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A World With No Strike

Yesterday, I discussed my belief that the strike in 1994 was the overriding factor in bringing the Royals to the point they are today. What seemed like a building team had to be quickly dismantled after a strong 2/3 season in 1994 to the point that it was beginning to get unrecognizable. The first shoe that offseason dropped on April 5, 1995 when Brian McRae was traded to the Cubs for Geno Morones and Derek Wallace. Then, the next day was the biggest trade of them all. The Royals traded David Cone for a second time, and while the return this time was greater than Ed Hearn, it was only slightly so. They received David Sinnes, Tony Medrano and Chris Stynes in return. To give Stynes some credit, he stuck around for awhile as a utility man and put together a decent career. Not enough to warrant the reigning Cy Young Award winner, but I feel like he gets a bad rap or maybe gets no rap. The Royals also lost Mike MacFarlane to free agency a couple of days after the Cone trade.

They wouldn’t be in terrible, terrible shape in 1995 because they still had some good players on the roster and some talent in the minors in a young Johnny Damon and Mike Sweeney among others. That’s not the point, though. What would have happened had the strike never occurred? My guess is baseball wouldn’t look too terribly different as the economy’s boom of the 1990s contributed a little bit to the salary surge that the Royals were left out of due to not having an owner, but I believe that being able to keep the strong parts of that 1994 team together would have changed the Royals fortunes in a big way.

To begin, we have no way of knowing for certain how the division would have shaken out. For the sake of argument, let’s just say that the teams in the division progressed accordingly and the Royals finished in third place with 90 wins. The Indians (95 wins) and the White Sox (96 wins) would have finished ahead of the team. What kind of revenues, though, would a pennant race have brought the organization. Could it have been enough? My guess is it would have been. The Royals would have regained some of their recognition throughout the great plains in terms of team apparel. It was around this time that interest in places like Nebraska and Oklahoma were beginning to wane, and a big pennant race would have gone a long way to quell that.

Not to backtrack, but what if the Royals had won the division? It’s not that far out of the realm of possibility. With the American League West a true graveyard of talent in 1994 and the wild card presumably coming out of the Central, the Royals would have faced the ten games under .500 Texas Rangers in the first round. There are obviously no certainties in baseball, but a rotation headed by Cone and Appier could have dismantled that team easily. Moving on to face the Yankees would have been a challenge, but the Royals matched up well with them that year. We could have been looking at another World Series appearance, maybe an MVP award for Bob Hamelin, the works. How would baseball history have been altered if there had been a Royals/Expos World Series?

The revenue that would have been earned by the team during that pennant chase and playoff run would have been enough to accomplish two things. One – it would have given the Royals the revenue to keep their team together for the strike shortened 1995 season. Two – it would have been enough to find a buyer for the team rather than having to wait for David Glass to step forward when no acceptable bidders were present. Before I go on, I should say that I have no problem with David Glass as an owner now, but in the early days of him running and then owning the team, it was done so poorly that he is mostly to blame for the disaster this organization has become. So maybe the Royals don’t have to trade Cone or McRae. Maybe they can re-sign MacFarlane. Maybe they’re able to trade for a big bat to play left field or even right field where rookie Jon Nunnaly was forced into action as a Rule V pick.

One point I haven’t touched on yet is Bob Hamelin and how the strike adversely impacted his career. Royals fans remember how good Bob Hamelin was in 1994. He was a legitimately amazing hitter. He had power, he worked walks, he did it all. Well he couldn’t run because he was a portly fellow, but he was a fantastic hitter. When baseball struck, Bob Hamelin got fat. He was never in fantastic shape, as I mentioned before, but he was in good enough shape to be a great hitter. The Rookie of the Year award in 1994 went to Hamelin over a guy by the name of Manny Ramirez. Not only was he the deserving winner, but people thought he might be the better hitter over the next few years. He lost it all by not focusing on baseball that off-season. He had a dismal .168/.278/.313 line the next season. He bounced back a little in 1996 and 1997, but was never really the same and didn’t play another game after 1998.

Whatever happened, it was pretty clear that the Royals would not be able to compete with the Indians in 1995. They were an absolute juggernaut going 100-44 in the strike shortened season before losing to the Braves in the World Series. The Royals finished nine games out of the wild card, though, and it’d be tough to argue with them as a possibility to make the playoffs as the wild card with the roster they’d be able to have put together including a presumably productive Bob Hamelin. I don’t think it’s too ridiculous to think that the 70-74 record could have easily turned into 80-64.

Can you imagine what those two playoff births could have done for the franchise? Keep in mind that the Royals were on the cusp of producing guys like Johnny Damon, Mike Sweeney, Carlos Beltran, Michael Tucker (let’s assume he’s still traded for Dye) and would actually have money to spend. A quick look about 250 miles east of Kansas City could give you an idea of what kind of success we could be having. At the time of the strike, it was the Royals who were the team in Missouri in better shape. Winning does a lot for an organization. It brings money and it causes players to want to be a part of what your organization has to offer. I can’t sit here and say that the Royals have only the strike to blame for their last 15 years of incompetence, but it was most certainly a driving force to bring the baseball that we watch day in and day out.

Sadly, we don’t live in a world where baseball did not strike. It forced a lot of fans away from the game or on the brink of away from the game, and without data I have a sneaking suspicion that the disdain for the game hit Kansas City harder than most places. Midwesterners tend to take umbrage with people who fight for every last penny when the next penny simply adds another zero that they think will never even be needed, and that was the perception at the time. People believed that baseball players were money hungry and greedy, and that’s a huge turnoff to a guy who maybe has to work two jobs in order to give his family things they need or maybe buy four tickets to take his family to see these people who play a game for a living. I’m 100% positive that the strike was terrible for the Royals and worse for them than most teams. 16 years later, it’s kind of fun to think about what once could have been, though.

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