So, where were we?
The Montreal Expos, led by Marquis Grissom and Larry Walker, were the top team in baseball last summer. Bo Jackson was a star attraction in the majors, Michael Jordan was the best draw in the minors.
Beginning Tuesday night, baseball starts trying to make its biggest comeback since the New York Mets rallied in the 10th inning to beat Boston in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.
“Welcome to the Show” is the sport’s new slogan, and fans will be asked to return, as if all is forgiven after a strike that robbed them of record chases, wrecked the World Series and ruined the spring with replacement ball.
What they’ll find, along with free tickets, half-price food and plenty of autographs - plus the possibility of replacement umpires - is a game full of changes, too many to keep track of in some cases.
Five of the last seven World Series MVPs have moved on Orel Hershiser, Dave Stewart, Pat Borders and Frank Viola have signed with new teams and Jack Morris has retired.
The last two A.L. Cy Young winners - David Cone and Jack McDowell - have been traded. Four league MVPs Jose Canseco, Terry Pendleton, Andre Dawson and Kevin Mitchell, now in Japan - have switched clubs.
In all, more than one-tenth of the major leaguers have moved since anyone last threw a pitch that mattered. There was a 12-player trade between Houston and San Diego, the largest swap in 37 years, and a recent weekend in which nearly 100 players changed clubs.
Cal Ripken remains one of the few constants, having played 2,009 straight games. The Orioles star is scheduled to break Lou Gehrig’s mark of 2,130 on Sept. 6 at Camden Yards in Baltimore.
For big-money teams, the overhaul was great. The New York Yankees got McDowell, John Wetteland and Tony Fernandez, Atlanta acquired Grissom and Toronto - in its bid to win three straight World Series - took Cone, Viola and Danny Darwin. Baltimore added Andy Van Slyke.
For the small-market clubs, it wasn’t so super. The Expos lost Grissom, Walker, Wetteland and Ken Hill, while Kansas City traded away Cone and Brian McRae.
The Colorado Rockies, expecting to sell out new Coors Field all season, spent more than $35 million for Walker and Bill Swift, and had a little left over to sign starting pitcher Omar Olivares. The Milwaukee Brewers, struggling to break even at old County Stadium, could only afford to add injured Joe Oliver and backups David Hulse and Fernando Vina.
“I’m sick about it,” Detroit general manager Joe Klein said. “What has happened to Kansas City and Montreal is very, very unfair.”
But after eight months of bickering between Donald Fehr and Bud Selig led to the longest labor stoppage in U.S. sports history, this is the bind baseball is left in: the haves vs. the have-nots.
And there still isn’t any kind of real agreement on revenue sharing.
“It was like someone took a Day-Glo yellow highlighter and ran it over the problem,” Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz said of the recent transactions.
A few players are taking hits, too. Andre Dawson, Tom Browning and Benito Santiago all took pay cuts of more than $3 million. Some, like Mitchell, Julio Franco, Shane Mack and Pete Incaviglia, left for Japan.
Had they stayed, this is what they would faced as opening day approaches:
A 144-game season, cut from the regular 162. That’s enough games to make for interesting races for the expanded playoffs, but surely not enough to allow for Ken Griffey Jr., Matt Williams and others to chase Roger Maris’ homerun mark, as they did last year.
Not since 1972, when the players struck for two weeks, has a season started with a trimmed schedule. That year, Johnny Bench led the majors with 40 home runs.
This year, teams can expect to play some one-game series, and also play the day after the All-Star Game in Texas. New York Yankees manager Buck Showalter and Montreal manager Felipe Alou, whose teams were leading their leagues when the strike started Aug. 12, will manage the the All-Star squads.
More labor problems. Umpires have been locked out since Jan. 1, and crews of former major- and minor-league umps, plus college and high school amateurs, have been calling exhibition games. Similar crews are set to work in the regular season if the real umpires do not return.
Players, meanwhile, are playing it nice for now. They’ve indicated they won’t think about going on strike again, at least until next spring. They’ve also been signing more autographs, talking more to fans and throwing more balls into the stands. There still is no signed agreement with owners, however.
Increased injuries. With spring training shortened to three weeks, players are rushing to get ready. Even with rosters expanded from 25 to 28 into mid-May, look for pitchers to develop some sore arms by trying to work more than five or six innings in early games.
Missing players. Bo Jackson, Kent Hrbek, Jack Morris and Rick Sutcliffe have retired and Michael Jordan has gone back to the NBA. Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry are suspended.
New managers. There are six of them with new clubs: Phil Regan (Baltimore), Kevin Kennedy (Boston), Bob Boone (Kansas City), Johnny Oates (Texas), Bruce Bochy (San Diego) and Jim Riggleman, taking over a Chicago Cubs team that is marking 50 years since its last appearance in the World Series.
Ballpark changes. The Rockies will be at 50,000-seat Coors Field, with distances of 347, 415 and 350 feet to left, center and right fields. The Kansas City Royals, after building speedy teams for years with Willie Wilson, Amos Otis and Fred Patek on artificial turf, will play on grass at Kauffman Stadium.
Stars, naturally. Greg Maddux is aiming to extend his record streak to four straight Cy Young Awards, and Frank Thomas is bidding to become the first player to win three consecutive MVPs.
Dave Winfield, now with Cleveland, begins the season as the active home run leader with 463. Lee Smith, who signed with California, is the career saves leader with 434.
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