A Striking Impact: The 1994 Boston Red Sox

Baseball is back! And so are we! After a brief one month break, Huntington Avenue Grounds is back with new posts. There is a slight change to our posting format however. I will be only be updating the site once a week now, making new posts every Monday morning. I may or may not post a bonus post during the week, it depends on my schedule and how much I am able to get done. June was an incredibly hectic month but I am happy to be back, providing you with a ticket to baseball’s past.

This week, we’re going to look at the strike shortened 1994 season, a season that much like this one was filled with bickering between the owners and players and uncertainty around how the season would ultimately play out. Within the Red Sox organization, this era also fell during a pivotal bridge period between the late 80s Red Sox teams and the Mo Vaughn and Nomar led teams of the mid-late 90s. The team wasn’t good at this point but a turn around was just around the corner. The 1994 season was a very important season in Red Sox history. It was the year that Dan Duquette arrived in town, Nomar Garciaparra was drafted, and long time nemesis Alex Rodriguez made his MLB debut (against the Red Sox no less). It was also the year that the seeds were planted for yet another almost destruction of Fenway Park.

The late 80s and very early 90s had not generally kind to Boston. They, of course, made it to the World Series in 1986, losing in a heartbreaker to the New York Mets. But they followed that up with a sub-.500 record in 1987. While on the road to another failed season in 1988 and only one game over .500, the team fired manager John McNamara during the All-Star Break and replaced him with third base coach Joe Morgan who brought his “Morgan Magic” as the team rallied to finish the season 89-73, good enough to win the American League East. They would however be swept by the Oakland Athletics, who were led by the “Bash Brothers” duo of Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco in the 1988 ALCS. Joe Morgan’s team would return to the ALCS in 1990, only to meet the same fate, another sweep by the Athletics. 1989 and 1990 also saw the departure of two legends, Jim Rice and Dwight Evans. Wade Boggs would follow them out the door after the 1992 season, signing with the New York Yankees. Finally, Joe Morgan would leave the team after the 1991 season, having just posted the last winning record that the team would see until 1995. He would be replaced by Butch Hobson, who continued to lead the team into the 1994 season.

Before the 1994 season, the Red Sox named Dalton, Mass native Dan Duquette  general manager and tasked him with rebuilding the franchise and helping them achieve the glory that they had sniffed just a few seasons earlier. When he was introduced as the new GM in February, Duquette predicted that it would take him until 1996 to fully form a team with his full footprint. The 1994 team had a couple of assets that Duquette could use as a foundation, namely former Cy Young winner and ace pitcher Roger Clemens and young star Mo Vaughn. But nothing much was expected of the team in the immediate term. The beginning of 1994 did see an ember spark that would eventually develop into a full fledged fire. During spring training, team owner John Harrington (through his management of Jean Yawkey’s trust) indicated interest in moving the Sox out of Fenway Park and into a sports multiplex with the New England Patriots.

Before the season started, the Sox and Yankees took part in an exhibition series in at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. Louisiana native Mel Parnell threw the first pitch on Friday night while his former Yankee counterpart and fellow Louisiana native Ron Guidry had the honor for the Saturday game. The Sox would take the Friday night game, 15-11 and the two teams would tie on Saturday, 3-3 after the game was called in the 10th inning.

The season officially started on April 4th at Fenway Park against the Detroit Tigers. On a chilly spring day, fans packed into the ballpark or tuned their TVs to WSBK Channel 38 to watch Roger Clemens take the mound for his 7th consecutive Opening Day. Clemens however would struggle and leave the game in the 5th after giving up 8 runs. The Sox would rally back with a 3-run bottom of the 8th, highlighted by a Billy Hatcher 2-run double that scored Scott Cooper and Otis Nixon to ultimately win the game 9-8. The team would go on to sweep the opening home series against the Tigers, giving fans some hope for the coming season. And the team was actually fairly good for the first month or so of the season. They were right up there in the mix, exchanging the division lead with the Yankees. As late as May 6th, they had a 2.5 game lead in the division. They ended May in 2nd place just 3.5 games out of the lead. As the weather warmed up outside however, the Red Sox cooled off. They posted an astoundingly bad 8-19 record in June and effectively eliminated themselves from contention.

In June 1994, Dan Duquette would make what would perhaps be his greatest contribution to the Red Sox when he drafted Nomar Garciaparra out of Georgia Tech in the 1st round of the MLB draft using the 12th overall pick. Nomar was the 2nd highest drafted player that year who later went on to be an All-Star. Pitcher Ben Grieve, selected 2nd overall by the Athletics, was All-Star in 1998. Nomar would ultimately prove to be the best player in the 1994 draft and a real catch by Duquette. Upon signing with the Sox, Nomar noted that he looked forward to rising through the ranks with 1993 1st round pick Trot Nixon and neither man would ultimately disappoint. Also notable is that future Sox team captain and fellow Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket Jason Varitek was selected by the Seattle Mariners just two picks later. Varitek would arrive in Boston 5 years later in what might possibly be the most one sided trade in baseball history.

1994 also saw the first appearance of a player that many Red Sox fans would later come to hate, Alex Rodriguez. In 1994, A-Rod was just a young, fresh faced prospect in the Seattle Mariners organization. A gifted infielder, he was projected to become one of the best shortstops to ever play the game. On July 8, 1994 however, he was making his first MLB appearance and it was against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. A-Rod took the field at shortstop and batted 9th in the lineup. He led off the top of the 3rd against Chris Nabholz. A-Rod’s first career at bat would end with a groundout to third and he would ultimately go 0 for 3 on the day. His sole highlight of the game was a diving stop of a Tim Naehring ground in the fifth. A-Rod’s debut was not just another mid-summer game however. Red Sox shortstop John Valentin would use the occasion to show off his own defensive prowess, turning an unassisted triple play in the 6th inning, which you can view here. Valentin was the only 10th player to achieve this feat and the first Red Sox player since George Burns in 1923 to do so. The Sox would ultimately win the game 4-3.

The season would barely last another month before the labor stoppage would necessitate its end. The Red Sox “finished” the season 54-61, good enough for 4th in the American League East. It was Butch Hobson’s last season with the team and he would be replaced by Kevin Kennedy for the 1995 season. The Sox would actually win the division in 1995, starting the wheels on a team that would be good (with the exception of a losing season in 1997) but not good enough to overcome the New York Yankees, who in 1996 would usher in a dynasty that spanned the late 90s and early 00s. However, I think we all know that ended…….

1994 was a season of transition and one that saw seeds planted that sprouted trees that would shake the foundation of the Red Sox. From the hiring of Dan Duquette to the drafting of Nomar Garciaparra to A-Rod’s debut to even the beginning of the next fight to save Fenway Park, 1994 was an important season in the team’s history and a year whose impact would echo for years to come.

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