Baseball Strike Forces Cancellation of the World Series Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Unresolved issues between Major League Baseball’s players’ union and the league’s team owners led to a lengthy labor strike that did considerable economic and public relations damage to the sport of professional baseball.

Summary of Event

One of the most significant events in the history of American professional baseball began on August 12, 1994, when the players’ union instituted a labor strike that resulted in the cancellation of the 1994 World Series. From the 1880’s onward, there had been a long history of labor distrust between professional baseball players and their teams’ owners, who were concerned with the teams’ financial business. Players wanted the freedom that other kinds of workers have to negotiate their own wages with their employers, the team ownership. The owners wanted to keep good players on their teams and to keep player salaries low to promote the financial stability and profits of their organizations. Labor strikes;Major League Baseball Major League Baseball;labor strikes Sports;baseball Baseball World Series (baseball) [kw]Baseball Strike Forces Cancellation of the World Series (Aug. 12, 1994-Apr. 2, 1995) [kw]Strike Forces Cancellation of the World Series, Baseball (Aug. 12, 1994-Apr. 2, 1995) [kw]Cancellation of the World Series, Baseball Strike Forces (Aug. 12, 1994-Apr. 2, 1995) [kw]World Series, Baseball Strike Forces Cancellation of the (Aug. 12, 1994-Apr. 2, 1995) Labor strikes;Major League Baseball Major League Baseball;labor strikes Sports;baseball Baseball World Series (baseball) [g]North America;Aug. 12, 1994-Apr. 2, 1995: Baseball Strike Forces Cancellation of the World Series[08950] [g]United States;Aug. 12, 1994-Apr. 2, 1995: Baseball Strike Forces Cancellation of the World Series[08950] [c]Sports;Aug. 12, 1994-Apr. 2, 1995: Baseball Strike Forces Cancellation of the World Series[08950] [c]Business and labor;Aug. 12, 1994-Apr. 2, 1995: Baseball Strike Forces Cancellation of the World Series[08950] Fehr, Donald Selig, Bud

The Major League Baseball strike that began in 1994 occurred specifically because television revenues for the rights to cover league games were fluctuating at the same time player salaries were rising at a significant rate. The owners wanted to stabilize their business income and profits, and they proposed a collective bargaining agreement with the players that included a salary cap (a financial limit on each team’s total payroll), elimination of players’ rights to salary arbitration (negotiation of salary), and a change in the free agency Free agency (baseball) rules (the rules governing players’ freedom to sign with teams of their own choice). The owners’ proposal, which was officially revealed on June 14, 1994, would guarantee a record $1 billion in salary and benefits to the players. The owners claimed that their proposal would raise the average player salary from $1.2 million in 1994 to $2.6 million by 2001.

On behalf of the players, attorney Donald Fehr, managing director of the players’ union, the Major League Baseball Players Association, Major League Baseball Players Association rejected the owners’ offer on July 18. On July 28, the union’s executive board approved August 12, 1994, as the date for a strike. The players refused to play as of that date, and no games were played the entire rest of the season. On September 14, 1994, the acting commissioner of Major League Baseball, Bud Selig, officially called off the season and the 1994 World Series.

For several months after the season was canceled, the owners kept up their pressure on the players by first imposing a salary cap. Lawyers for the players’ union objected to this move and formally appealed to the National Labor Relations Board National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), an independent agency of the executive branch of the federal government that administers labor laws and prevents or alleviates unfair labor practices by private employers and unions. The NLRB forced the owners to remove the salary cap provision by threatening the owners with legal action.

In February, 1995, the owners eliminated the players’ rights to salary arbitration, free agent bidding, and anticollusion rules (rules that would prevent the owners from agreeing on set salaries for the players). Again, the players’ lawyers appealed to the NLRB, and the NLRB filed an injunction, which was granted by a U.S. district court on March 31, 1995. The court ordered the owners to operate on the provisions of the old contract until a new labor agreement could be reached between the players’ union and the owners. Given this decision, the union ended the strike promptly, and on April 2, 1995, the owners accepted the players’ offer to begin playing without a new agreement and to continue negotiations.

At the beginning of spring training in 1995, the team owners had tried to take action to play the coming season with substitute players, but the settlement of the players’ strike ended those plans. Most analysts of baseball agreed that this move would not have been successful for the owners in any case.


The 1994-1995 Major League Baseball strike was the longest players’ strike in sports labor history up to that time. Because of the strike, 921 games were canceled, 669 in the 1994 season and 252 in the 1995 season. The financial loss suffered by the league as a result of the games not played, including the World Series, was estimated to be $580 million; it was estimated that the players lost $230 million in salaries.

The cancellation of the 1994 World Series was especially disappointing to a huge number of baseball fans. The strike disgusted a great many fans, who saw it as a case of millionaire owners fighting over money with wealthy athletes who were making ten times or more the salary of the average American worker to play a game in a huge ballpark for television audiences. After the strike ended, baseball stadiums saw a significant reduction in spectator attendance, and the numbers did not recover until the 2000 season.

Some experts have argued that the role of the commissioner of Major League Baseball changed somewhat as a result of the strike. Although the commissioner is chosen by a vote of team owners, after the strike, Bud Selig (officially voted commissioner in 1998, after six years as acting commissioner) seemed to see his role in labor disputes as a more neutral one; in the past, the commissioner had typically sided with the owners in any labor matters.

Experts also believe that athletes and team owners in other sports took notice of the economic and public relations damage caused by the baseball strike and resolved to avoid the same mistake in their own sports. Owners and players alike started to believe that it was not in the best interest of their sports to try to win a labor war. Instead, they began to focus on dividing revenue fairly, especially the hundreds of millions of dollars from television coverage. Labor strikes;Major League Baseball Major League Baseball;labor strikes Sports;baseball Baseball World Series (baseball)

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Abrams, Roger I. Legal Bases: Baseball and the Law. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998. Explains in relatively simple terms the labor and law influences that affect professional baseball.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Helyar, John. Lords of the Realm: The Real History of Baseball. New York: Villard, 1994. Discusses player-owner labor relations and the development of baseball as big business.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Korr, Charles P. The End of Baseball as We Knew It: The Players Union, 1960-1981. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002. Presents a historical examination of the evolution of the Major League Baseball Players Association from a loose group of players into a powerful and successful labor union that significantly changed the business of professional baseball.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Snyder, Brad. A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood’s Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports. New York: Viking Press, 2006. Provides an account of baseball player Curt Flood’s failed lawsuit against the owners of Major League Baseball.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Zimbalist, Andrew. May the Best Team Win: Baseball Economics and Public Policy. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2003. An economics professor examines the history and dynamics of the financial prosperity of professional baseball and how the economics of the game affects its popularity and the prices paid by fans.

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Categories: History