Everyone came up a loser in the season-ending baseball strike, but no one more so than Padre rightfielder Tony Gwynn. His loss was not so much financial—Gwynn, who makes $3.5 million a year, says, "I've been saving for this for two years"—as it was missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He was denied a chance to do what no major leaguer has done since 1941, what no National Leaguer has done since '30: hit .400.
Gwynn was hitting .394 when the strike began on Aug. 12, and San Diego still had a total of 18 games left against the woeful pitching staffs of the Cardinals, Cubs, Marlins and Rockies. "I'm not as frustrated about not hitting .400 as I am about not getting to play," Gwynn says. "I love baseball. I miss it."
Gwynn says hitting .400 requires perfect conditions. Well, this was his year: His swing was grooved, the pitching was often horrendous, and it appeared he would head into September healthy for the first time in five years. "It could have been a dream season," he says, "but the issues are more important."
It could have been a dream season for many players, but their accomplishments before the strike won't go unrecognized. The Baseball Writers' Association of America, whose vote determines the winners of major individual awards in both leagues, decided in July to cast ballots as usual, even if the season was shortened. Seconding that motion, we present our picks for the '94 awards.
September 25, 1994
Most Valuable Player
American League: tie, Frank Thomas of the White Sox and Albert Belle of the Indians. They had nearly identical statistics—Thomas: .353, 38 homers, 101 RBIs; Belle: .357, 36, 101—and it's too close to call. National League: Jeff Bagwell of the Astros was on pace to hit .368 with 57 homers and 166 RBIs when he broke his right wrist on Aug. 10. The only player who ever had a season that good was Babe Ruth, in 1921.
AL: David Cone of the Royals, who was 16-5 with a 2.94 ERA and a .209 average against, gets the tough nod over the Yankees' Jimmy Key (17-4, 3.27). NL: With a 16-6 record and a 1.56 ERA, Greg Maddux of the Braves deserves to become the first pitcher to win this award three straight years. The next best ERA in the league was 2.74.
Rookie of the Year
AL: The Royals' Bob Hamelin, a.k.a. the Hammer (24 homers, 65 RBIs), should have been brought in to pound some sense into the negotiators for both sides. NL: The Dodgers' Raul Mondesi hit .306 with 16 homers and 56 RBIs and had more assists (16) than any other outfielder in the majors.
Manager of the Year
AL: The Yankees' Buck Showalter purposely attracted the heat and pressure from the local media, freeing his players of that distraction and making New York an easy place to play. NL: The Expos' Felipe Alou, whose team had the best record in the majors (74-40) despite also having the second-lowest payroll.
Juiced Ball Note of the Year
Eight players hit three homers in a game during this abbreviated season, including Darnell Coles of the Blue Jays, who finished with a total of four, and Cory Snyder of the Dodgers, who wound up with six. Although 669 regular-season games were lost to the strike, the only seasons in which there were more players with three-homer games were 1987 (15), '79 (11) and '50 (12).
Player with The Worst Timing
Rocky pitcher Jim Czajkowski, 30, spent nine years in the minors, playing for 12 teams, before finally getting called up to the big leagues on July 28. He pitched 8⅖ innings in five appearances, then had to go on strike and miss collecting the rest of his prorated major league minimum salary of $109,000. Now Czajkowski, his wife and two kids are living with his wife's grandmother in Sevierville, Tenn.
Players Happiest To Be Released
Mitch Williams was cut by the Astros in May, and Jack Morris was axed by the Indians in August, but both pitchers were paid their entire season's salary—$2.5 million and $350,000 plus incentives, respectively. Had they stuck with their teams until the strike, they would have missed three paychecks like everyone else.
Managers Most Affected By the Strike
The Royals" Hal McRae, whose team (64-51) was four games behind the White Sox in the American League Central race when the players walked out, lost the chance to save his job with a run at Chicago in September and was fired last Thursday. On the other hand, the manager helped most by the strike was the Rangers' Kevin Kennedy, whose club had lost six straight leading up to the strike and was on the verge of coughing up its lead in the American League West. Had Texas (52-62) played on and blown its chance of winning that pathetic division, he probably would have been canned too. As it was, Ranger general manager Tom Grieve got the boot last Friday.
Player Who Benefited Most from a Short Season
Twin pitcher Jim Deshaies had a 7.39 ERA and was on pace to pitch at least 162 innings, the minimum needed to qualify for the ERA title. Les Sweetland, who had a 7.71 ERA in 1930, is the only pitcher ever to have a higher ERA over 162 innings or more.
Player with the Worst Negotiating Skills
Ranger pitcher and team player representative Kevin Brown was so obnoxious in meetings with the owners that he may have cost himself a bundle on the free-agent market. One American League executive said his team was interested in Brown—until the pitcher yelled at a couple of owners. Brown's value on the open market also wasn't helped by the fact that the opposition batted .314 against him this year.
Best Slogan of the Year
Major League Baseball: No Balls and a Strike.