1993 The Last Great Pennant Race

Both 100-game winners, the San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves give a glorious fight for one playoff spot as owners prepare to split league divisions and increase postseason competition.

Atlanta Braves, 104-58; San Francisco Giants, 103-59.

Before the 1993 baseball season had even begun, it looked as if the Atlanta Braves already had the World Series wrapped up. Having lost the Fall Classic the last two years and hungry to take that final victorious step, the Braves spent the offseason snagging one of the two prime free agency catches: Reigning Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux. The acquisition left many in baseball convinced that Atlanta had created its own level of unmatched power; in fact, Maddux’s addition to the Braves’ starting rotation seemed almost embarrassing, given that it was already considered the National League’s best before his signing.

The San Francisco Giants, on the other hand, were just happy to still be in town. Local investors had come to the rescue late in 1992, putting forth a deal to keep the Giants in the Bay Area. It allowed baseball owners to nix a pending sale that would have moved the club to perennial big-league wannabe St. Petersburg, Florida.

With a 45,000-seat domed facility lying in wait, St. Petersburg, Florida became every major league team's favorite bargaining chip when angling for a new ballpark back home. Sometimes it was more than a bluff, as Tampa Bay residents twice believed they really got their team—only to be denied at or beyond the eleventh hour.

The new San Francisco management, led by grocery tycoon Peter Magowan, pleasantly stunned Giants fans by catching the other big fish in the free agency pond: Multi-MVP outfielder Barry Bonds. Still, many predicted the Giants to be no better than a .500 team, providing no threat to the Atlanta juggernaut.

Atlanta’s expected walk in the park in the NL’s Western Division instead became a tense race to the wire with the equally and suddenly dominant Giants. It was a fight to the finish for which only one team could survive; those were the rules of the game, written up long ago and since never meddled with. There would be no reward for second place, no backdoor entry into the postseason and, heaven forbid, no wild card—an appropriately alien concept to baseball.

But not for long.

The season-long duel between the Braves and Giants—a mammoth struggle between two 100-game winners in which every game mattered to the utmost—would be the last of its kind.

The NL West race was non-existent to start. The Braves sputtered out of the gate, thanks to a problem that no all-world pitching staff could remedy: Weak hitting. Meanwhile, the Giants blasted miles ahead into first place. Bonds was tearing up the league as expected, but there were surprises within the supporting cast. Infielders Matt Williams and Robby Thompson were enjoying unusual .300 campaigns; starting pitchers John Burkett and Bill Swift were steamrolling on a pace to win 20 games apiece; and burly, scruffy-haired closer Rod Beck had developed into an intimidating presence on the mound. By the All-Star break, the Braves had crawled back into second place, but still trailed the rampaging Giants by over ten games.

Then a fire was ignited—almost literally—upon the Braves’ bats.

On July 20, the Braves scored a coup in acquiring first baseman Fred McGriff from the San Diego Padres, a franchise in the midst of a budget-saving fire saleSan Diego, on its way to 101 losses, also dealt away Gary Sheffield—prompting a class action lawsuit by Padres fans who felt they were misled by a management promise not to trade away the team’s stars. that would have impressed Connie Mack. But hours before McGriff’s first game as a Brave, the press box at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium accidentally caught fire, and before it was put out, some 1,000 seats and several radio booths had been rendered useless. The fire, however, provided a symbolic gesture for the Braves’ offense, which suddenly lit up. McGriff’s home run that evening sparked an 8-5 comeback win over St. Louis, and Atlanta began to rocket upward.

As the Braves fired up, the Giants cooled—then iced over at the worst possible moment. Atlanta came to Candlestick Park at the end of August and swept four games from the Giants, suddenly securing first place. The Giants continued to slump, but then pulled themselves back into a first-place tie with the Braves going into the regular season’s final weekend.

The Braves took the first two games of their final series—a three-game home stand against the expansion Colorado Rockies—while San Francisco kept pace with three road wins at Los Angeles against its hated rivals, the Dodgers. That left both teams with identical records of 103-58 entering the season’s final day.

The Giants rested their season’s hopes on Salomon Torres, a highly touted, 21-year-old call-up whose earlier few appearances upheld his promise. But Torres bombedTorres would go on to have a long major league career—primarily as a reliever—but after his pressure-packed loss to the Dodgers, his lofty potential was never fulfilled. as the Dodgers dismantled the Giants, who were forced to fold their cards with a 12-1 loss. Meanwhile, the Braves collected, finishing off a Colorado team for whom Atlanta would not lose one game all year—a NL first for the century—and clinched the NL West.

The Braves’ second-half surge was eye opening. Pre-McGriff, they were 53-41; with him, they were 51-17. His addition was enough to take the pressure off other Braves hitters, who were all badly slumping. David Justice, Ron Gant and Terry Pendleton all came alive with McGriff’s arrival. On the mound, Greg Maddux, after a middling 7-7 start (in spite of a 2.88 ERA), finished at 20-10 with a 2.36 ERA—and collected his second straight Cy Young Award.

For the Giants, 103-59 wouldn’t cut it for the postseason; someone else was simply better. Fair is fair. The intensive, celebrated battle for first place in the West packed such a wallop that it was, in itself, a valid form of playoff—and kept baseball fans everywhere glued to its everyday status. But while this titanic combat played itself out, the owners collectively began re-writing the rules.

With the arrival of the wild card a year away, the 1993 Giants were certain to become the last team in baseball annals to win 100 games and not make the playoffs. Here’s a list of other great ballclubs who reached triple digits in victories, yet failed to advance to the postseason.

For 1994, baseball would scissorThe owners voted 27-1 for the expanded divisions, an expanded postseason and a wild card. The lone dissenter: George W. Bush of the Texas Rangers. each league up into three divisions, adding a new round of postseason play with four playoff participants per league—three division winners and a “wild card” representing the team with the best second-place record. No longer would any two teams with 100-plus wins likely fight to the death; instead they would live to play another day in the postseason, possibly against one another. It removed substance from the regular season, regressing it into a prolonged waiting period, except for marginal teams with no business of being in the playoffs getting the chance nevertheless.

For all its thrills, chills and comebacks, the NL West race would become much ado about nothing come World Series time.

Unlike the Braves, the Philadelphia Phillies’ roadmap to the NLCS was a much smoother ride. NL East cellar dwellers the year before, Philadelphia quickly gelled itself together, finishing comfortably ahead of the talented yet evolving Montreal Expos. The Phillies were a cohesive yet raucous bunch; when they released clean-shaven, Mormon-bred slugger Dale Murphy, first baseman John Kruk put it succinctly: “There goes the last bit of sanity on the ballclub.”

The rough-and-tumble types on the Phillies included center fielder Lenny Dykstra, who furnished a strong spark for the offense by batting .305 with 143 runs—most in the NLDykstra also led the NL in hits (194) and walks (129). since 1932; Kruk (.316 average, 100 runs); and catcher Darren Daulton (24 home runs, 105 RBIs). But the epitome of the Phillies had to be Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams, an effective closer as proven by his 43 saves. But when he wasn’t in control, ouch. He nevertheless was a pivotal catalyst in the Phillies’ success.

Williams would definitely make an impact during the NLCS against Atlanta, saving two games for the Phillies while winning two more—but not by design. He blew save opportunities after relieving starter Curt Schilling, later named the series' MVP with a 0.69 ERA—and a 0-0 record. Deep inside, Schilling boiled over the scenarios Williams had made of his efforts.

Despite being out-hit and out-pitched, the Phillies extinguished the Braves’ blazing momentum. After falling behind two games to one, they won the next three to finish Atlanta off. The Braves’ dream of reaching the top would again have to be put on ice.

Waiting in the wings for Philadelphia at the World Series were, once again, the Toronto Blue Jays. The defending champs had little problem repeating as AL East leaders, then as AL pennant winners.

Toronto’s opponents in the ALCS, the Chicago White Sox, had finally and easily reached first place in the AL West after four years of steady improvement. Despite being armed with the AL's stingiest pitching staffThe White Sox’ top three pitchers—Jack McDowell, Alex Fernandez and Wilson Alvarez—combined to win 55 games while losing only 27. and a solid offense built around massive young superstar Frank Thomas, the upstart White Sox succumbed in six games to the Blue Jays, who simply showed too much experience.

The Blue Jays’ average pitching staff was well compensated for by a devastating offense. Devon White (116 runs, 34 stolen bases) and Roberto Alomar (.326 average, 55 stolen bases) set ‘em up; Joe Carter (33 home runs, 121 RBIs) and Paul Molitor (.332, 22 home runs, 111 RBIs) knocked ‘em in. By signing with Toronto, Molitor savored the chance of playing for a champion after 15 years of opportunity in Milwaukee passed him by. His departure from the Brewers upset Robin YountYount re-signed with Milwaukee before 1993, only because he thought his friend Molitor would stay. to the point that it may have influenced Yount’s decision to retire at the end of the year.

Joe Carter bounces for joy after launching only the second walk-off home run to win a World Series—resulting in the Blue Jays’ second straight world title.

Coming out of the woodwork to give Toronto an eye-opening boost was 24-year-old first baseman John Olerud. A left-handed hitter with an excellent eye (and a survivor of a brain aneurysm in college), Olerud achieved sudden attention by exploding to the top of the statistical charts, batting .400 at the All-Star break before “slumping” to a season-ending .363 mark. His 24 home runs and 107 RBIs (not to mention his 54 doubles and 114 walks) surprised those who figured he provided only garden-variety power.

The merging of two offensive powers proved to be no letdown in the World Series. Both teams scored runs in record bunches. Game Four alone provided enough excitement to adequately feed an entire series, ending in a seesaw 15-14 Toronto win.

The Blue Jays led three games to two going into Game Six at Skydome, but trailed the Phillies 6-5 in the bottom of the ninth. Mitch Williams was called upon to save the day for Philadelphia and help ensure a seventh game, but the Wild Thing was in an ugly mode. He allowed two runners to reach base with one out, and then Joe Carter came to bat. On a 2-2 pitch, Wild Thing fired a fastball low—but not low enough to keep Carter from golfing it into the left-field bleachers. Toronto repeated as world champions, and the best team in baseball remained north of the border. This triumph, clinched at home and in their final at-bat, felt all the more sweet.

Joe Carter's World Series-winning blast would represent the only time one swing brought a team from behind and into the clubhouse with a Series triumph. Listed below are other season-ending, Series-winning hits, all of which broke up tie games.

Molitor would especially enjoy the moment. His .500 batting average (including two doubles, two triples and two home runs) would give him Series MVP honors. Williams, on the other hand, was the categorical Phillies goat, losing twice while sporting an abysmal 20.25 ERA.

The postscript on the Phillies went beyond discouraging. Williams’ teammates, led by Schilling, publicly grumbled behind his back; “fans” terrorized his residence, phoning in death threats and egging his front windows, vilifying his World Series performance while not reminding themselves of his exceptional efforts that helped get the Phillies there.

Perhaps in a fit of mercy, the Phillies traded Williams to Houston during the offseason. Psychologically damaged, Wild Thing would never be the same, bouncing from one team to the other before giving it up for good in 1997.

1994 baseball historyForward to 1994: The Year That Should've Been Record-breaking quests, unlikely team revivals and an entire postseason are done in by a devastating player strike.

1992 baseball historyBack to 1992: Truly, A World Series After years of strong play, the Toronto Blue Jays finally reach the top and become baseball's first international champions.

1990s baseball historyThe 1990s Page: To Hell and Back Relations between players and owners continue to deteriorate, bottoming out with a devastating mid-decade strike—souring relations with fans who, in some cases, turn their backs on the game for good. Recovery is made possible thanks to a series of popular record-breaking achievements by "class act" stars.

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They Were There: Erik Johnson
Jim ParqueErik Johnson recalls a personal baseball journey that included one second-place finish after another—including his brief time as a member of the 1993 Giants.

1993 Standings

National League East
Philadelphia Phillies
Montreal Expos
St. Louis Cardinals
Chicago Cubs
Pittsburgh Pirates
Florida Marlins
New York Mets
National League West
Atlanta Braves
San Francisco Giants
Houston Astros
Los Angeles Dodgers
Cincinnati Reds
Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres
American League East
Toronto Blue Jays
New York Yankees
Baltimore Orioles
Detroit Tigers
Boston Red Sox
Cleveland Indians
Milwaukee Brewers
American League West
Chicago White Sox
Texas Rangers
Kansas City Royals
Seattle Mariners
California Angels
Minnesota Twins
Oakland A's

1993 Postseason Results
NLCS Philadelphia defeated Atlanta, 4-2.
ALCS Toronto defeated Chicago, 4-2.
World Series Toronto (AL) defeated Philadelphia (NL), 4-2.

It Happened in 1993

Steve Olin (1965-93), Tim Crews (1961-93)
Given a day off from spring training on March 22, three Cleveland Indians pitchers—Tim Crews, Steve Olin and Bob Ojeda—are riding a boat on Little Lake Nellie, Florida, when they crash into a dock. Olin dies instantly from head injuries; Crews dies the next day in the hospital; Ojeda suffers serious scalp injuries but will fully recover. Carlos Baerga, the Indians’ All-Star second baseman, was invited by the three pitchers to join them, but family business kept him from showing up. Ojeda will return to the mound and pitch nine games in 1993, but as the lone survivor of the tragedy was haunted to the point that he refused to talk about it.

This Losing Stuff is Getting Old for Young
To paraphrase Lou Gehrig, Anthony Young must consider him the unluckiest guy on the face of the Earth. Not a great pitcher—yet far from bad—Young establishes an all-time record by losing 27 straight decisions for the New York Mets. He’ll finally win in a relief role on July 28 against the expansion Florida Marlins—and barely, as the Mets rally for two in the ninth when he was on the hook for loss number 28. The streak-busting win will be Young’s sole triumph of the year against 16 losses, all despite a 3.77 earned run average—which ranks just slightly worse than that of San Francisco’s John Burkett, who leads the National League with 22 wins.

Jose, Can You See…
Texas slugger Jose Canseco endures through an embarrassing road trip in the last week of May that will also prove to be the last of his season. In Cleveland, The Indians’ Carlos Martinez hits a deep fly toward Canseco, who misplays the ball—bouncing off his head and over the right-field fence for a home run. Perhaps to make amends, Canseco volunteers to pitch for a depleted Rangers bullpen three days later during the ninth inning of a 15-1 loss at Boston. He throws 33 pitches and gives up three runs on two hits and two walks. The work on the mound, however, appears to be responsible for a ligament tear that’s soon discovered in Canseco’s right elbow, forcing him out for the rest of the year.

Ryan’s Coda: Five W’s, Five L’s, One TKO
Nolan Ryan, working his 27th and final season of his illustrious career, has to bow out a few starts earlier than expected when he tears an elbow ligament in the first inning of a September 22 start at Seattle against the Mariners. Strangely, Ryan’s most memorable moment of the year will not be that final appearance, or his 5,707th and last strikeout, September 17 against the California Angels’ Greg Myers. The indelible image everyone remembers is of Ryan taking on Robin Ventura in a brawl begun after Ryan beans the Chicago White Sox’ third baseman on August 4 at Arlington, Texas. Ryan will hit him again—six more times in fact—in the face after placing Ventura in a headlock position. Adding insult to injury, Ventura is ejected and Ryan is not.

Congrats, Now Get Out of Here
Carlton Fisk sets a major league record on June 22 when he plays catcher for the 2,226th time in his career. Six days later, the White Sox—the team he has played with since 1981—release him. Ivan Rodriguez will reset the record in 2009.

Switched On
Carlos Baerga becomes the first player ever to hit home runs from each side of the plate in the same inning, on April 8 at Cleveland against New York. The Indians’ switch-hitter also doubles and singles in a 15-5 rout of the Yankees.

They’re Mile High About the Rockies
The Colorado Rockies, one of two expansion clubs that begin business in 1993 (the Miami-based Florida Marlins being the other), shatter a season attendance record by drawing 4,483,350 fans (or an average of 55,000 a game) to voluminous Mile High Stadium. The Rockies also set another mark with 80,227 for their home opener, April 9 against Montreal. The fans quickly discover that the Rockies can hit, but have trouble pitching in the thin, mile-high air. It’s something they’ll have to get used to, as the Rockies set dubious marks for trips to the bullpen (453) and by becoming the first team never to post a shutout over an entire season.

One Hand, No Hits
Yankees pitcher Jim Abbott, born without a right hand, tosses a no-hitter against Cleveland at Yankee Stadium on September 4. Abbott walks five and strikes out three in New York’s 4-0 victory.

Save It For Posterity
St. Louis reliever Lee Smith records his 358th career save and surpasses Jeff Reardon on the all-time list April 13, preserving a 9-7 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Smith will build on his career record total with 478 saves before throwing his last pitch in 1997; his hold on the #1 spot will remain until Trevor Hoffman surpasses him in 2006.

So Let it Be Whiten…
In the first game of a September 7 doubleheader at Cincinnati, Mark Whiten is statistically left out of the Cardinals’ 14-13 loss to the Reds, going hitless with one run batted in while his St. Louis teammates collect 17 hits. In the nightcap, Whiten is the offense. He ties all-time major league marks with four home runs and 12 RBIs in a 15-2 thumping of the Reds.

Fast Times at Junior High
The Mariners’ Ken Griffey Jr., muscling up to belt 45 home runs after hitting no more than 27 over each of his first four years in the majors, ties a record for most consecutive games with a homer, connecting in his eighth straight contest on July 28.

Schott Up!
Marge Schott, the majors’ only female owner, is suspended for a year from her day-to-day duties with the Reds after allegations surfaced that she made racist and ethnic slurs. The initial accusations come from Sharon Jones, who recently stepped down from the Oakland A’s front office—and claimed that Schott, in a 1987 conference call that representatives from all major league teams were hooked into, said that “I’d rather hire a trained monkey than a nigger.” Other accusations claim that Schott called African-American ballplayers (and former Reds) Dave Parker and Eric Davis “million-dollar niggers,” and that she owns a Swastika armband. Apparently, the 63-year-old Schott doesn’t learn; in 1994 she’ll state to a local civic group that “only fruits wear earrings.”

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