Backtracking: In Our Times: Local baseball fans coped with Major League strike in 1994

FILEWith the World Series in 1994 canceled due to a baseball strike, this group of players were among several others who made their own fall classic at Doubleday Field. This was the Gashouse Gang, seen on Sept. 20.

There couldn’t have been a much better place to gauge sentiment toward the Major League Baseball strike of 1994 than Cooperstown.

The strike was looming when Hall of Fame Induction Weekend was coming to a close on Aug. 1, and as The Daily Star reported the next day, “Standing behind the grandstand at Doubleday Field Monday afternoon, Gary Helfon of Philadelphia summed up his feelings about the impending strike in a voice loud enough to turn some nearby heads away from the entourage of pro players trickling out of the stadium. He pulled no punches.

“‘Hate it, hate it, hate it, hate it, hate it!’ he said. They make $1.5 million to play a kids game six months of the year. Where do I sign?’”

Nearly everyone’s gripe about the strike was the bickering between millionaire players and millionaire owners, with the fans being left out in the cold.

Grant Dunwoody, also a Pennsylvania resident, said, “If you get them to see something like this, to see the enthusiasm of the fans, the kids, how happy they are,” gesturing toward the packed ballpark, “It’s just a shame that they can’t all get together and see what it’s all about.”

John and Mary Lucas of Washington, D.C., were the only people interviewed to pick a side and support it. They favored the players. Many of the players, they argued, had only a few years in the big leagues, and injuries could be potential career-killers.

“They have to get it while they can,” John Lucas said.

The strike began Aug. 12. Locally, fans continued to air their displeasure, with some promising to boycott the game after the strike, while others said they’d find other things to do.

Even though many were disgruntled, they weren’t about to let the strike get in the way of visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame. Many said Cooperstown was a reminder of all the good things about baseball.

It was business as usual at the Hall, according to Chairman Edward W. Stack, who said attendance didn’t waver much during the last lengthy strike in 1981, and likely wouldn’t this time around.

“‘My feeling is that the baseball strike will not seriously impact but possibly could help our attendance,’ Stack said, ‘It gives the fans an alternative to going to the ballpark.’”

While the major league parks went dark that year, it was also business as usual at Damaschke Field in Oneonta.

“For the Oneonta Yankees,” The Star reported on Aug. 13, “and for all the other minor league teams in North America, the games go on.”

Oneonta Yankees third baseman Derek Dukart said he sympathizes with the fans, especially Yankee fans who have waited a long time for their team to be in a pennant race.

“‘I’m a player, but I’m a fan too,’ Dukart said. ‘I’d just like to see it get settled and the Yankees in the World Series. I’ll miss watching baseball a lot, but the players need to do what they’ve got to do.’”

While there was no World Series in the majors in 1994, some made the effort to have their own, and there was no better place to have it than Cooperstown.

Star readers found out on Sept. 21, “The major league strike that officially killed off the season and the first World Series since 1904 hasn’t stopped this season this series from being played by a couple of entrepreneurs, a banker, doctors, a pharmacist and the guy who did the drum track on Aretha Franklin’s song ‘Respect’ — just to name a few.

“They go under the name The Legends of Baseball, and they’re a self-described typical bunch of guys so obsessed with the sport for the past three years, they’ve come from across the country to Cooperstown to play baseball. They rent Doubleday Field, hire the umpires, make a week of it, and have a heck of a good time.”

The large group made up three competing teams: the Gashouse Gang, Bustin’ Babes and Boys of Summer.

They had fun and had a daily fan base of 12, but didn’t mind one bit. Their version of the World Series had 12 more than the one that was never played.

This weekend: Local summer leisure time in 1924.

Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area before 1950. His Tuesday columns address local history 1950 and later.  If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/opinion/columns/.

Ask Mark... 

Have you ever had a question about a history-making event or a prominent person in our area and didn't know where to find the answer? Well, we've got an expert who might be able to help you. Historian Mark Simonson has spent many years chronicling major local happenings, and he's ready and willing to dive into The Daily Star archives for answers, which will appear in this newspaper and online at www.thedailystar.com.

Write to him at "Ask Mark," The Daily Star, 102 Chestnut St., Oneonta, NY 13820 or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com