Not many people remember where they were August 12, 1994; the date Major League Baseball players went on strike. For me, it’s easy. It was the summer after I graduated high school, and I was in Chicago with my best friend and his pop in the middle of a two-week, 11 baseball stadium tour. We went to Wrigley the day before and were just about done our glorious trip with only two stadiums left to see, when the players went on strike. What they striked for, I bet no one even remembers anymore. The damage they did, I will never forget.
I loved baseball so much back then, that we piled into my crappy car and drove all over the northeast on a shoestring budget. We sat in nose bleed seats, ate horrible food we packed with us, camped in camp grounds and even slept in the car a few nights. Didn’t matter to us, because we got to visit what were cathedrals of the games to us. We heard the strike might start while we were on the road, but didn’t care. Baseball was our passion.
Then the strike hit. We knew it was coming. I guess we were in denial. It was worse than I imagined. We had tickets that weekend to Jacobs Field in Cleveland, which at the time was one of the most state of the art stadiums around. I was so pissed we weren’t going to get to see it. So instead of two more days of baseball nirvana, we packed our bags and drove straight from Chicago back to Jersey. It was horrible. It all began to sink it. Baseball was gone and I had no idea for how long.
I, like most fans, assumed that the owners and players would not be pig-headed enough to let a World Series be cancelled. They couldn’t do that. They played the World Series through two World Wars, but these knuckle heads were stubborn enough to cancel the first one since 1904. It was probably at that moment my perspective as a sports fan changed forever. I realized that sports weren’t just a game. They were a business. It definitely damaged me as a baseball fan.
In the early spring of 1995, MLB owners were ready to start the new season with replacement players, and I was done. Somehow or another, both sides finally came to an agreement. I don’t remember how, and I don’t care.
When the season started I thought everything would go back to normal, and all would be forgiven, but it wasn’t. Something had changed. I don’t know if it was the cancellation of the season, the World Series, the bickering back and forth or just my loss of naiveté, but baseball no longer held the same passion for me any longer. (Probably didn’t help the Phillies flirted with 100 losses the next few season too.) I still watched for a couple more years, but every season, I had less and less enthusiasm until finally it was gone. When the Phillies won the Series in 2008, I was excited for my friends and the city, but my personal level of exuberance was nowhere near the levels I would have a decade and a half before.
Can the same thing happen with the NFL Lockout? I honestly don’t know. I’m much more aware of the business of sports and plenty jaded these days, so that will help (sadly.) It’s just a shame that we have to stare into the abyss again. The NFL had the longest stretch of labor peace of any of the four major sports, and that has helped grow the league into the juggernaut that it is now. My hope is that the owners and players can get their house in order before they ruin my passion for this sport and I have to become a hockey fan.