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Sports Then and Now


20 Years Ago: Baseball’s Darkest Chapter

Posted on August 12, 2014 by Dean Hybl
The 1994 baseball strike brought out the worst in sports greed.

The 1994 baseball strike brought out the worst in sports greed.

It is hard to believe that 20 years have now passed since money and greed in sports reached a startling climax with what ultimately became the cancellation of the final two months and postseason of the 1994 Major League Baseball season.

In the coming months retiring baseball commissioner Bud Selig will receive many accolades for all he has done to support the resurgence of the game of baseball, but as acting commissioner in 1994 he oversaw the destruction of the game and while it may have recovered financially and in overall popularity, in certain pockets, things have never been the same.

On August 12, 1994 the team with the best record in baseball was the Montreal Expos with a mark of 74-40. Now if you are under the age of 25, you may not even remember that there was ever a baseball team in Montreal and for that you can thank Selig and the others who failed to save the 1994 campaign.

The Expos, who had entered the league in 1969 and went an entire decade before posting a winning season, had developed into a solid franchise having posted .500 or better records 12 times since 1979. However, ironically, their only previous postseason appearance had come during the strike shortened 1981 campaign when they lost the National League Championship Series in five games to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

It was very clear that after all the close calls in previous seasons, 1994 was going to be the year for the Expos.  Despite losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-0 on August 11th to end a six game winning streak, the Expos were six games ahead of the Atlanta Braves and clearly looked positioned to capture their first-ever division crown and potentially reach the World Series for the first time.

With a young nucleus that included future stars Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez, Marquis Grissom, Rondell White and Moises Alou along with several other solid major leaguers, the Expos were clearly poised for success.

It was also clear that the city of Montreal was excited and supportive of their 1994 team. Some historians will say that Montreal never really supported the Expos and that a move was inevitable. Others will tell you that the fan base in Montreal during that time was quite solid and had they been able to experience World Series joy, as had happened in Toronto in the previous two seasons, the Expos would have eventually received a new stadium and would still be there today.

It is hard to predict “what might have been”, but one thing is clear, in the weeks prior to the baseball shutdown fans in Montreal were becoming extremely excited about the prospects for their team.

Though the Expos ranked 11th of 14 teams in the National League in overall attendance at the time of the strike, that total was a little deceiving as the Expos had played only 52 home games (compared to 62 on the road) and had been averaging an extremely respectable crowd of more than 24,000 fans per game. In fact, they had drawn more than 30,000 fans (including more than 39,000 for the final game) per night for a four game mid-week (Monday-Thursday) series against the St. Louis Cardinals from August 1-4.

With 30 home games remaining as they drove toward a possible pennant, it is likely that the Expos would have continued to draw large crowds through the remainder of the 1994 season.

Of course, we will never know, as both the baseball players and owners dug in and ultimately the two sides would not settle their differences until the remainder of the 1994 season was gone and the start of the 1995 season was delayed. The end result was a 232 day work stoppage and the cancellation of more than 900 games, including the playoffs and World Series for the first time since 1904.

While it is very easy to vilify Selig and the owners for their role in the strike and some of the aftermath, you also have to give much of the “credit” to Donald Fehr and the players. Read the rest of this entry →

Two Big Reds That Lost Big at Saratoga

Posted on August 11, 2014 by Scott Huntington

Now that the calendar has turned to August, the eyes of the racing world have turned to the historic Saratoga Race Course in beautiful Saratoga Springs, N.Y. This town is wonderful to visit any time of the year, but it really springs to life during the summer racing meet, when top thoroughbreds converge to compete in top-quality races.

Saratoga has been hosting summer races since 1863, and over the years it has become known as the “graveyard of champions.” This refers to the fact that many times, horses that seemed invincible went down in stunning defeat. Although races like these can lead to huge payoffs for bettors, it comes at great expense to champion horses. Two of these horses share that history and also the nickname of Big Red. They were Man ‘o War and Secretariat.

Man o’ War Melts

 

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Man o’ War was a stunning chestnut colt who raced in the years 1919 and 1920. When he competed in the Sanford Stakes for 2-year-olds on Aug. 13, 1919, his reputation was already such that he seemed a lock to win. His previous six victories were so impressive that it seemed it was impossible for him to lose. In fact, this was the only race that he ever would lose in his entire racing career.

Starting gates were not used at this time, and starters had to make sure horses were properly lined up behind a tape barrier and ready to race. Unfortunately for Man o’ War, the tape was sprung when he was apparently backing up. Essentially, he was left at the start. Read the rest of this entry →

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NFL 2014: Pack Your Bags, 49ers are Super Bowl Bound

Posted on August 11, 2014 by Peter Getty
It may be early, but one fan already believes he knows which NFC team will be playing in the Super Bowl.

It may be early, but one fan already believes he knows which NFC team will be playing in the Super Bowl.

NFL kickoff 2014 is nearly a month away, too far into the future to hear any predictions about who’s likely to reach the Super Bowl. Especially from a fan touting his own team.

But if my early prediction about the World Cup is any indicator, I deserve an exception.

The San Francisco 49ers are about to embark on a tremendous season.

The offseason has been tumultuous, to say the least. This may ultimately serve to provide the intrinsic motivation the team needs to push them forward for a great start to the season. They’ll need it, to be sure. Coach Jim Harbaugh and GM Trent Baalke have been embroiled in a power struggle that hasn’t yet been resolved. The season will need to be a rousing success in order to keep everyone happy.

On top of that, some players are unhappy about contracts, and defense is worrisome due to the ongoing threat of suspension of Aldon Smith due to off-field antics (if you can call a fake bomb threat to LAX ‘antics’). Chris Culliver and Adam Kilgore were arrested in the offseason, and even Colin Kaepernick had a run-in with the law (though was rightly exonerated of any wrongdoing).

So…what’s going right with the 49ers? Read the rest of this entry →

Division I Football Has a Playoff! Now What?

Posted on August 10, 2014 by Dean Hybl
Jameis Winston and Florida State seem to be the likely choice to run past the competition and into the first Division I Football Playoff.

Jameis Winston and Florida State seem to be the likely choice to run past the competition and into the first Division I Football Playoff.

After years of waiting and wanting, those who said that Division I college football will be better with a playoff system now have their wish. So, as the first season of the College Football Playoff prepares to get underway, it will be interesting to see if this system calms the critics or creates a new set of detractors.

On the field, the potential candidates for the playoff seem to be many of the same players that have been in the mix over the last few years and you can see the odds at allpro.

Simply by returning their starting quarterback and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston, the Florida State Seminoles are the popular favorites to repeat as national champions. With 13 returning starters and a relatively favorable schedule in which they have only seven challenging games and play four of them at home and one on a neutral site, it seems very likely that Florida State will be among the four teams to earn playoff spots.

It also seems generally safe to pencil Alabama into the playoff mix. However, what is an unknown entering the first year of the playoff is how the SEC, which provides tougher challenges on a weekly basis than many other conferences, will be treated in the likelihood that no-one from the league is undefeated and the conference has multiple teams with just one or two losses.

Besides the Crimson Tide, other SEC teams that certainly have the talent to contend for a playoff spot are Auburn, South Carolina, Georgia and LSU. However, in recent years the conference has also featured a surprise team that wasn’t expected to make a run, but somehow is there at the end. This year that team could possibly be Mississippi, Texas A&M or maybe even the Florida Gators.

With four teams possessing enough talent to contend for the playoffs, the Pac-12 could also be hampered by their top-line depth when looking at getting a team (or two) into the playoff. Oregon and Stanford have been the cream of the conference in recent years, but UCLA and USC both seem to have the talent to contend for the conference title.

While I know this playoff system is supposed to take the politics out of deciding a champion, does anyone really think that is possible? That being said, it would seem extremely unlikely that the Big Ten will not figure a way to get someone into the playoff party.

Ohio State would seem to be the most likely candidate, but after going nearly two seasons undefeated under head coach Urban Meyer they barely defeated Michigan before ending the 2013 season with losses to Michigan State and Clemson. They have only a couple challenging games in 2014, so how they perform in the final weeks of the season could determine whether they are in the playoff.

If the Buckeyes don’t prove worthy, Michigan State could certainly prove to be the Big Ten representative. Wisconsin is a relative long-shot and while Michigan seems highly unlikely to be good enough to reach the playoffs, they could prove to be a spoiler for other Big Ten contenders. Read the rest of this entry →

A Brief History of the Pocono Raceway

Posted on August 07, 2014 by Scott Huntington

For NASCAR fans, summertime means it’s time to load up some camping gear and head to the Poconos. The home of a pair of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races held in June and August—the Pocono 400 and the GoBowling.com 400 respectively—the Pocono Raceway is one the most storied tracks in NASCAR history. Also home to the Pocono Indycar 500 and used by Sports Car Club of America along with motorcycle clubs and driving schools, the track gets a lot of use throughout the year.

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The track is famous for its shape. Often described as a tri-oval, the track is actually closer to a triangle than an oval. It is unique in that its three turns are all different and modeled after turns from other tracks. Turn One has 14 degree banking and was based on the turns at the old Trenton Speedway. Turn Two, which has 9 degree banking and is also known as “The Tunnel Turn,” is similar to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, while the 6 degree banking of turn 3 is based on The Milwaukee Mile.

But though NASCAR wouldn’t be the same without it today, there was a time when the Pocono Raceway nearly closed down for good. The raceway held its first race in 1968 on the three-quarter mile track. Three years later, the first 500 mile Indy race came to the Poconos on the two and a half mile rack and the first 500 mile NASCAR race at Pocono Raceway was held in 1974. But just as Pocono Raceway was getting its NASCAR start, the owners of the track, the Mattioli family were having some financial problems. Read the rest of this entry →

35 Years Ago: Yankees Lose Captain in Shocking Accident

Posted on August 02, 2014 by Dean Hybl
It was 35 years ago that New York Yankees captain Thurman Munson died in a plane accident.

It was 35 years ago that New York Yankees captain Thurman Munson died in a plane accident.

While current New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter has spent much of this season saying good bye to baseball fans across the country, it was 35 years ago that another Yankees captain left the game in a sudden and tragic manner.

On August 2, 1979, the two-time defending World Series Champion New York Yankees were struggling to stay in contention in the American League East. Despite having completed a must-needed three game sweep the day before with a 9-1 win over the Chicago White Sox, the Yankees stood in fourth place in the division 14 games behind the first place Baltimore Orioles.

A much needed off day, it would prove to be one of the toughest in team history.

After the three game series in Chicago, Yankee captain and veteran catcher Thurman Munson chose to spend the off-day in his hometown of Canton, Ohio, rather than travel back to New York.

An 11-year veteran, Munson had been the fourth pick of the 1968 MLB Draft and in 1970 was named the American League Rookie of the Year. Over the next decade, Munson was considered the “heart and soul” of the Yankees as they looked to regain the glory of past decades.

In April of 1976, a season that would end with the first World Series appearance for the Yankees in a dozen years, Munson became the first New York player to be designated as team captain since the retirement of Lou Gehrig in 1939.

Munson was a seven-time All-Star and in 1976 was named the American League MVP. He posted three straight seasons of 100+ RBIs from 1975-77 and had five seasons with a .300 or higher batting average. Read the rest of this entry →

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    • Rod Carew: Hitting Machine
      July 5, 2014 | 3:42 pm
      Rod Carew

      Rod Carew

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