Sports Law Blog
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Thursday, August 12, 2004

Ten Years Ago... today marked the beginning of baseball's worst labor dispute, the strike that caused the cancellation of the 1994 World Series and sent the game into a tailspin.

Everyone knows the negative impacts it had on the game. Attendance dropped precipitously, from a record 31,000 a game in 1993 down to a low of 25,000. Fans left the game in droves and found other sports and activities to occupy their time. Television ratings plummeted, including for the post-season. Only a number of gimmicks, including the wild card and interleague play, combined with the feel-good stories of Cal Ripken and Sosa/McGwire, helped fuel the resurgence. And the game has rebounded: attendance is back up and people are once again paying attention to the sport.

But the real question is: did the strike solve anything? The owners did not get the salary cap they so desperately wanted. In fact, salaries have continued to escalate, driving a larger wedge in between the large and small market teams. The luxury tax has proven largely ineffective in deterring spending by teams like the Yankees and Braves.

But, on the other hand, perhaps the strike of 1994 taught the game a lesson. The labor negotiations that followed were the first in 23 years not to result in a strike or a lock-out. And, despite the monetary divide, teams are being smarter with their money, and a number of small-market teams are competing for division leads and wild card crowns. It almost seems, as Murray Chass states, that baseball is flourishing in the early 21st century.

But have the sides really learned anything? Yes, there has been no work stoppage since 1994, but players and owners often have a short memory when it comes to labor history. While I doubt there will be another cancellation of the World Series, from which the game would be hard-pressed to recover, there is little doubt that another strike or lock-out will occur in the near future. Players will demand more money. Owners will demand more money. And fans will again be faced with the question: do we care that there is no baseball?