Today is the 20th anniversary of one of the most infamous events in American sports history … the start of the major league baseball players’ strike in 1994 … a strike which ended the season without playoffs or a World Series for the only time in MLB history … and which denied San Diego Padres right fielder Tony Gwynn a shot at a .400 season (he was batting .394 at the time of the strike) … and San Francisco Giants third baseman Matt Williams a chance to break Babe Ruth’s single season home run record (Williams had 43 when the strike ended the season).
It was a sad day for all baseball fans … many of whom … myself included … said that if the players ruined the season, they would never come back. Most didn’t mean it … or at least didn’t follow through … but I did.
I became a baseball fan in 1952, when my paternal grandfather began taking me to Brooklyn Dodgers games. My Dad was a Yankees fan … but he had to work most days during the summers … and Grandpa was free to go to Ebbets Field whenever he wanted. It was a short trip for me from my hometown of Lindenhurst, on the south shore of Long Island, to meet with him in Jamaica Station … and then for the two of us to take the subway to Brooklyn.
I was fortunate to see the Brooklyn Dodgers at their very best … National League championships in 1952, 1953, 1955 and 1956 … and, for the first time since they were the Brooklyn Robins in 1920, World Series winners in 1955.
Not only could I recite the Dodgers lineup from memory, I knew the batting averages, home run totals and won-lost records for the Dodgers stars. My favorite players were right fielder Carl Furillo and center fielder Duke Snider, but not far behind were the rest of the stars … shortstop PeeWee Reese, first baseman Gil Hodges, second baseman Jim Gilliam, third baseman Jackie Robinson, catcher Roy Campanella, and pitchers Carl Erskine, Johnny Podres and Don Newcombe.
We saw many great games, though not always great for the Dodgers … we were there when Erskine threw a no-hitter against the hated New York Giants on May 12, 1956 …
… and on July 31, 1954, when Milwaukee Braves first baseman Joe Adcock set a major league record for total bases in a nine inning game by hitting four home runs and a double … and missed hitting five home runs by less than a foot, as the line drive double hit the top of the outfield wall.
When I was not at a Dodgers game in those days, I often watched them on TV or listened to the game on the radio … and I still remember watching Podres pitch a 2-0 win over the Yankees in the deciding game of the 1955 series … the final play of which was a ground ball by Yankees catcher Elston Howard to Reese, who flipped the ball to Hodges at first to end the game.
I was heart-broken when I learned that the Dodgers were moving to Los Angeles after the 1957 season … but remained a fan until my family moved to Southern California in 1964 and I was able to attend games at Dodger Stadium while on my summer leaves from West Point. Then, in 1969, I moved to Southern California myself and once again attended Dodgers games on a regular basis …
… until I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1985. Living in the Bay Area meant that opportunities to see the Dodgers in person were limited … but I (now accompanied by my wife Sandy and kids, Doug, Matt, Risa & Sean) made it to as many Dodgers-Giants games at Candlestick Park as we could manage … and two of the last three games of the 1988 World Series games against the Oakland A’s at the Oakland Coliseum.
In 1986, my brother Jerry had a business friend set up a meeting with Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda …
… which included a visit to the Dodgers locker room for Jerry, Doug & I … and marked the start of a series of annual dinners with Tommy during Dodgers visits to San Francisco … dinners at the famous Fior d’Italia restaurant … to which Tommy always brought players and coaches … including Orel Hershiser, Kirk Gibson, Billy Russell, Mike Scioscia, Joe Ferguson, Mickey Hatcher and many others.
We continued attending Dodgers-Giants games up to and including the 1994 season … in May of which the Dodgers played a four game set against the Giants … and we made all four games … and enjoyed a visit after the first game with Tommy, Hershiser, Russell and the incomparable Vin Scully. I had to miss the first two games of a three game set in July … but attended a 4-1 loss to the Giants on July 27, 1994. Little did I know that it would be the last major league baseball game I would ever see.
As the players and owners approached the strike deadline of August 12, 1994, hard-core fans were adamantly opposed to the strike … but neither the players nor the owners appeared to care at all about what the fans thought … I was prepared to accept a short strike, followed by resumption of the season … but told my kids that if the players struck and ended the season, I would not forgive and forget.
They did … and I didn’t … the season was ruined … no playoffs, no World Series … animosity and acrimony dominating the conversation on both sides. And when it was finally announced that the season was being cancelled, I said, “that’s it, I’m done”.
Done I was. I have not been to a major league baseball game since. I have not watched a game on TV or listened to one on the radio … baseball was dead to me … in recent years, I couldn’t name a single Dodgers player … I have no idea which team won the World Series last year … or any other year since 1993 … and don’t care.
There is, however, a bright side to what is otherwise a sad story … I took the zeal with which I had rooted for the Dodgers for more than 40 years … and transferred it to No. 1 son Doug’s alma mater football team … the California Golden Bears.
We have now been attending Cal football games since Doug was a football team manager during the 1991 and 1992 seasons … rarely missing a home game … and traveling to many away games.
So, all I have left to say now is …