A fascinating, well-researched, reasonably-argued article at a top video games site argues that it is time for the Major League Players’ Association to forget if not forgive the last “replacement players” from the 1994-95 forced strike, and grant them participation in the union’s merchandising plan, and allow them, finally, to be simulated in the top baseball video games.

I’m not a gamer, so I can’t speak to how disturbing it has been to have tried to maintain the simulation experience without Brendan Donnelly, Matt Herges, Ron Mahay, Kevin Millar, and Jamie Walker. But having covered the nuclear labor winter of fifteen years ago, I can’t agree with absolving the real-life guys of the responsibility they have for the choices they made in the spring of 1995.

The kotaku.com writer calmly explains what happened to the last five active (of 38 in total) strike-breakers, who eventually reached the majors:

Although replacement players receive pension benefits, are subject to the same rules of free agency and are given representation during salary arbitration, disciplinary hearings or other matters, they are barred from joining the union, cannot vote on its matters and, of course, can’t collect any licensing money.

In other words, despite taking the most serious action a potential member could take against his striking/frozen would-be teammates, the players who went to the awful “Replacement Spring” of 1995 get the full benefits of the union they were willing to undermine. They just don’t get some of the ancillary perks, like the simulated doppelgangers and the real money they create (one will note there is no shortage of baseball cards of replacement guys – and not just the Millars, but also the Donnellys and Herges… Hergeses… Hergeseses… guys named Herges).

No matter what you think of unions, and particularly of the irresponsibility of this union in the steroid era (to say nothing of its short-sightedness in that mid-free agent era in which a little fiscal responsibility might have led to more teams with more jobs for more union members), the punishment seems limited and symbolic enough. It is hard now to remember what February and March of 1995 looked like. In short, the owners were one good court ruling away from getting the right to impose whatever rules they wanted despite their own shared culpability in the end of the ’94 season. They could have broken the union and buried any players who didn’t cooperate. They didn’t get the court ruling, and had to settle with the players and to instantly sweep away the post-apocalyptic scene that was unfolding in Florida and Arizona.

A few highlights: the Baltimore Orioles had simply suspended operations (Peter Angelos was having nothing to do with replacements). There was some question as to whether or not Cal Ripken’s streak would end if a team called the Baltimore Orioles actually played a game without him because he was on strike. The two-time still-defending World Champion Toronto Blue Jays could not have legally played a game in Canada and were thus to shift to their spring training home in Dunedin, Florida (capacity 5,509). Per the lone surviving, harrowing source document of the time, Stats’ Inc’s Replacement Player Handbook 1995, the Jays’ starting line-up was likely to be:

C: Brad Gay (Class A ball, 1994)

1B: Wes Clements (out of baseball since 1987)
2B: Emmett Robinson (out of baseball since 1986)

SS: Robert Montalvo (utilityman in AAA in 1994)

3B: Warren Sawkiw (in an independent league, 1994)

LF: Trevor Penn (out of baseball since 1990)

CF: Darryl Brinkley (independent leagues, 1994)

RF: Rick Hirtensteiner (AA, 1994)

DH: Brian Brooks (out of baseball since 1990)

SP: Pat Tilman, Brian Ahern, Mike Arner, Pat Blohm

Closer: Steve Sharts (out of baseball since 1990)


The Replacement Jays were particularly pathetic. Other clubs might have been looked a little more professional, but that was sad in its own way. Pedro Borbon, Sr., was pitching for the Reds – at the age of 48. Oil Can Boyd, just 35, was thought to be the ace of the White Sox staff. Rick Reed, later to succeed for the Twins and Mets, was considered the likeliest Cy Young candidate. There were the human interest stories: the Yankees had at least one guy in camp who was, literally, a UPS driver. 
And these were just the guys we knew of: washed up ex-big leaguers looking for one last taste of glory, career minor leaguers seeing this as the big break they’d been denied, and the kids like Millar, 23 years old and having shown very little promise in A-ball the year before, who were probably just too scared to say “no” when somebody in management said that his decision would be remembered even when all of this replacement stuff had been forgotten.
The problem is, hundreds of Millars still said “no.” They may indeed have been punished later for refusing to fill out a uniform during those dark weeks of Replacement Ball. There is nobody to argue for some recognition for their less obvious sacrifices. Millar, Donnelly, and the rest, were – for whatever reason – willing to accept this nightmarish farce, to provide backbone in that parallel universe where 1995 saw the World Champion Dunedin Jays, and NL MVP Jeff Stone of the Phillies, and fireman of the year, 40-year old, five years removed from his last big league pitch, Willie Hernandez of the Yankees.
They made a choice. The punishment was more symbolic than vengeful. Besides, if you feel your video game is incomplete without Brendan Donnelly, you may be a little too into video games.
FROM A RESEARCHER’S NOTEBOOK: On Opening Day of the 1967 season, there were 17 pitchers named “Jim” on major league rosters. Six of them: Jim Grant, Jim Kaat, Jim Merritt, Jim Ollom, Jim Perry, and Jim Roland, were with the Minnesota Twins. Remarkably, the Twins had six pitchers named Jim, and only five pitchers not named Jim.


  1. sjhax@hotmail.com

    Yes, replacement players had families to feed and careers to worry about. You’re probably well aware that deciding not to cross a picket line in 1969 (documented in Ball Four) didn’t seem to hurt Lou Piniella, either in his playing career or in his subsequent management career. And considering he was then a 26-year-old career minor leaguer, looking at perhaps his last chance at MLB, you have to admire his stand on principle.

  2. unpaka27@yahoo.com

    While I agree with you, that baseball’s equivalent of scab labor shouldn’t be rewarded for being such, there is one line of your blog entry that I found disappointing: “Besides, if you feel your video game is incomplete without Brendan Donnelly, you may be a little too into video games.”

    Why was I disappointed? Two reasons, basically. First, the name Kotaku speaks for itself. It means “Little otaku”, based on the Japanese loan word “otaku”, which is widely used in English-speaking countries to refer to an “obsessed fan” of Japanese anime (animation), manga (comics), and video games. I’ve never seen that blog before you linked to it, I’ll admit. But when its name declares to the world that its bloggers and its readers are “obsessed fans” of video games…well…they don’t really need to be told that they’re obsessed. 🙂

    The second reason is a little more serious. Judging by your writing, newscasts, etc., I’ve always gotten the impression that you try to be fair, even toward people with whom you disagree. You pointed this out yourself, on Countdown, just last week, and I commend you for it. So I’m guessing you wouldn’t be deliberately unfair to anybody. In this blog entry, though, you appear to have been unintentionally unfair to the folks at Kotaku. Expressing your disagreement with them is one thing. As I mentioned, I agree with your points. However, I don’t think it’s entirely fair to attack them for loving what they love.

    I’m not a gamer, but I am an otaku of anime/manga. I’m also a sports fan. So I can see both sides of this issue. You’re passionate about baseball. These people are passionate about video games. That’s why it bothered me when you wrote that gamers who feel that if a “video game is incomplete without Brendan Donnelly…may be a little too into video games.”

    If the Kotaku blogger were to respond to your piece with an attack implying that your position is based on being “a little too into baseball”, that would be unfair, too. There’s nothing wrong with being passionate about baseball, video games, or any other enjoyable hobby.

    I’d like to make it clear that I’m not flaming you. I’m not even taking the opposite side in the argument. I’m only saying that I wish you hadn’t criticized people for enjoying a harmless pastime that happens to be different from one that you enjoy. I know it’s only a minor thing, but it’s not up to the standards of fairness that I’ve come to expect from your work. 🙂

  3. olympictrees@aol.com

    You wrote: “I can’t agree with absolving the real-life guys of the responsibility they have for the choices they made in the spring of 1995.” Have to say, I’m with you there. I worked in a shop in Seattle that tried to unionize. Never saw such a dirty fight in my life. Management sent veiled and not-so-veiled threats to all of us about unionizing, and what would happen to us if we did. I still remember that voting day very clearly. We entered a room, one at a time, with management present. There was a smaller room inside that – almost like a closet. We were given a ballot, and told to vote. Inside the smaller room was a box, where we placed our ballots. After coming out of the room where I had left my ballot, I watched as one of the management team walked into that small room and retrieved the slip of paper I had left behind. I was then ushered from the room through a second door, where I was unable to warn those who hadn’t yet voted. Dirty as dirty gets. The shop didn’t go union, and everyone I knew who had voted for the union (myself included) was gone within six months, for various reasons… most of them rather arbitrary. I live in Florida now – a “right to work” state, which loosely translates as “the right for employers to do pretty much whatever they please”. So I have very little sympathy for those who cross picket lines. I understand that people have families to feed, but so do those who are on strike. And when you undercut the union, you undercut any power the workers have… which hurts all of us in the long run. By the way, I love the interesting bits you bring us. That kind of stuff always fascinates me. I have a “Jim” stat of my own… in the last few years, three men have shown interest in me – and all three were named Jim. Go figure. Life is odd and interesting, isn’t it?

  4. olympictrees@aol.com

    Interesting side note… according to the time stamp on my previous comment, I’m posting from the future. 🙂 It’s 12:18 here right now, but my comment posted at “12:55 am”. Neat trick!

  5. charlene.vickers@gmail.com

    Even if our stringent labour laws hadn’t prevented the Jays from playing in Canada, they wouldn’t have done it anyway. Scab labour has always been hated in Canada, but the 1995 season began right after the Giant Mine murder trial. (Nine “replacement workers” were murdered at the Giant gold mine in Yellowknife.) Fielding a team of scabs in Canada that year – no way.

  6. mike.veve@gmail.com

    It is perhaps puerile to note this, but it would give me great joy to own a “Steve Sharts” baseball card.

  7. hartbreak

    …I have to go with Keith on the whole gaming thing – I didn’t feel he was trying to fault people for liking gaming, I think he’s just pointing out how inane it seems to those of us on the outside. We don’t understand what the fuss is about.

    Also: yes, I had a fit of giggles at the “Steve Sharts” thing, and I happily admit my inner 12-year-old sometimes gets the better of me. Cheers.

  8. mantlewasarockstar

    I have no interest in gaming, but hey, to each his own. I do agree with what I believe is the original intent of Keith’s comment: if the absence of a player of limited relevance like Brendan Donnelly hinders your ability to enjoy your gaming experience, you probably need some perspective.

  9. unpaka27@yahoo.com

    @mantlewasarockstar – If somebody likes Brendan Donnelly, they’re going to stick up for him. That person may be right or wrong for doing so, but that doesn’t indicate that he needs “some perspective” on his enjoyment of video games. A differing opinion doesn’t make a person overly obsessed with video games, as you’re implying. It just means this person happens to like gaming a lot, and happens to like Donnelly, as well.

    No hobby is better than another hobby, provided that one’s involvement in it isn’t doing anybody any harm. The issue at stake is whether it’s right or wrong to include Donnelly, because of what he did in the past.

    It’s wrong to reward Donnelly. But it’s not right to suggest that someone who likes video games needs to change his “perspective”. The only perspective that needs to be changed is that of society viewing hobbyists of any kind as weird or obsessive. To this day, there are still people who view stamp collecting, trading card collecting, record collecting, etc., as being bizarre obsessions. They’re not. They’re fun hobbies, and so is gaming. The person in question happens to like gaming AND baseball. To illustrate how off-target your statement is, try switching hobbies in your sentence:

    “If the absence of a game featuring Brendan Donnelly hinders your ability to enjoy baseball, you probably need some perspective.”

    With this simple reversal of hobbies, the sentence would attack a person for liking baseball too much, as opposed to video games. Either way, I respectfully point out that this sentiment is–to use the title of this blog–“Wrong”. The reasons Donnelly can’t, and shouldn’t, be in a video game can be argued without personally attacking a person for a hobby he enjoys.

  10. unpaka27@yahoo.com

    Correction of my previous comment: The phrase was supposed to be “the title of this blog ENTRY”. 🙂

  11. mantlewasarockstar

    First of all, let’s go back to the first sentence of my comment: “I have no interest in gaming, but hey, to each his own.” There it is in a nutshell. Whatever floats your boat, as it were. For you to infer that somehow that sentence implies I believe one “hobby is better than another hobby” is disingenuous and smacks of overreaching. And by your quite defensive response, it seems like your interpretation of said statement has touched a raw nerve that would correspond to someone attacking gaming, not someone indifferent to it, as I am.

    As for your example, one that supposedly “illustrate[s] how off-target [my] statement is”, it fails to make sense. Sorry. Let me help you with that and give you an equivalent to my original statement that better reflects my intent AND uses baseball, as you did. I’ll even use my fave MLB team, if that makes it more tolerable for you:

    “If the absence of Melky Cabrera hinders your ability to enjoy Yankee games, you probably need some perspective.”

    How’s that?

  12. len.ncv@gmail.com

    it’s more the inclusion of an element of the game (here, realism and accuracy to the actual game) then a specific player, mantlewasarockstar. A more apt statement might be:
    “If the absence of a DH rule hinders your ability to enjoy baseball, you may be too into baseball.”
    Accuracy or validity of the argument aside, it diminishes the pastime and the person that enjoys it for their point of view.

  13. mantlewasarockstar

    I see your point, Len. But we’re not talking about an across-the-board element of the game, such as the DH rule, but the absence of a particular player. Does this player’s absence diminish “realism and accuracy”? Probably. But to what degree? I would venture it depends on who that player is. That’s where my call for perspective comes in.

    Now, if in the realm of video gaming–which I am not knowledgeable about–all elements are equal and, say, removing Chase Utley or Johnny Damon from a 2009 WS video game scenario would be of the same consequence if you removed a minor player from either team that did not decide the outcome of any game or the series, then I take back my comments, promptly apologize and shut my trap. Otherwise…

  14. csupp@excite.com

    As a baseball fan, and as a casual gamer who has an unnatural obsession with Sony’s “MLB The Show” gaming franchise, I can say that the absence of Brendan Donnelly doesn’t affect me emotionally (Matt Herges may be another story, but only because he’s from my hometown). It should be noted, however, “The Show” franchise is unique in it’s approach to sports gaming, in that it strives to be a sim. A lot of development effort is put into the authenticity of players (down to their specific batting stance characteristics), ballparks, and gameplay. Players being on active MLB rosters, but prevented by the union from being represented on video game rosters, is a strike against the authenticity of the game. But obsessive gamers are a creative and communal lot, just like baseball fans, and most of these games allow one to create their own players. In fact, a visit to a fan forum for one of these games can easily lead one to a creative/obsessive gamer who has created entire minor league team rosters of players who reflect their real-life counterparts. These rosters can be downloaded and shared. In other words, to respond more directly to Mr. Olbermann, if you feel your video game is incomplete without Brendan Donnelly, you simply need to give birth to him in the game’s player editor/creator.

  15. zenpoet@hotmail.com

    Should you decide to devote the entirety of your space to respond to another’s work, you should at least have integrity enough to refer to that person by name.

    Owen Good responded to your piece, and did so without saying “a fascinating, well-researched, reasonably-argued article” by a mlb.com writer. You may or may not believe that a blog is a viable news source, but you do yourself and the rest of the mainstream media a disservice by not giving credit where credit is due.

    I find this akin to a person consciously leaving off “Dr.” when referring to someone with a MD or PHD, just to slight them. If you feel the need to reference this person or their work, please use their name with proper credit.

    thus ends the diatribe,
    -zenpoet, an avid reader of kotaku and gizmodo.com

  16. woodsprite42@yahoo.com

    Another fun little side note regarding all the pitchers named Jim in 1967, here was a similar bit of trivia I noticed last year: In 2009, there were 7 MLB players named Clay or Clayton. They were all pitchers:

    Clay Buchholz / SP – Boston Red Sox; Clay Condrey / RP – Minnesota Twins; Clayton Kershaw / SP – Los Angeles Dodgers;
    Clayton Mortensen / RP – Oakland Athletics; Clay Rapada / RP – Texas Rangers; Clayton Richard / SP/RP – San Diego Padres; Clay Zavada / RP – Arizona Diamondbacks

    Kinda cool.

  17. fredcornwallace@yahoo.com

    I get where you all are coming from, but what if there was an Indianapolis 500 video game without the Marmon Wasp? It would be a sad day for motorists and those fans who loved Harroun. I’m trying to be somewhat relatable here, but maybe that’s a bad example. Welp, silver lining, at least baseball has legit video games though!

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