Throughout our hopefully short time without real live games, we’ll be taking a weekly look back at a specific year in baseball history. What happened, why it mattered, what we’ll remember most. Send us the years you’d most like us to talk about at [email protected].
ALDS: SEA over NYY in 5; CLE over BOS in 3
NLDS: ATL over COL in 4, CIN over LAD in 3
ALCS: CLE over SEA in 6
NLCS: ATL over CIN in 4
World Series Winner: ATL over CLE in 6
MVPs: AL: Mo Vaughn, BOS; NL: Barry Larkin, CIN
Cy Youngs: AL: Randy Johnson, SEA; NL: Greg Maddux, ATL
Rookies of the Year: AL: Marty Cordova, MIN; NL: Hideo Nomo, LAD
All-MLB Team (chosen by me, in 2020):
1B: Frank Thomas, White Sox
2B: Chuck Knoblauch, Twins
SS: John Valentin, Red Sox
3B: Jim Thome, Indians
OF: Barry Bonds, Giants
OF: Albert Belle, Indians
OF: Tim Salmon, Angels
C: Mike Piazza, Dodgers
DH: Edgar Martinez, Mariners
SP: Greg Maddux, Braves
SP: Randy Johnson, Mariners
SP: Hideo Nomo, Dodgers
SP: Mike Mussina, Orioles
RP: Jose Mesa, Indians
RP: Tom Henke, Cardinals
If any year of the last 25 baseball seasons has been in large part forgotten by history, it’s probably 1995. The reasons for that aren’t difficult to figure out. The '94 season famously ended in August, thanks to the strike and players and owners being unable to come to an agreement in time to save the World Series. But that cancellation did not fix all the labor problems, and we were very close to the '95 season beginning with replacement players. The day before the season was set to begin, the strike ended, and baseball commenced in late April, with the season shortened to 144 games.
It is no surprise then that fans took a while to come back to the game. Attendance dropped by roughly 6,000 fans a game from the previous season, to 25,021 fans a game, a number baseball hasn’t fallen to since. Two games on Opening Day were delayed because of fans throwing objects on the field. It was an ugly scene.
It was all understandable, but it did obscure that 1995 was actually a rather terrific baseball season. Cal Ripken passing Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak is correctly credited with being the sort of big-tent event that brought some fans back, but it was far from the only awesome baseball thing that happened in '95. Hideo Nomo took the league by storm, becoming the first Japanese player in MLB in 30 years and pitching like he’d been there for ages. Coors Field opened and was absolutely crazy in a way baseball still hasn’t entirely gotten accustomed to. The Wild Card made its debut. We saw one of the more controversial MVP votes in history. And we watched Greg Maddux, one of the best pitchers in baseball history, have perhaps his greatest season.
Baseball would recover in the years ahead, thanks in part to Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, some incredible World Series, an explosion in international attention and to baseball just generally being great and thus able to overcome any temporary bad vibes. But 1995 was the year that had to suffer. It was a terrific season -- it may have just taken us 25 years to realize it.
Here are 10 other fun factoids from the 1995 baseball season:
- The opening of Coors Field had all sorts of surprises to it. After playing two seasons at Mile High Stadium, which had the same thin air as Coors Field but with massive dimensions and a huge center-field fence, the Rockies discovered quickly that their new digs were decidedly different than everyone else’s. The Rockies instantly became one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball, with home runs not just way up but triples and doubles as well. In only their third season, the Rockies rode this wave of offense -- thanks in large part to Dante Bichette, Vinny Castilla and offseason acquisition Larry Walker -- to the franchise's first playoff berth, losing to the Braves in the NLDS, 3-1. In many ways, we are still trying to figure out Coors Field.
- After having their incredible 1994 season stopped by the strike, the Montreal Expos traded their best players, claiming financial hardship. Walker went to the Rockies; Marquis Grissom went to the Braves; John Wetteland went to the Yankees; Ken Hill went to the Cardinals. This is widely considered the beginning of the end for baseball in Montreal; the team went 66-78 in '95 after going 74-40 in '94, and the franchise wouldn’t play a postseason game again until 2012, when they were the Washington Nationals.
- This was the most thrilling season to date for the Seattle Mariners. Even with Ken Griffey Jr. hampered by a wrist injury he suffered while leaping for a ball in center field, the Mariners won the AL West, beating the Angels in a one-game tiebreaker. Thanks in large part to an incredible season from Edgar Martinez, excellent years from Tino Martinez and Jay Buhner and a Cy Young performance from Randy Johnson, the Mariners were headed to the postseason. They faced the Yankees in the ALDS -- more on them, and on the concept of an ALDS, in a moment -- and famously won on a walk-off double from Martinez in Game 5, as Griffey crossed the plate and the Kingdome went nuts.
My favorite part of that clip remains the first two people to grab Griffey: Alex Rodriguez and Vince Coleman. It was the first postseason appearance in Mariners history; they’d end up losing to the Indians in the ALCS.
- Ah, yes, the ALDS. This was the first year for a Division Series because it was the first year of the Wild Card. Remember, 1994 was supposed to be the first year of the Wild Card, but … you know. Instead, the Wild Card teams were the Rockies and the Yankees, the latter of whom clinched their first postseason berth in 14 (!) years on the final day of the regular season. This was widely seen as a victory for Don Mattingly, who had the misfortune of playing for the Yankees during their weakest era ever. Mattingly was terrific in his one postseason appearance, hitting .417 in the ALDS. He sat out the next season, when the Yankees won the World Series, and ended up never playing again.
- Another sad Yankees moment from 1995: The death of legend Mickey Mantle on Aug. 13. In June, suffering from liver cancer, Mantle received a liver transplant, and in July he gave a press conference in which he looked frail and said, “This is a role model: Don't be like me.” He re-entered the hospital shortly thereafter and died the next month.
- The best team in 1995, postseason aside, was unquestionably the Cleveland Indians, a team with an offense that led the Majors in every major offensive category except one: strikeouts (they were last in strikeouts.) The offense had stars everywhere -- Hall of Famers Jim Thome (who played third base) and Eddie Murray, alongside Manny Ramirez, Carlos Baerga, Omar Vizquel and Kenny Lofton -- but the biggest star was Albert Belle, who somehow hit over 50 homers and 50 doubles (the only player to ever do that) despite the shortened season. The rotation was incredible too, with Dennis Martinez, Chad Ogea, Orel Hershiser and Charles Nagy, and relief pitcher Jose Mesa, who had 46 saves with a 1.13 ERA, finishing second in the Cy Young Award vote. The Indians also clinched their division earlier than any team in the history of the sport. And yet, in the World Series …
- The Atlanta Braves finally won what turned out to be their only World Series. This wasn’t one of the best Braves teams -- though they were on a 100-win pace -- but it featured perhaps Maddux’s best season and a peak year from Ryan Klesko, of all people. (This was also Mark Wohlers' one amazing year as a closer.) The Braves finished off the upset of the Indians in the World Series, though there are many Georgia residents who can’t help but connect the title with the one time Steve Spurrier and Florida ever played at Sanford Stadium and put 55 points on the Bulldogs, which happened the same day. Even when Atlanta fans win, it can feel like they lost. (You’ll often see this referred to as the most recent title in major Atlanta sports history, unless you count Atlanta United’s 2018 MLS title, which you should.)
- This season had the most unconventional broadcasting arrangement, thanks to the ill-fated The Baseball Network. The Baseball Network was a partnership between NBC and ABC, and the two networks actually traded off broadcasting World Series games; you had Bob Costas, Joe Morgan and Bob Uecker doing Games 2, 3 and 6 and Al Michaels, Jim Palmer and Tim McCarver doing Games 1, 4 and 5. It was … odd. Even worse, postseason games were not shown nationally, which meant if you didn’t live in the Yankees' geographic area, you physically could not watch their ALDS games. The Baseball Network was dissolved after this season.
- The most famous baseball player of the time also retired from the sport this year: Michael Jordan gave up his baseball dreams and rejoined the Chicago Bulls. His career Minor League slash line: .202/.289/.266. He did steal 30 bases, and was probably better at baseball than given credit for.
- Ultimately, this year, justifiably, belonged to Ripken. His breaking of Gehrig’s consecutive games record was the biggest story in sports and a balm for a sport that desperately need some mending of its wounds. The President of the United States was in the broadcast booth, the entire country was watching and then he hit this home run:
True baseball fans were always going to come back after the strike. But Cal made it easy. He reminded everyone why they all watched in the first place.
Send me the year you’d love to have me write about at [email protected].