Owner-player relations in Major League Baseball were bad far before they reached their boiling point in 1994. It was during the great strike of ’94 that baseball lost its World Series, and the trust of many fans, for the first time in ninety years.
The strike of 1994 was inevitable due to the rocky relations between the union and the ‘Lords’.
The players had been worked over by the owners on many occasions. The testy relationship can date back to the days of collusion. Under Commissioner Peter Ueberroth’s control, the MLB owners made a pact to not sign free agents without notifying one another. This effectively downsized the free agent contracts signed that year. This is just one example of the owners and players having an all but smooth relationship.
Relations amongst the owners even began to deteriorate as they fought over revenue-sharing. The ‘have-nots’, or small market teams, in baseball were fighting to get a piece of the television contracts owned by the large market teams. In general, baseball was in panic mode as the 1994 season began to wind down.
With the faxed-in signatures of 26 of the 28 MLB owners, baseball officially went on strike. The main reason being that the owners were pushing for a salary cap and the players, rightfully so, stood their ground.
The players didn’t want to be caught in the same predicament as NFL players. Due to the NFL’s salary cap veteran players were just a piece of property. Phil Simms was abruptly cut by the New York Giants after he was told his 2.5 million dollar salary wouldn’t fit under the team’s salary cap.
The players had seen their salaries and contracts tinkered with all the way back to the days of the reserve clause and collusion, they weren’t about sign on with the Lord’s salary cap idea.
The owners did attempt to keep the season going without a salary cap. They proposed the idea to the union of a luxury tax. This graduated luxury tax would tax those teams who were a certain percentage (20 percent and above) above the average payroll.
While this would have effectively avoided the salary cap, it could have very well had the same results to the players. The larger market teams would be hesitant to sign that big name free agent knowing that they would be taxed up to 75 percent for their spending.
This would have driven down player’s salaries once again as teams wouldn’t be as willing to outbid each other, in fear of getting taxed. This is why union leader Don Fehr shot down the idea.
The players even tried to compromise with the greedy owners. They offered a plan that would tax the sixteen richest clubs at 1.5 percent each. This would generate around 50 million dollars for the small-market teams. The Lord’s own plan derived 70 million dollars for the have-nots. The Lord’s shot it down.
This was the last straw for the union. “We made a good offer,” union lawyer Lauren Rich said in Lords of the Realm. “If you want something from us that gives you a substantial deterrent to signing players, you don’t get it.”
And with that, baseball gave up on the 1994 season, a season that had potential for record-breaking greatness. But, due to the Lord’s unwillingness to compromise, selfishness, and greed, baseball fans were left with a bitter taste in their mouth as a major blow was suffered to the national pastime.