to obliterate left-handed pitching. The Yankees’ rotation is comprised of three lefties with limited options readily available to skip their starts. Add in what felt like the perfectly timed Cinderella-story appeal of the Expos and it’s hard to argue against something that just felt like fate taking the wheel here, in a way that the Washington Nationals saw happen some 25 years later. Plus, how cool would it be to watch Moises Alou collect World Series MVP honors with his father, and Manager, Felipe Alou, right by his side.
The Montreal Expos are your 1994 World Series Champions!
There’s the obvious stuff that can be alluded to here:
- Now with a World Series Championship under their belt, the Montreal Expos’ ownership is less likely to sell off stars likely Moises Alou, Larry Walker and Pedro Martinez so prematurely. Instead keeping them as centerpieces of a contender for years to come.
- The Expos are also probably a lot less likely to relocate to Washington a decade later on account of fans turning out in droves to support them as a winner.
But then there are some more nuanced ramifications from this too, considering the fact that a brand new CBA was about to get negotiated and ratified the following Summer:
- With a team who ranked 22nd in payroll winning the World Series in ’94, the MLBPA has even more leverage to shoot down a proposed Salary Cap, no longer sacrificing on other demands that have crippled the most vulnerable players for years to come.
- Upset about the sub-.500 Athletics making the Postseason (as a division winner no less), and the 98-win Braves getting an unfavorable draw despite having the NL’s second best record, owners and players alike could have unilaterally voted to change the playoff format with the new CBA.
- In this case, the outcomes of every single MLB season since then might be altered depending on where they land with the new rules.
- Without a decrease in fans because of the work stoppage, baseball doesn’t rely so heavily on promoting the stars of the Steroid Era to reignite interest in the game during the late-90s.
- The McGwire-Sosa Home Run chase in ’98 just becomes a fun story for the sport, not an essential means of bringing fans back to the game
- Fewer players get wrapped up in PEDs because those guys aren’t getting touted as heroes of the game nearly as much, potentially including the likes of the “impressionable” Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez who hadn’t yet begun using steroids at this point in their respective careers.
- The subsequent fallout from the scandal is a lot less imposing for the league since a lot more key players weren’t involved, and MLB as a whole did not need to rely so heavily on those who were guilty of using the substances, just to maintain relevance.