The 10 most memorable strikes in sports history

1. 1994-95 MLB strike: Still the gold standard for labor disputes in organized sports, if mainly because the costs were staggering: work stopped for eight months, no 1994 World Series, and a sport with fan appeal so decimated that steroid use was tacitly condoned thereafter. Tell me what this was all about again.

2. 1998-99 NBA lockout: While basketball players and management were midway into a dispute that forced an abbreviated 50-game schedule for the 1998-99 NBA season, Rick Reilly penned a column for Sports Illustrated referencing the plight of striking Peterbilt truck workers. Reilly wrote of blue collar strikers getting by on a few hundred dollars a week compared with basketball players sweating insurance for their fleets of sports cars. “There are two major labor disputes in America right now,” Reilly wrote. “One of them is a joke.”

3. 1982 NFL strike: Besides the 1994-95 baseball strike or 2004-05 hockey lockout, this ranks as the longest work stoppage for a major American sports league, at least proportion-wise. The NFL wound up with a truncated nine-game season that year and 16-team playoff format.

4. 1981 MLB strike: Baseball lost nearly two months of its 1981 season, and though I don’t hear it talked about as conspiracy, popular union leader and Cy Young-winning relief pitcher Mike Marshall couldn’t get a team to sign him until after the strike ended.

5. 1987 NFL strike: This work stoppage lasted a month and featured one week of cancelled games and three weeks of games with replacement players (together with a few picket line-crossing stars like Joe Montana and Steve Largent.) All in all, this ran a bit like the film The Replacements, only without Keanu Reeves.

6. 2004-2005 NHL lockout: This actually led to the cancellation of an entire hockey season, though I’m not sure anyone cared. I don’t know if that merits higher or lower placement on this list.

7. 1972 MLB strike: This was the first strike in the history of major American sports and The Sporting News called the day it began the darkest in the history of sports. Some teams lost six games from their schedules, others seven, and because of the discrepancy, the Boston Red Sox lost the American League East title by half a game to the Detroit Tigers.

8. 2011 NFL lockout: This could’ve been a lot worse.

9. 1990 MLB lockout: Baseball’s equivalent of the recent football lockout in that some training games got cancelled but things fell far short of nightmare doomsday scenarios folks may have envisioned.

10. 1912 Detroit Tigers strike: American League president Ban Johnson suspended Ty Cobb indefinitely in May of 1912 after he beat a fan in the stands for calling him a “half-nigger.” Supportive Tiger teammates struck in solidarity, and to avoid forfeiting its next game, Detroit management fielded a team of replacements, some with baseball experience, others not so much. Any work stoppage that results in a Catholic priest (Aloysius Travers) taking to the mound and surrendering 24 runs, still a modern day record, deserves mention here.

4 Replies to “The 10 most memorable strikes in sports history”

  1. I’d rank the hockey strike as #2 or #3, ’cause I used to love hockey. Watched it regularly. I grew up in a market with four teams to watch – Sabres, Devils, Islanders, & Rangers. Since that cancelled season & cancelled Stanley Cup… I’ve kinda forgotten about the sport. I got excited about it during Buffalo’s cup run in ’06 and the Penguins Cup in ’09, but otherwise, I’ve found never really gotten back into the sport. It’s not because I still feel soured on it, but ’cause I simply don’t care much. I try to, but… it just isn’t there for long when I manage to pull it out of a hat.

    Oh, and that NBA strike… I remember just before that happened, they had all these “I love this game” commercials. It gave the impression they were better than modern baseball players ’cause they love their game the way baseball players used to. Those commercials disappeared right about the time the NBA strike started. Probably can find them on Youtube now though.

  2. Man, what a mess! I’m pleased the NFL finally came to an agreement and now “only” have the NBA to wonder about. Still, even if the NBA season ends up cancelled (like NHL #6 above) it won’t be half as bad as the 1994 MLB season. It’s like they were trying to piss off the fans. “Hey, let’s play most of a season and then cancel the rest… no play-offs or anything”. GREAT! I haven’t been to a baseball game since!

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