Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

Twenty Years Later - June Doomed the '94 Red Sox Long Before the Strike Ever Did

Butch Hobson x-69711.jpg
Butch Hobson's 1994 Red Sox went just 8-19 in June to drop out of any contention before a players strike ended the season early. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

The Red Sox held a 10-year reunion last week.

There will not be a similar celebration honoring the team from two decades ago.

"Speed" and "The Lion King" ruled the box office. The New York Rangers beat the Vancouver Canucks in seven games for the Stanley Cup. The World Cup kicked off at Foxboro Stadium and across the U.S. Aerosmith become first major band to let fans download a full new track free from a thing called the internet. Ryne Sandberg retired, the Giants cut Phil Simms, and O.J. Simpson got himself into some trouble, leading us all on a chase that made us completely forget about Patrick Ewing.

It was 20 years ago, and the Red Sox were on a roll.

But in June, 1994, it all came crashing down faster than you could write "Andy Tomberlin was here" on the bullpen wall. When you consider the worst months of the past two decades, itís right up there with the 7-20 September the Red Sox had under Josh Beckett and the Quitting Bunch and the 7-19 mark a year later in the same month under Bobby Valentine. The 1994 Red Sox went a paltry 8-19 in June, after starting out the first two months of the season 30-19, the third-best record in baseball to that point.

From hope to dust in Boston. From exhilaration to despair elsewhere.

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Boston entered June only 2 Ĺ games behind the Yankees in the American League East. Roger Clemens was 5-2 with a 2.55 ERA and 78 strikeouts. Mo Vaughn had already hit 13 home runs and had a 1.017 OPS. John Valentin was coming off the disabled list. Mike Greenwell was having a resurgent season as the new month approached (eight home runs, .832 OPS), 24-year-old Aaron Sele (5-2, 3.18 ERA) was showing promise, Ken Ryan hadnít allowed an earned run in his first 14 1/3 innings of the season, and Jeff Russell had closed out 11 of 13 save opportunities.

Things were so good, that by the time June rolled around, folks just tended to mostly ignore the looming work stoppage that hovered over the 1994 baseball season like a spiraling cloud on the horizon.

"Baseball, good people, baseball," the Globeís Bob Ryan wrote following Bostonís 3-2 win over the Orioles on May 19, 1994, to improve to 26-13 on the season after a three-game sweep. "That's what we had on display during the past three glorious nights: baseball, good people, baseball. We had October baseball and October weather, and if this is what the Red Sox are planning on doing for the remainder of the spring and summer, they will need an armed militia to keep the fans from storming into Fenway Park to see the most versatile and entertaining Red Sox team since Rough Carrigan was managing.

"What exactly is there not to like about this ball club? They go into the den of a contender and their pitchers allow 18 hits and seven runs in 26 innings. They can hit singles. They can hit doubles. They can hit home runs. They can stretch singles into doubles. They can steal bases. They can execute the sacrifice. They can put pressure on the other team.

"They can, in short, play baseball. Whether or not they can play better baseball than New York, Toronto, Baltimore or anyone else who emerges as a challenger, we don't know for sure. But we now know this team can play baseball."

They may have been able to play baseball. In April. In May. But the rest of the way, those Red Sox also only managed a 28-48 record in the wake of Bobís exuberant praise. There's no telling where they might have been had they actually played another month-and-a-half.

The '94 Sox received more than a passing mention last month as Boston drowned in a 10-game losing streak, the clubís longest since the Sox of 20 years ago dropped 11 straight from June 8-19. The team would follow that up with a five-game losing streak that began seven days later, sandwiching a five-game winning streak (sound familiar?), and eventually putting them 10 Ĺ games out less than a week before Independence Day. Questions surrounding manager Butch Hobson, who, as Nick Cafardo pointed out after loss No. 10, was nearly replaced by Whitey Herzog the previous season before the team saved his job by winning 12 of 14. "That's something that makes good reading," Clemens said at the time. "We know it's not the manager's fault. When you play bad, the other team is hot. I don't think anybody's pressing. There's a long way to go and there's no sense panicking at this point."

They would win as many as two in a row only once more the entire rest of the season. Clemens and Greenwell, the team's player representatives spent more and more time hanging on every boisterous world from Donald Fehr, and the rest of the roster figured out more and more ways to walk over the carpet that held the title of manager. Hobson would have had an easier time corralling a herd of antelope than getting that group to work.

"He has become the story," Dan Shaughnessy wrote about Hobson as the calendar mercifully turned to July. "He never wanted it this way, but that's the way it is. At the moment these words are being typed, Butch Hobson still is manager of the Red Sox, but that may change and it may change very soon.

"It's only July 1, and it appears that summer already has run out on your local baseball team. Eighty-six games remain, and if the Red Sox had to play the Yankees every day, they might just lose 'em all. Since May 19, the Townies are 12-24, 1-6 vs. New York. It would appear that it's time to stop worrying about wild cards, wildflowers, born to be wild, Oscar Wilde and Gene Wilder. It's time to start thinking about what they can do to give us hope for next year."

The most shortsighted fact about all this fervor, of course, was that there wouldnít even be a this year for the Red Sox, nor the first-place Yankees or the dominant Montreal Expos, the latter being a franchise that saw its best shot at winning a World Series ironically drown in arguments about a salary cap and revenue sharing. The highlight of the season for Boston ended up being the unassisted triple play that Valentin turned in July. Yay.

"See you guys at the Patriots games," Vaughn said with his parting words as the Red Sox packed up with the rest of baseball a little more than month later. The strike would annihilate the game and its World Series, leaving embers for years only to snuffed out by the steroid-induced freak-shows that Bud Selig only so happily allowed to make a mockery of the sport. At the point that silence spread throughout the majors, the Red Sox were already 54-61, 17 Ĺ games out of the top spot in the East. Fittingly, the team lost its final game, 17-7 in Minnesota. Jim Deshaies beat Scott Bankhead. Meanwhile, a 22-year-old Expos kid by the name of Martinez pitched a 4-0 shutout over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

It would take three more years for Pedro to make his way to Boston, changing the dynamic of the Red Sox franchise forever. At the end of '94, though, it was in shambles. Hobson was fired, Kevin Kennedy was hired. In the spring, Dan Duquette signed Sammy Sosa, Kevin Appier, and John Wetteland - then he didnít, thanks to the Playersí Association - but did settle on trading for a veteran slugger who probably introduced a bit more than power to the Red Sox in the spring of '95.

If Clemens and company werenít juicing before Jose Cansecoís arrival, well, let your imagination run wild.

The year after the strike saw the Sox win the AL East in a strike-shortened season, only to get bounced by the Cleveland Indians in the game's first foray in the division series. Still, it was quite the turnaround from the previous season, when everything seemed at a loss.

As spring morphs into summer 20 years later, the '94 Sox still serve as a reminder of how quickly fates can change. And while the streaky pattern between the two editions is something coincidental to make note of, the predecessors are your classic baseball example of a team where the inmates overtake the asylum.

There are more similarities (the 2014 Sox became the first Boston team since 1994 to lose all six games on a homestand, the '14 Sox welcomes old friend Stephen Drew back in June, the '94 Sox welcomed old friend Tom Brunansky back in the same month), but thereís not much worth celebrating with the strike-shortened squad, just memories of another team that quit way before it was easy enough to blame on chicken and beer.

The strike didnít save them further embarrassment. They had already accomplished that by the time June came and went. Twenty years laterÖwe just wait and see.

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