Both were constantly feeding me information, while I also had developed a strong relationship with the players union chief Don Fehr. Most important, I had Fehr’s cellphone number as well as commissioner Bud Selig. Unlike Fehr, who always wanted something in return, there isn’t a mean bone in Selig’s body.
Former Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.
The other three would give me the information, and I would call Selig to confirm any big news, and at a time where there was no internet, I was able to give AJC readers insight to the strike. It was for this reason that I had written the season was over long before Sept. 14, when Selig made it official.
For the next 75 days, the news was slow. I needed the break, as at home my toddler twins were literally tearing up the house. I was back home being a father again, but not for long.
In December, negotiations between the players and owners started getting serious, and I made the first of what would be five trips to the Washington, D.C., and Virginia area for meetings between the two sides. It was frustrating because beat writers, including myself, from all over the country sat for hours in hotel lobbies each day waiting for tidbits of news.
At one of the owner’s meetings, Braves owner Ted Turner pulled up to the front entrance in old American-built car and jumped out wearing a lime green jacket. I walked with him until we got to the door, and I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something like, “This whole thing is ridiculous.”
I also remember stopping at a store in the nation’s capital to buy my girls and wife presents before heading back home as I had missed the first few days of Hanukkah.
Then on the day after Christmas, I was back on a plane to Washington as President Bill Clinton got involved and ordered a deal to be done by Feb. 6. Braves pitcher Tom Glavine, who was the union’s player representative for the club, made a visit to the White House to meet in the Oval Office with President Clinton. But the president couldn’t even get the two sides together, and suddenly I had Kasten whispering in my ear that the owners were willing to play the 1995 season with replacement players.
MORE FROM THE SERIES
» About the series
» FURMAN BISHER: Atlanta's finest moment
» SPRING TRAINING: Starting with replacement players
» MARK BRADLEY: A subdued season, a giddy ending
» BUILDING THE BRAVES: How the championship team was built
» CHIPPER JONES: 'No bigger beneficiary of '94 strike than me'
» ANNOUNCERS: Championship call years in the making
» DAVE SHOTKOSKI: Remembering pitcher killed in spring training
» MARQUIS GRISSOM: Dream comes true for Atlanta native
I remember the first day I wrote a story mentioning the possibility of replacement players and the feedback I received. At the time, I was doing a “Hot Stove” show with Skip Caray on WSB Radio and that night one caller after another said they were giving up on baseball if replacement players were brought in.
But that is exactly what happened and suddenly I found myself in search of a condo in West Palm Beach, Florida. I picked one with four bedrooms, so columnists such as Furman Bisher, Mark Bradley and Steve Hummer had a place to stay when they came down to work with me. But I would have few visitors this spring.
The atmosphere was unlike any spring training before. The fans, the few around, were not excited. Fehr said the strike would never be settled if replacement players were used in regular-season games, and Detroit manager Sparky Anderson refused to work with replacement players, so the team put him on a leave of absence.
Still, on Feb. 17, I flew into the West Palm airport to begin a spring with players I knew very little about. Major league players called them scabs, and when I arrived at the Braves’ spring training complex, the major league locker room was empty except for the office of manager Bobby Cox and his staff. Braves’ general manager John Schuerholz decided that the replacement players would dress in the old and vast minor league locker room.
Braves General Manager John Schuerholz L chats with team manager Bobby Cox at the Braves spring training stadium after players and management put aside their differences for the time being as the major leaguers begin to report to training camp.
It was weird as the replacements were mixed in with the Braves’ minor league players, which meant I had to ask every player I walked up to if they were a replacement player. These players knew what they faced if they crossed the line, but they were being offered $115,000 if they made the team.
A lot of the replacement players had bounced around the minors for years and needed the money. They were willing to be ostracized by the major league players. One minor league player at the Marlins’ camp up the road in Melbourne said, “I think (the clubs) should put red stickers on the replacement player’s heads.”
The Braves coaching staff wasn’t the same, struggling with the fact of having to coach the replacements. Cox spent a lot of time riding around the different fields in his golf cart and then leaving and playing golf almost every day. Pitching coach Leo Mazzone was in a spring-long bad mood, saying “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Schuerholz, a workaholic, was bored.
At the AJC, however, we were taking it seriously and I was writing a couple of stories every day. But it just wasn’t the same. On the first day the spring games were played with the replacement players, I called a few of the real Braves. Jeff Blauser told me he was retired, Greg Maddux said he was playing golf and added, “I’m not getting on a mound” and John Smoltz said, “My body and mind ache for baseball.”
The Grapefruit League games seemed like they lasted forever, but we finally headed into the last week of spring and tragedy struck March 25.
My wife, the twins, father and father-in-law were in town and we had just returned to my condo. We were watching television when the show was interrupted and a news reporter came on and said that a Braves replacement player had been murdered. I jumped on the phone to get some details, having a friend at the Palm Beach Post. He gave me the details and it was pitcher Dave Shotkoski who had been killed. He was working for Coca-Cola in Chicago, but the company gave him permission to come to West Palm to try to make the club.
The team hotel, which was used by the minor leaguers and not the well-kept Marriott up on PGA Boulevard, which the big-league Braves had been housed in the past few springs, was not in a good part of town, and Shotkoski had gone out for a walk. Someone on a bike tried to rob him, an altercation ensued and Shotkoski was shot. I arrived at camp the next morning and some of the replacement players were crying. The story broke nationally.
Shotkoski had been married with an 8-month-old daughter. The exhibition game was called off that day and I drove over to the murder scene. There was a path of Shotkoski’s blood in the street, and the police had no leads.
Dave Shotkoski is shown on the mound for the California Angels farm team the Midland Angels in this undated photo Shotkowski 30 of Hoffman Estates Ill a replacement player for the Atlanta Braves was murdered in an apparent robbery attempt Friday night March 24 1995 in West Palm Beach Fla.
But when I came back to the clubhouse, I noticed that outfielder Terry Blocker was still at his locker. Blocker had last played for the Braves in 1989, but was trying to make the team as a replacement player and had become friends with Shotkoski. When he was with the Braves before in West Palm, Blocker met a teammate that lived in the area. Blocker called him and the two went into the neighborhood surrounding the murder scene. And it was there that Blocker was able to get some people to talk as the killer had bragged to a few about killing Shotkoski. Blocker gave the information to the police and the killer was arrested on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Blocker was cut the next day. I remember him telling me he was at peace with everything.
The Braves then trimmed the replacement player roster to 25, and we broke camp and headed to Atlanta. There were three exhibition games set, but the paper decided they wanted me in the newsroom covering the strike negotiations instead of those games.
I don’t think I left the office for two days and on March 30, a Saturday, Manhattan district court judge Sonia Sotomayor, who now sits on the Supreme Court, ruled that the owners had illegally implemented an economic system and issued an injunction. Earlier that week, the player’s union board had unanimously voted to end the strike if Sotomayor issued the injunction. It was now up to owners whether to accept the union’s unconditional offer to return to work. For the owners to lock out the players, it would require 21 votes.
The owners were tired, and they had lost millions of dollars because of the strike. I immediately called Kasten to see if a lockout was possible. He said no, and I wrote the strike was over and the 1995 season was saved.
The next 48 hours were probably the craziest I experienced in my 13-plus years at the AJC. So much had to be done; free-agent players had to sign with teams, arbitration cases settled and plans for a shortened spring and season had to be put in place as well as keeping tabs on Chipper Jones, who was coming off knee surgery that kept him out the entire 1994 season. And I had to find another condo and tell my wife, Beth, that I was headed back to West Palm for 10 days of workouts and 10 days of games. I already was worn out as the real players reported April 4 for a season that would start 20 days later and be cut down to 144 games. But my editors, which included Robert Mashburn, Mike Tierney and sports editor Don Boykin, kept my confidence and energy level up. Boykin even called me one night and said after the season you and you wife can take a vacation “on us.”
Long days turned into long nights as I pounded out as many as five stories a day. Jeff Blauser wasn’t signed and Schuerholz made a major deal a few days into the second spring training, getting leadoff hitter and center fielder Marquis Grissom from Montreal.
Newly acquired Braves outfielder Marquis Grissom jokes with new Expos player and former Braves Tony Tarasco as they wait for their picture to be taken by Sports Illustrated photographer Tom DiPace at West Palm Beach Municipal Stadium in April of 1995.
The Braves and Expos shared the same spring training complex in West Palm and I remember going to the Expos’ locker room and talking to Grissom as he packed up and walked across the baseball diamond to join his new team. Funny, I had done the same thing with Otis Nixon when he was acquired from the Expos in the spring of 1991.
Another long day included the signing of Blauser. His agent, Scott Boras, made the Braves believe the Texas Rangers were interested in Blauser, and it led to him getting a three-year, $10 million deal. I remember sending the final story to the paper at 1 a.m.
Finally, on April 24, we broke camp. It was a total of 10 weeks in south Florida.
I received a call from Mashburn who told me to take the next day off. He didn’t want to hear from me for 24 hours. That night the Braves hosted the Yankees for an exhibition game at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Only 8,000 people showed up. And then the next day I was back at work for the opener at home against San Francisco.
The Braves would win that night against the Giants and 89 more games in the shortened 144-game season. And who would have known all that craziness in the spring would lead to Atlanta’s first world championship.