By Mark Wilson
January 26, 2015

Less than a month from today, you’ll hear the four sweetest words uttered in the dead of winter.

Pitchers and catchers report.

Baseball fans LONG for those four words.

It means there is light at the end of the frozen tunnel and another season is upon us. With four consecutive AL Central titles, Detroit Tigers’ fans look forward to those four words more than ever as temps hover in the teens.

Two decades ago however, we didn’t know what the hell those four words meant.

Winter of 1995 actually began in the baseball world… in summer of 1994.

August 11th was the last day the game was played in MLB thanks to an all out players’ strike. They walked out to protect their rights to remain “free.”

A salary cap and other restrictions simply weren’t going to fly like they were flying in the NBA and NFL.

The Tigers final game came against Milwaukee.

On August 12th, old Tiger Stadium was shuttered and quiet.

I walked out of the ballpark the previous day with Tigers’ player rep Mike Henneman.

“See you sometime soon?” I asked.

“Don’t bet on it,” Henneman answered.

With that, he went to his car and drove away like the other 24 players, Manager Sparky Anderson and the rest of the coaching staff.

Then-broadcaster Bob Rathbun walked over to me and wanted my thoughts on how long the strike would last.

I told him that there wasn’t a chance they would cancel the post-season so… maybe a month or so.

Baseball wouldn’t be dumb enough to dump the World Series for the first time since 1904.

Or… would they?

Commissioner Bud Selig was fairly new on the scene and battled his loyalty to the owners. He was an owner too, having run the same Brewers who left Tiger Stadium that fateful day.

As the summer progressed, neither side was budging.

Summer was about to turn into autumn and on September 14th, Selig did the unthinkable.

He canceled the remaining games AND the post season.

World Series gone.

Oh, the humanity!

Fans of the game quickly HATED both sides. No one felt bad for the growing number of millionaires on the players’ side and they surely had zero love for the billionaire owners.

September 14, 1994 was undoubtedly the darkest day in baseball’s modern history.

More than half a billion dollars was lost.

The Montreal Expos were the biggest losers. They were on their way to the best season in team annals when the strike hit. The Expos had never been to the World Series and this was the best chance since they entered the league in the expansion of 1969.

Detroit was having a lousy season so there was really no loss for the Tigers other than the bad karma it placed on the fans.

Mike Ilitch was the newest owner in the bunch; having purchased the club from Tom Monaghan just two years before.

Ilitch stood by the owners but it pained him to do it.

He knew baseball had to change its evil ways when it came to protecting anti-trust legislation. Change was necessary because MLB wanted to be like the NBA and NFL.

It was a standoff of epic proportions.

As fall turned into winter, nothing was happening.

Two days before Christmas, the owners angered the players by implementing a salary cap minus any player approval.

Donald Fehr, who represented the union, declared all 900 unsigned players to be free agents in response to the salary cap move.

That happened right after New Year’s 1995.

President Clinton got into the act by ordering a resumption of collective bargaining. Clinton wanted a resolution by February 6th.

By then, the owners had seen the error of their ways and removed the self-issued salary cap.

The Feb. 6 deadline came and went with no agreement.

Earlier, the owners had issued a statement saying that if no accord was struck by the time spring training was to begin, they would continue forward anyhow.

They would continue with “replacement players.”

The regular players laughed.

I mean, they laughed LOUDLY.

Selig’s comment was, “We are committed to playing the 1995 season and will do so with the best players willing to play.”

He might as well have kicked dogs and slapped old ladies.

The only team NOT willing to try the replacement joke was Baltimore.

Orioles’ owner Peter Angelos had been a union attorney and could not justify going that route.

So, on February 17th, 1995 spring training began in cities all over Florida and Arizona.

I was working at FOX 2 and flew down to Lakeland along with videographer Rodney Ferguson. We couldn’t wait to see what kind of circus we would have.

Tiger Town and Joker Marchant Stadium was eerily quiet when we arrived after flying into Tampa and renting a car to make the drive along the I-4.

We did this every spring but this time, it was WEIRD.

Walking into the office, which sat just a football field away from the stadium, something was stranger than normal.

No one was inside.

20 years ago, Dan Ewald was the Tigers’ media relations man. He was helped out by his son, Dan Jr.

Nowhere to be found.

I saw some press releases on a table and grabbed them only to realize they were from LAST YEAR.

There was no information about 1995 spring training or the Detroit Tigers.

Rodney and I laughed our asses off.

We couldn’t stop laughing.


It felt more like a Pony League team waiting for the first wave of dads to get their coaching assignments.

As we sat outside, it was 80 degrees that day after all; getting some of that gnarly Florida sunshine we caught a glimpse of General Manager Joe Klein.

I went up to Joe, shook hands, and asked what the hell was going on.

Then… HE laughed.

Basically, Klein had no clue.

He told me that Sparky was due the next day and that something was up with the manager. He also said that he expected some kind of players to show up as well.

“Some kind of players?”

That was his quote.

Knowing that NOTHING was happening on our first day of arrival, we headed to our hotel for some pool time and a nice dinner.

Welcome to spring training, 1995.

The next say started early.

We drove back to Marchant and yes indeed Sparky was in his office.

Ewald was there too.

He said that Anderson would have an announcement in a few minutes.

By then, Tigers’ beat writers, another TV crew or two and some stragglers had made their way to Lakeland.

Sparky came back into his office and sat down and lit up a pipe. I stood next to the future Hall of Fame manager and Joe Falls, I recall, was next to me.

He announced that he was walking away.

“I will not damage the integrity of this game,” Sparky told me. “It is something I am not willing to do.”

In no uncertain terms, Anderson would have NO part of managing “scab players.”

That word SCAB would come up each and every day of this silly charade.

Sparky was the ONLY manager to challenge ownership and refuse to manage in spring training.

Team President John McHale talked Ilitch out of firing Sparky for insubordination. Instead, Anderson was put on an “unpaid leave of absence.”

Bye, bye skipper.

Anderson walked out of the office and the media guys were left looking at each other.

“Whoa. That was ballsy,” I said to Rodney.

Then we laughed again.

Right after the Sparky press conference, Ewald said that Klein would have his own.

The Tiger GM announced that Sparky leaving would not hinder moving forward with replacement players.

He made it clear that he was naming a manger but only on an INTERIM basis.

Tom Runnells was that guy.


Runnells had been managing in the Detroit farm system and had once managed in the big leagues with Montreal after a short playing career in Cincinnati under Pete Rose.

He spent parts of the 1991 and ‘92 campaigns leading the Expos, fashioning a 68-and-81 win/loss record.

Ironically, Runnells was hired in Montreal by future Tigers’ GM Dave Dombrowski, then GM with the Expos.

He flew under the radar back in 1995.

Grabbing the new “manager” for an interview, I asked Runnells if this was a job he wanted once the replacement fiasco was over.

Guess what.

He laughed.

There was a ton of laughter going on in Lakeland, Florida that odd spring 20 years ago.

To his credit, Runnells made sure to emphasize he was only there to hold the reigns until Sparky returned. He had no allusions of grandeur in this interim role.

Runnells was a nice, decent fellow put in a crappy situation.

He remains in baseball to this day as the bench coach for Walt Weiss in Colorado.

By the way, no where on Runnells’ Wikipedia page does it say he was the “Interim Detroit Tigers Manager.”

It says… nada.

By the afternoon of that second day, some of the replacement dudes began to filter in.

I recognized one guy from his days with the Chicago Cubs.

Hello, Dave Gumpert.

The Gump was the first player in camp admitting he was there to be a replacement player. Big news. We caught one.

“I’m just looking to kick start my career,” Gumpert said.

Born and raised in South Haven, Gumpert was Pure Michigan who had also attended Aquinas College in Grand Rapids. He pitched briefly two years for the Tigers in 1982 and ’83 before going to Chicago.

Gumpert finished as a major leaguer in 1987 with Kansas City.

He was 36 and hadn’t played in eight years.

3-and-2 lifetime, Gump appeared in 86 games making one start with an ERA of 4.31.

Congratulations Dave! You’re the Tigers ACE.

Gump was one of the few players through the door that had previous major league experience. Most of the “scabs” were minor leaguers or… no leaguers at all.

Former University of Detroit baseball coach Bob Miller’s son showed up. Pat Miller had no pro experience but thought it a good chance to be seen.

He was against the owners but wanted an opportunity.

“If this is my shot, then so be it,” Miller said.

Terry Leach was another one who entered camp.

Leach was an eleven year MLB veteran pitcher with the Mets, Royals, Twins and, most recently, White Sox.

In 1987, he went 11-and-1 in New York; 18-and-3 in two seasons with the Mets.

He was not shy.

“I am strictly triple-A,” Leach told me. “I am NOT here to be replacement. No way would I do that.”

About to turn 41, Leach was like a lot of fringe players. They were adamant about not being a part of what was happening. They were coming to camp as triple-A or minor league pieces ONLY.

Bryan Clutterbuck wasn’t shy either.

“I’m here to be a replacement player.”

Clutterbuck was born in Detroit and played college ball for Ron Oestrike at Eastern Michigan. He was a Huron right after Bob Welch and Bobby Owchinko played in Ypsilanti.

1986 and ’89, Clutterbuck got his cup of coffee in the bigs with the Brewers. He’d been playing Independent League baseball since getting back in after five years away.

“Damn right I am here to try and make the Tigers’ roster,” Clutterbuck said without shame or embarrassment.

“For some of us, it’s our only way back.”

After talking to him, I remembered the 1987 NFL strike and what guys had said during that horrible replacement player situation.

Todd Hons was the Detroit Lions replacement (scab) quarterback.

Hons crossed a picket line to do it.

There was no real picket line during the baseball strike of 1994; at least nothing organized that I recall.

Erik Kramer was also a QB in 1987 that crossed.

Undrafted out of North Carolina State, Kramer risked his pro future by joining the Atlanta Falcons. He played in all three replacement games.

Now branded as a “scab,” Kramer went to Canada when the strike ended. He spent two years with the Calgary Stampeders.

Returning to the states in 1991, E.K. hooked up with the Lions.

For three seasons, Kramer battled Rodney Peete and Andre Ware for the starting job in Detroit. It was Erik that led the Lions to their only NFC Championship game appearance in the Super Bowl era.

In 1994 he went to Chicago.

Kramer set Bears’ single season passing records for yards (3,838) and touchdown passes (29) in the ’95 campaign.

If he was ever bothered by other players who didn’t like scabs playing in the NFL, I never saw it.

Seattle’s All-Pro receiver Steve Largent crossing over in ’87 quashed a lot of that talk about other replacement players.

Who knows what would happen after the spring of 1995 during this baseball work stoppage?

One of the more interesting cats to show up in Lakeland was Chris Brown.

No, not THAT Chris Brown.

I saw him running in the outfield at Marchant with a sanitary sock tied around his head like a headband.

“You gotta be kidding me,” I told a local Lakeland reporter.

Six years earlier, in 1989, Brown had been dealt to the Tigers from San Diego for Walt Terrell.

Right from jump, he clashed with Sparky.

Brown was supposed to be the Tigers starting third baseman and he was.

For 17 games.

Four errors and only 11 hits later, he was released on May 19th.

Some believe that Brown was a reason why Anderson had to take his month-long leave of absence in ’89 due to stress. It’s the season the Tigers lost 103 times and it wasn’t all due to Chris Brown but he sure didn’t help matters.

After the Tigers dumped him, Brown was done with baseball.

Until now.

“I’m here to see if I have anything left,” he told me candidly. “I feel I left some baseball on the table.”

This was a different, more subdued Brown. He had obviously grown up a little.

He was going on 34 and was humbled.

I wasn’t real fond of the 1989 version but THIS version I liked and kinda rooted for.

Chris Brown was a Tiger again.


I thought; what’s next?

Al Kaline putting a uniform on at age 60? The zillionth comeback of Mark “The Bird” Fidrych? Denny McLain firing up the old arm? Willie Horton grabbing a bat?

Luckily, none of those things happened.

On March 2nd, we ventured back up the I-4 and over to I-75 South to Sarasota.

Michael Jordan was going to speak about the replacement player situation.

Jordan was in his second season playing baseball in the White Sox organization. He had produced a .202, 30 steal season in Double-A Birmingham the previous year.

This was Mike’s second spring training.

“I respect the players of this game and will not take the field as a replacement player,” Jordan said.

He was relaxed and committed to his stance.

Jordan left Sarasota waiting to see what would happen.

Two weeks later, he released a two word statement that ended his baseball experiment.

“I’m back.”

He meant to the Chicago BULLS and not the White Sox.

Jordan returned to basketball and won three more NBA titles.

His .202 batting average with the Barons remains his diamond legacy.

Who knows? Jordan could have been a STAR amongst scab guys.

That was a weird day.

Rodney and I left Sarasota after the Jordan meeting and returned to our hotel. We were staying in Plant City at the old Ramada Inn. It was only a couple of exits away from Marchant and was a better option than the hotel we normally stayed at in Lakeland.

Heading into the restaurant at the Ramada, we heard a man and woman arguing loudly.

It was Ray Knight and Nancy Lopez.

Told ya— oddest spring— EVER.

Knight had a successful 13 year MLB playing career. He was the guy that scored on the ball that went under the legs of Boston’s Bill Buckner in Game Six of the 1986 World Series for the Mets. It’s one of the most famous plays in baseball history.

In 1988, he ended his career with the Tigers.

Lopez is one of the most decorated golfers in the history of the LPGA Tour; having won 52 times.

Knight was the ’86 World Series MVP.

Here they were in a hotel restaurant yelling at each other like there was no tomorrow.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

I went right up to them and said hello.

They stopped arguing and transformed into a happily married sporting couple.


Again, my videographer and I laughed wildly when they departed.

What the hell was going on?

By the way, a couple months later, Cincinnati Reds’ owner Marge Schott announced that Knight would take over as manager from Davey Johnson no matter how Johnson fared in the ’95 season.

Sure enough, Knight became the Reds’ skipper in 1996.

Schott loved Knight who played in Cincy his first six seasons in “the show.”

The love lasted LESS than two full seasons.

After going 81-and-81 in ’96, he was 13 games under .500 through 99 contests in 1997 and was fired in favor of Jack McKeon.

So much for the love.

Knight and Lopez divorced in 2009.

But, in 1995 chaos reigned supreme in the game of baseball in all sorts of ways.

Some of the scabs who showed up in OTHER camps included Shane Spencer, Cory Lidle, Kevin Millar, Henry Cotto, Jamie Walker and even Pete Rose, Jr.

Yep, Pete’s son did the replacement thing.

Millar is now a star on the MLB Network.

Spencer and all other Yankees’ replacement players have not been acknowledged as Yanks.

Rumors of former Tiger Willie Hernandez, the 1984 Cy Young Award winner and AL MVP, pitching in replacement games were just that… rumors.

All sorts of strange names surfaced in Florida and Arizona.

Non-union players were not welcomed one iota.

We didn’t stay in Lakeland long enough to see any spring training games that featured the “non-unions.”

Anger was at a boiling point during negotiations and we were back in Detroit.

One day before the 1995 season was supposed to begin with the scab players, the strike came to an equally as odd ending.

You can thank current Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor for laying down the hammer.

She was a district court judge in New York at the time and issued an injunction against the owners on March 31st.

On April 2nd, the Court of Appeals denied the owners request for a stay.

It was over.

The old bargaining agreement would be used until a new one could be reached and the ’95 season would start three weeks late.

Players win again.

Back to Florida we went.

Abbreviated spring training would be held before Opening Day in what would now be a 144 game schedule.

Don’t get me wrong. There are worse jobs than having to fly to Florida TWICE in the months of February and April.

This time we stayed in Lakeland at the Holiday Inn; within walking distance to Joker Marchant.

My first day back I took advantage of that walk on a beautiful day in Central FLA.

As I walked past the houses that lined Lake Parker (no relation to Rob Parker) with the palm trees swaying in the light warm breeze, I saw a familiar face running in the outfield at the minor league complex.

You can see the outfield as soon as you go past the last house on the curved block.

It was Kirk Gibson.

Gibby had returned to the Tigers in 1993, had a very good 1994 year with 23 homers and 72 RBI and was in top shape for the crazy 1995 rodeo.

He was about to turn 38.

“This was just nuts,” he said after his workout.

There was normalcy back in the little Marchant Stadium clubhouse.

Tom Runnells was gone and George Anderson was back.

Sparky, in his number 11 uniform, was sitting at his desk and gave a wave saying he’d see me outside.

Coaches Dick Tracewski and Billy Consolo strode past with bats in their hands.

Strength coach Brad Andress was calling guys out to the field.

There was Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Cecil Fielder, Travis Fryman, Milt Cuyler, Tony Phillips, etc.

I said hey to Henneman.

Greg Gohr came by to shake hands.


It was as if replacement baseball HAD NEVER HAPPENED.

Soooo odd.

Phillips was the first to rip the guys who dared to wear the Old English D.

“They’re scabs,” T.P. said. “Plain and simple, they’re scabs and they have to live with that.”

Henneman was harsher.

“I wouldn’t want to be them. Hope they don’t expect to get any support from us.”

Phillips even went a step further.

“I’m not going to do anything to them but I can’t say there aren’t guys who wish them ill will.”

Sparky was in a particularly good mood.

“Yeah, I stand by what I did,” Anderson said referring to his refusal to manage. “These people here deserve better than what went on.”

To a man, every Tigers’ player praised Sparky. They were more in awe than ever of the legendary manager.

“He’s God to me,” said Bobby Higginson.

“Wow, what a guy,” added catcher John Flaherty.

“I’ll never forget what he did for us,” Phillips said.

Tram and Lou were pretty much in lockstep with their comments on their longtime manager.

“I would expect nothing less from him. It’s what makes Sparky… Sparky. He has more respect for baseball than anyone I know.”

That was a combo of responses from Whitaker and Trammell.

They had been with Anderson since Sparky arrived in 1979. Lou was about to embark on what would be his final season as a Tiger while Alan played one more year in 1996.

On the first day of workouts, a lone older gentleman stood outside the fence holding a picket sign.

It said, “Fans on strike.”

He told me he was from Lakeland and just wanted to show the players that the fans were pissed over the stoppage.

“I don’t want them to get off scott free,” he said.

When I pointed out the man to Fryman, the Tigers’ third baseman said this.

“That’s ok. It’s certainly his right. We’ll win him back though.”

Travis smiled as he said it.

Fryman didn’t smile a whole lot back then. He was one of those gruff younger serious types entering his sixth season as a Tiger.

All of a sudden, T-Fry was SMILING?

OMG! What did this strike do?

Fans came out to see what was up and get some autographs and talk to their favorite players.

Fielder appeared with a glove in one hand; bat in the other.

“Glad you’re back Big Daddy,” yelled one snowbird down from Port Huron.

“Thank you, I appreciate that,” Cecil screamed back.

It sure didn’t LOOK or SOUND like anyone was too upset or angry over the strike.

I did a few wacky TV pieces that day; even signed a few autographs myself right next to Fielder.

“He’s probably more popular than we are,” Cess said jokingly pointing at me.

At least, I think he was joking.

Who knew anymore?

The baseball world had gone crazy. It was topsy-turvy.

TWO spring trainings in 1995; two totally different trips to Lakeland.

Towards the end of the first workout, I grabbed Sparky for more perspective.

“You can not fool these people,” he pontificated. “When we stop thinking about the fans, we might as well just fold the tent and go away.”

At that moment, I looked at the billboard just outside Marchant. It was a billboard for the Florida Lottery. It said that the jackpot was at $80,000,000.

“How about that?” I asked Sparky.

“Well, you can’t win if you don’t play. And I am going to PLAY!”

We laughed.

For comedy purposes, it was a wild ruckus tumultuous time in sports lore. We knew those nine months would linger for a while.

But, it was funny.

20 years later we get the historical significance.

Baseball has never been stronger than it is beginning the 2015 season.

Revenues are way up at all-time highs, salaries are bordering on the ridiculous. $20 million dollar per year deals are commonplace now.

David Price just inked a contract for $19.75 million; the highest one-year salary ever given to a player in his third arbitration go round. Max Scherzer got 7-years, $210 million from Washington.

The San Francisco Giants go in as World Series champs for the third time in five years. The Tigers begin their quest for a FIFTH straight divisional crown.

And… there is STILL no salary cap.

Even the NHL has had a cap in place for a decade. Don Fehr, of all people, reps the NHLPA.

Sonia Sotomayor continues to serve on the United States Supreme Court.

Bill Clinton’s wife is “considering” another run for the presidency in 2016.

Sparky Anderson retired after 1995 and died in 2010.

Chris Brown tragically died from injuries sustained in a house fire in 2006.

Gibson quit baseball DURING the ’95 season. Henneman packed up and ended his career in Texas.

Fans love the game like never before.

If there is a strike again, hopefully both sides have seen what can happen.

As for the man who picketed that day when the real guys returned?

I don’t know what happened to him. My guess is he came back and ditched his sign somewhere in his garage.

My videographer, Rodney Ferguson passed away a few years ago.

But, man… did we laugh during those two trips to Lakeland in 1995. It may have been nervous laughter at times but laughter nonetheless.

Somewhere up there, Rodney Rod might still be laughing.