The Blackhawks, the White Sox, and making it right

Say the word “strike” to a White Sox fan and see how they react.  Chances are, they will go off on an extended rant about how the baseball strike of 1994 ruined the team’s best opportunity to win the World Series since 1959.  The Sox were expected to be just as good when play resumed in 1995.  That didn’t happen.  The team underachieved for the rest of the decade, and the franchise spent tens of millions of dollars trying to recapture the fans who walked away from the game after August 12, 1994.

Does the baseball strike still exist in Cleveland?  Of course not.  The Indians trailed the White Sox by one game in the AL Central when play stopped.   The Tribe won 100 games in 1995 and reached the World Series.  They were AL Central champs from 1995-1999.  Thanks to Jim Thome, Carlos Baerga, Omar Vizquel, and Manny Ramirez, the Indians sold out every game from June 12, 1995 through April 4, 2001.

A half decade’s worth of dominance, and two AL Pennants did a fine job of wiping out the bitterness from the strike.  In Chicago, the bad feelings from the strike lingered through 2005, when the Sox finally won the World Series that was denied to them 11 years earlier.

The Blackhawks are doing what the White Sox could not do 18 years ago…and that is make things right after a work stoppage.  The streak of 24 games (and counting) without a regulation loss has caused the NHL lockout to disappear.

Seriously, does anyone remember the lockout?  It only ended a month ago.   Blackhawks fans could have held a grudge.  After all, the fighting between owners and players knocked out nearly half the season.

All is forgiven.

WBEZ sports reporter Cheryl Raye Stout says the streak saved the NHL…in addition to the Blackhawks.

  “There may be some doubters about the premise the Blackhawks may have saved the NHL season, but how often are you hearing, reading or maybe talking about the Blackhawks? Are you humming Chelsea Dagger yet? The Hawks are still competing for headlines with the Bears, baseball and Derrick Rose for attention. But it seemed just a few months ago they (and the NHL) were on the verge of being an insignificant story.”

Now, let’s imagine what might have happened if the 1994 season was played in its entirety.  The White Sox lost 28 home games to the strike.  The team was in the thick of a pennant race.  Even if they were lapped by the Indians, they would have been in the hunt for the Wild Card (’94 was the first year of the 3-division format).  With so much intrigue, it’s safe to say NewComiskeyPark would have averaged at least 30 thousand fans the rest of the way.

The millions of extra dollars (along with money made during the postseason) would have been used to sign Jack McDowell, Darrin Jackson, and Julio Franco to long-term deals.  Or, at the very least, lock them up for 1995.  With the same squad in place, the Sox would have been competitive…and the success would have snowballed every year thereafter.

Or, imagine a world in which the 1995 White Sox pulled a 2013 Blackhawks.  What if the White Sox rattled off an 8 game winning streak to start the season (in reality, the Sox started ’95 1-4).  The bad feelings from the strike would have been forgiven, and normal crowds would have returned to ComiskeyPark by June.

The egg laid by the White Sox cost the franchise tens of millions of dollars.  The Sox went from 5th in the American League in attendance in 1994 to 9th in 1995.  By 1999, they were 13th in the AL…ahead of only the verge-of-contraction Minnesota Twins.

The Sox threw big money contracts at Albert Belle and Jaime Navarro.  That didn’t work.  By 2000, the Sox brass came to the conclusion that the ballpark was the problem.  In 2003, the team sold the naming rights to ComiskeyPark to US Cellular.  The team used the $68 million from the deal to pay for an extensive renovation project that ended in 2007.

Just imagine how much money the White Sox would have saved if they got the job done in 1995?

 

Filed under: White Sox History

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