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    What If: The 1995 MLB All-Star Game

    What If: The 1995 MLB All-Star Game
    By Drew Pelto, AKA *censored*

    There is a fifth dimension beyond what is known to the fan. It is a dimension as vast as the Polo Grounds and as timeless as the seventh inning stretch. It is the middle ground between infield and outfield, between tradition and sabermetrics, and it lies between the pit of a manager’s failures, and the summit of his correct decisions. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call… the 1995 Replacement Season.

    (Doo doo doo-doo, doo doo doo-doo…)

    Witness, if you will, 27 teams made out of former Mendoza Line hitters, UPS drivers from Iowa, and 80-mph bullpen arms that stretch to infinity…

    Alright, enough channeling my inner Serling. On August 12, 1994, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association went on strike. A month later, the 1994 season was canceled, the World Series was never played, and after its resolution the following April 2, the 1995 season was shortened to a gross of games. It’s now been a quarter-century since Major League Baseball lost games due to a strike or lockout. In that time, the other three major sports have lost significant amounts of playing time due to labor disputes: the NFL lost a 2011 preseason game and several weeks of refereeing, the NBA lost 48 games per team over two stoppages, and the NHL lost a whopping 150 games per team across three seasons, including the entire 2004-05 season. But 25 years with no stoppages is the longest baseball has managed to go without losing or delaying games since players unionized.

    Instead of this...

    Montreal Expos fans love (or hate) the “What If” of 1994: the season ended with them having the best record in baseball. Would they still have a team now if they had the chance to make a potential playoff run? Would they have won it all that year? Cleveland Indians fans too: a game back in the Central, and the Wild Card leader, could they have made their first World Series in 40 years?

    I prefer a different “What If” game: what if the 1995 season had started with the replacement players that populated Spring Training? And what if they had played a full season with them? Seriously, picture Al Michaels trying to make these choices sound interesting for the NL all-star lineup for the game in Arlington.

    Leading off, Astros’ right fielder Kevin Belcher—a .133 hitter with the 1990 Rangers.

    Up second, Herm Winningham, patrolling center field from the Mets. Formerly of the Expos, Reds, and Red Sox, Winningham had a pair of 20-steal seasons in Montreal.

    Batting third and playing third, Mike Busch of the Dodgers. A 6’5” 249 behemoth, Busch later made it up with the real club where his 24 teammates spent most of two seasons ostracizing him.

    The clean-up hitter is the DH, Barbaro Garbey of the Reds. The 38-year old Cuban hit .287 as a rookie in 1984, helping the Tigers win a World Series. He was out of affiliated baseball by 1990.

    In the five-hole is Shawn Abner. A former #1 overall pick of the Mets in 1984, he returned to them after struggling through the Padres, Angels, and White Sox organizations as he hit under .200 in three of his six major league seasons.

    ...Imagine THIS in your 1995 Topps Traded set.

    Batting sixth is Cubs first baseman Phil Stephenson. Phil’s career year came in 1990 with the Padres, where he hit .209 with four homers and 19 RBI.

    In the seven hole is Braves’ catcher Hector Villanueva, a guy who was once having to battle the likes of Joe Girardi, Damon Berryhill, Rick Wrona, Rick Wilkins, Jorge Pedre, and Erik Pappas on the 1990s Cubs catching depth chart—and largely losing to them.

    Batting eighth is the shortstop, the Padres’ Paul Noce. His earlier trade from the Padres to the Cubs came on the exact day I was born. He singled in his final at-bat, with the World Series-winning 1990 Reds.

    Batting ninth, Webster Garrison, second baseman of the Rockies who got the All-Star nod largely by default. Now a manager in the A’s organization, he eventually made it to the majors with Oakland in 1996, where he was 0/9 with a walk.

    On the mound, 36-year old Marty Bystrom of the Phillies. Bystrom’s first career start came in 1980, a complete game shutout of the Mets. After that season he only once had an ERA under 4 and was out of organized baseball by 1989.

    With a lineup like that, I don’t think anyone in Arlington would ever come to a baseball game again. I’m pretty sure the local fans would be clamoring for a REAL All-Star Game once the legitimate players returned. The eventual real game saw 12 of 20 starters eventually go on to the Hall of Fame as well as four reserves who made it plus another six who could eventually get in. This one… not so much.

    The AL squad isn’t much better. Damian Miller catching from the Twins; Lenny Randle of the Angels, Lou Merloni of Boston, Kent Anderson from the White Sox, and Kansas City’s Steve Kiefer around the horn; the Yankees’ Shane Spencer, Cleveland’s Eric Yelding, and Tommy Dunbar of Detroit in the outfield; Ron Witmyer of the Oakland A’s as the DH, and the Tribe’s Joe Slusarski on the hill.

    I don’t even want to imagine the reserves on these teams. Or, why not?

    For the National League, former Astros Carl Nichols and Mark Bailey will catch, the backup infielders will be Terry Lee, Ty Griffin, Chris “Downtime” Brown, Gus Polidor, and Joel Chimelis, the outfield will have Billy McMillon, Stan Jefferson, and Jeff Stone. On the mound, Denis Boucher, Ed Vandeberg, Garland Kizer, Doug Corbett, Harold Farmer, Craig McMurtry, Charles Hudson, Rick Reed, and Pedro Borbon Sr.

    Over on the junior circuit, Robbie Wine (wow, another former Astros catcher!) and Junior Ortiz will come off the bench behind the plate, the infield will have Carmelo Martinez, Tommy Hinzo, Greg Smith, and Edgar Diaz on the infield, Randy Kutcher, Charles Gipson, Henry Cotto, and Brad Komminsk in the outfield. The bullpen for the AL: Steve Sharts, Ron Rightnower, Oil Can Boyd, Mike Schooler, Darrel Akerfelds, Guillermo Hernandez, Pep Harris, Gary Eave, and Mike Loynd.
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    To make matters worse, the host Rangers only had one representative on the team in Hinzo.

    Back to reality. Once the strike ended, attendance was down, TV ratings were down, and the steroid era was being born. The lack of Major League ball even hit us in Little League.

    As the strike began, I was in Michigan for the summer, having just finished my second season of Little League ball with the Painesville (Ohio) Little League’s Pirates. We weren’t the worst team out there, but we were still pretty bad, finishing 6-12 in each of my first two seasons. I had an OBP over .500 and was the rare first-year player to play the infield because I had a pretty decent glove. Our coach actually got ejected from a game that year, which was fun (that umpire was asked not to return the following season, so make of that what you will).

    The look on my face implies I was skeptical of my hitting skills

    My ten-year old season brought in a new coach, a job as the starting opening day catcher, and even pitching a bit on a team that was mostly composed of nine and ten year olds (in a 9-12 league). And as I signed up for the 1995 season… suddenly I was a Cardinal. The Pirates and Giants both had so few players returning that the league decided to contract the two teams and hold a dispersal draft. Baseball, at least temporarily, was clearly losing the kids.

    That year was strange: I remember catching against the Chiefs and a teammate of mine from the previous two seasons comes to the plate. He was likely to be the Pirates starting catcher the previous year, when I usurped the job accidentally: he didn’t want to catch in practice one day, so I volunteered to do it, and was off and running. I went to a private school, so I never saw my teammates every day year-round the way so many did, so actually seeing and recognizing each other with a “Hey, I know you!” after a year was kind of funny.

    I spent my final two years of organized ball as a utility guy for a 2-16 Cardinals team as an 11-year old and then mostly coming off the bench as a 12-year old when I should have been at a point of being a team leader. We made the playoffs that final season, but my give-a-crap level was near zero as I hit .150 in the regular season, followed by going 0/3 as we lost to the perennial champs, the Browns, in the second round of the playoffs. My attention had already begun shifting as a player to soccer and basketball.

    The strike of 1994-95 turned me, a diehard young fan and player, into just a tangential spectator, jaded at far too young an age. Twenty-five years later, it’s hard to look at it all as little more than a gigantic waste. Millionaires fighting billionaires, ultimately resulting in the fans paying more to get less, the league’s best team defecting from Canada to DC, and the kids looking elsewhere. It may have been worth it to Gene Orza, Donald Fehr, and the players, but what did it do for any of us on the outside of the business? It was a precursor to baseball’s darkest years: the steroid-fueled late 90s and early 00s, when players sought to shatter records by any means necessary and the powers just turned their heads until the federal takedown of BALCO suddenly thrust their faux ignorance into the spotlight.

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Drew Pelto still holds a grudge against Donald Fehr for denying him a potential Expos-Indians World Series AND half an NHL season. He lives in Arlington, TX and refuses to pay to visit the Rangers’ new stadium when it is completed.

    Last edited by *censored*; 08-14-2019 at 03:02 PM.

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