On this date 20 years ago, the final games of the 1994 season were played. After a long and contentious negotiation with the owners, the Major League Baseball Players Association went on strike and forced the cancellation of the rest of the regular season as well as the World Series.
The final game before the strike was played between the Expos and Pirates. Pittsburgh walked away with a 4-0 win but Montreal had baseball's best record at 74-40. No other team in the National League had won even 68 games up until that point and none could top their +131 run differential. Led by Larry Walker, Moises Alou and Pedro Martinez, the Expos were the class of baseball.
Because they had the league's best record at the time of the strike, Montreal was the favorite to win the World Series. That was true at the time and the legend of the '94 Expos has only grown since the strike. It has been treated as a foregone conclusion by some that they were going to win the World Series. They were that good. The '94 strike robbed Montreal of its first world championship.
Except we don't actually know what would have happened. In 2001, the 116-win Mariners lost six of 10 postseason games, for example. It's cliché, but anything can happen in a short series and success is far from guaranteed. The Expos were excellent in 1994, but consider:
• The Yankees led the AL East at 70-43 at the time of the strike and had a better run differential than Montreal (+136).
• The White Sox were atop the tough AL Central with a 67-46 record and had a +135 run differential.
• The Braves were six games back of the Expos at 68-46 at the time of the strike, but the teams still had nine head-to-head games left on the schedule.
• The Reds (66-48) and Astros (66-49) were essentially tied atop the NL Central, though Cincinnati had just added Brian Hunter at the trade deadline. He hit four home runs in nine games following the trade and was primed to help the Reds shoot up the standings.
The Expos were the best team in baseball at the time of the 1994 strike, especially when you consider they had won 56 of 81 games before the work stoppage, a 116-win pace. They were far from the only great team in the game, however. The Yankees in particular were very strong, as were the Greg Maddux/Tom Glavine/John Smoltz Braves and Frank Thomas-led ChiSox.
To this day, the '94 Expos remain one of baseball's great "what could have been" stories. Could baseball in Montreal had been saved if the season continued? Would the Expos have fallen short in the postseason? Would it have made any difference whatsoever? The Expos were excellent 20 years ago. They were also no less vulnerable than any other great in team in a short postseason series.