MLB Strike 1994

Looking Back at MLB 1994: Strikes, Mondesi and Lasorda

By David A. Avila

A quarter of a century ago Major League Baseball stopped cold after a strike forced the remainder of the 1994 season to a complete and abrupt halt. No World Series took place that year and fans wondered about the future of the sport.

My very first baseball assignment took place that season: interview hot Los Angeles Dodger prospect Raul Mondesi who was being compared to Roberto Clemente due largely to his rocket arm and hitting ability.

One of my childhood dreams was to become a Major League Baseball player and though that did not happen, here I was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times assigned to write a feature story on Dominican Republic’s Mondesi who was putting up impressive numbers both offensively and defensively.

As a reporter you get access to areas most fans will never see like the underground batting cages, tunnels and locker rooms for both the players, coaches and umpires. It’s all a large maze that can be daunting to navigate especially on a debut visit.

It was probably around June or July that I took my reporter’s notebook and recording device with me in the Dodger dungeon to search for Mondesi. I had called ahead of time and the media relations official informed me that Mondesi was aware of the interview. What was not mentioned was that the Dominican outfielder did not want to be interviewed and was trying his best to avoid talking to me.

It was about 3 p.m. on my third day hunt while in the locker room area I heard a voice behind me asking “can I help you?”

I turned around and there was Tommy Lasorda in a gray Dodger undershirt. He said “how you doing kid?” and invited me into his manager’s office where a guy with his back to me was sitting on table and mumbling something undiscernible. A large five-foot long table filled with lunch meats, cheese, bread and pasta on top of it was colorfully spread out. He invited me to grab a sandwich or pasta so I made a sandwich while listening to this guy with his back to me continue talking to Lasorda. The voice was vaguely familiar and when he finally turned to greet me I quickly saw it was Vin Scully. I didn’t want to interrupt their conversation so I refrained from saying anything and just listened to them talk about the old Brooklyn days.

Here I was sitting in a small room with both Lasorda and Scully as they traded stories about baseball days at Flatbush. I had to shake my head to believe it was real. Finally Lasorda stopped the conversation and introduced me to Scully. We shook hands and I excused myself telling them I had to find Mondesi. They understood and Lasorda chirped “good luck kid.”

I found Mondesi and asked if I could interview him and he shook his head. He told me had to practice right now and would be back in five minutes. He didn’t return. I returned another day and this time Mondesi was walking with another Dominican player Henry Rodriguez. Again I asked Mondesi for just five minutes and as he was about to say no and walk away, Rodriguez chimed in “come on Raul it’s only five minutes” so Mondesi agreed.

I’ll never forget Henry Rodriguez, a very happy and confident guy who also had a pretty good career with the Dodgers, Expos and I think Chicago Cubs too. Without his help I probably would still be waiting to get that interview with Mondesi.

I asked Mondesi a few questions in English and quickly realized they weren’t sinking in so I repeated in Spanish. His eyes opened up wide and he answered in Spanish. It was a decent interview and I could tell Mondesi was relieved that it was in Spanish and that he no longer had to talk. My Spanish was never good but understandable and he was pretty happy about not having to use his English.

Mondesi had a pretty good year and was outstanding as a rifle-armed outfielder. When the strike was announced the Dodgers were in first place and seemed destined for the playoffs in 1994. As a reporter it was my first time covering the Dodgers and it fulfilled my dream of reaching Major League Baseball in one form or another. But though the strike took place I felt it would be solved before the month of August was over. It did not happen. It was a different era back then. The playoffs did not happen and the season was declared over with no World Series that year. After that awards were still passed out and Mondesi was voted NL Rookie of the Year.

A couple of years ago I saw Mondesi was back at Dodger Stadium and was voted mayor in the Dominican Republic. When I first heard this I was shocked. Here was a guy who couldn’t look another person in the eye in public office. I’m sure he had to give speeches and talk to the media. But as I thought about it I came to the realization that I was probably among the first to interview Mondesi. That kind of gave me a bit of satisfaction. I also read that his son Raul Mondesi Jr. plays in the MLB and is pretty good. I wonder if he knows about his father’s rookie days?

Sadly, just this past June, Mondesi was found guilty of embezzling money while mayor of his hometown San Cristobal. He was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Soul of baseball

The Dodgers organization goes through changes just like any other professional sports organization. But in my mind without Lasorda they would not have that soul and connection to the fans. He managed until July 1996 about two years after I met him. He remains the heart of the organization despite the many changes it has endured over the past three decades including several changes in ownership.

I come across Lasorda every so often. He always tells me “how you doing kid?” Though I met him in one of the darkest years in Major League Baseball it remains one of my fondest.

Homerun haven

According to stats homeruns are being hit at a record rate and could smash all records. Just recently the Dodgers hit 22 homers in five days for a MLB record. They lead the National League with 215 homers so far as a team.

More than a few experts and MLB executive are investigating whether it’s the stitching of the baseballs during manufacturing or if it’s simply the recent popular batting philosophy of launch angles. Others claim it’s the preference to have fastball pitchers rather than curveball and breaking ball stylists.