20 years later: What may have been for Reds, Indians had MLB not gone on strike

Albert Belle and Barry Larkin were key contributors for the Indians and Reds in the truncated 1994 season.

Tuesday marks the 20th anniversary of the day America’s pastime shut down operations and many around the country wept. The 1994 MLB campaign was full of many intriguing storylines that never saw a culmination due to the work stoppage.

In the American League, five teams — the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals – had emerged as pennant contenders. Texas, Seattle, Oakland and California made up a mediocre, to put it kindly, "race" in the AL West, the Rangers the division leader at 52-62. Baseball had also instituted the wild card for the 1994 playoffs (which never ended up being played), as three divisions were formed.

The Indians were one of those serious contenders with a 66-47 record at the time of the stoppage, one game behind the White Sox in the AL Central. It was a tight race in that division, Kansas City just four games back of the division lead.

Cleveland boasted a powerful lineup in that ’94 season, what could have served as the start of a run of success that ultimately began with an American League Championship once play resumed in 1995. Left fielder Albert Belle was absolutely raking with 36 home runs and 101 RBI. He was just one piece of a deep order that included Carlos Baerga, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez and Kenny Lofton, who was a terror on the basepaths with 60 stolen bases in the 112 games played.

Yes, this team had plenty of potential to make some noise had a postseason been played. The Indians held sole possession of the league lead in hits (1,165), runs (679), home runs (167), and RBI (647). They were tied with the Yankees for the AL’s best batting average (.290).  

Chicago excelled with the league’s best team ERA — and only one under four. Cleveland boasted two top-line starters in Dennis Martinez (11-6, 3.52 ERA) and Charles Nagy (10-8, 3.45 ERA). Kansas City’s David Cone and Baltimore’s Mike Mussina were two of the best pitchers on contenders, each 16-5 with low ERA. Seattle’s Randy Johnson, however, was probably the AL’s most fearsome man on the mound with 204 strikeouts in 172 innings pitched. To put that number in perspective, the rest of the Mariners starting rotation had 256 strikeouts combined.

However, baseball’s best team and prohibitive World Series favorite, the Montreal Expos, also resided in the National League.

INDIANS ON SPORTSTIME OHIO

That Montreal team had sluggers like Moises Alou and Larry Walker, as well as an imposing starting rotation headed by Pedro Martinez but which went four deep with Ken Hill, Jeff Fassero and Butch Henry also putting up very good numbers. At the time play stopped, Montreal boasted baseball’s best record at 74-40.

Davey Johnson’s Reds were no slouch though and would likely have been a main competitor had the season continued. Six members of the Reds lineup – Hal Morris, Bret Boone, Barry Larkin, Tony Fernandez, Kevin Mitchell and Reggie Sanders – had 50 or more RBI, putting Cincinnati just a few behind Houston for the league lead. The Reds fronted the league in hits and runs scored.

Greg Maddux had an eye-popping 1.56 ERA in 25 starts for the Braves, helping Atlanta to be right there with Montreal in pitching prowess. Thanks to the Wild Card both the Braves and Expos would have had a good chance at postseason play despite being in the same division.

The Reds did not have the marquee names of Maddux, Glavine or Martinez on their pitching staff but Jose Rijo was a strong No. 1 starter and Chuck Ruffin was having a career year in the bullpen to complement reliable ninth-inning option Jeff Brantley.

REDS ON FOX SPORTS OHIO

While both the Indians and Reds were in close division races and no sure bet to advance to postseason play, their hopes would have benefitted from the addition of the Wild Card. They may not have been the top threats to win the Fall Classic when the ’94 campaign came to a halt but they were in the mix among contenders. Come October possibilities are limitless, so the idea of an I-71 World Series would not have been all that far-fetched had baseball continued into the fall of ’94.