By Daniel Patton
The delay of Major League Baseball’s opening day expands a chapter of American sports that involves U.S. presidents and a future Supreme Court justice. Here’s a brief summary of seasons cut short and games that never happened.
Major League Baseball Strike of 1994
A strike launched by MLB players on August 12 prompted officials to suspend the remainder of the season, including the playoffs and the World Series.
The dispute was sparked by a proposal that league owners submitted roughly two months earlier, on June 15. It proposed a salary cap, a revenue sharing agreement, and a restriction on the players’ freedom to accept new jobs.
According to the owners, the changes represented the best way to create equity among the league’s 28 clubs. Specifically, it would give teams from relatively smaller markets like Cleveland the same advantage as teams from gigantic markets like New York.
Richard Ravitch, the owners’ chief negotiator, said the system would restore economic sanity and competitive balance, according to an LA Times story by Ross Newhan. “There has to be some flexibility because the disparity is so great it can’t be bridged by revenue sharing,” he insisted.
The players didn’t buy it, and on September 14 league officials cancelled the rest of the season.
Winter arrived with no end in sight. Congress introduced bills to restore the game on January 4, the league voted in favor of using replacement players on January 13, and President Clinton ordered the opposing sides to find common ground by February 6.
But the strike continued.
Finally, on March 31, future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a preliminary injunction against the owners, and the strike ended two days later. The sides would abide by the terms of their previous agreement until a new deal could be reached, and the 1995 season was delayed by three weeks.
NFL Players Strike of 1987
The 24-day strike beginning on September 22 forced team owners to cancel three weeks worth of games before provoking them to move forward with replacement players, also known as scabs.
According to Deadspin writer Dom Cosentino, “the players wanted the right to free agency, in addition to better pension benefits, severance, and the elimination of artificial turf.” On the other side, owners wanted to continue business as usual and would take great pains to see it done.
After players refused to take the field on week three and forced all games to be cancelled, the owners started to replace them. They tapped into veterans from the former United States Football League, a professional football organization that had launched in 1983, folded in 1985, and included teams like the New Jersey Generals, which was owned by future US President Donald Trump.
The USFL recruits took the field with a number of “ordinary dudes from all walks of life who were delighted to jump at the opportunity to play NFL football,” according to Cosentino.
ESPN profiled several of the ones who joined the Washington Redskins during this time in Year of the Scab, a 2017 episode of its “30 for 30” series.
A number of regular players also crossed the picket line, including Mark Gastineau, Randy White, Doug Flutie, Steve Largent, Joe Montana, and Roger Craig.
Their actions weakened the leverage of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), the organization that represented the players, and on October 14, 1987, NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw ordered everyone back to work.
After dismissing most of the players’ demands, the NFL resumed business as usual.
The Olympic boycotts of 1980 and 1984
On March 21, 1980, President Jimmy Carter pulled the United States out of the Summer Olympic games that were scheduled to begin four months later in Moscow. He did it to protest the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, which was launched by General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev in 1979.
The decision caused bitterness among athletes that, according to a 1996 New York Times article, lingered for years.
Yet Carter persisted. Enlisting Muhammad Ali to help encourage other nations to stay away from the games, he eventually convinced more than 50 countries to keep their athletes at home.
Nations joining the boycott included Argentina, Canada, Chile, China, Japan, the Philippines, and West Germany. The United Kingdom, France, and Australia let their athletes decide for themselves.
Fans of international basketball, diving, gymnastics, and all kinds of track and field events had to make do with a greatly reduced version of their once-every-four-year fix.
Although the Soviet Union lost an estimated two hundred million dollars in TV deals as a result of the boycott, they remained in Afghanistan for nearly a decade. Four years later, they launched their own boycott of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
With no Soviet Union — which included powerhouses like Russia, East Germany, Romania — the US won 174 medals, including 83 Golds.
The American success was a disaster for McDonald’s.
During the 1984 games, the fast food giant ran an Olympic promotion that awarded US customers free food whenever the country won a medal. It gave away Big Macs for every gold, fries for a silver, and a drink for a bronze.
Created a nearly decade earlier by former Chicago-based marketing agency Frankel & Company, the campaign did extremely well during the 1976 games in Montreal. But when half of the world didn’t show up to play in LA, it reportedly caused nearly 7,000 McDonald’s restaurants to “run short of Big Macs,” according to a 1984 New York Times article.