Good morning, it's Wednesday, March 31, 2021. On this date in American history, Cesar Chavez was born (1927), President Lyndon Johnson shocked the country by announcing he wasn't running for reelection (1968), and the United States took possession of the Virgin Islands from Denmark (1917). You may not have known about that last factoid. See, I was only half-kidding yesterday about buying Greenland: There's a precedent.
With Major League Baseball set to open its 2021 season tomorrow, however, the March 31 anniversary on my mind this morning occurred in 1995, when a federal jurist from New York came to the rescue of baseball fans everywhere.
Major league baseball players went on strike on Aug. 11, 1994. The entire dispute was a testament to greed. Players' salaries had never been higher, thanks to free agency, and the game's popularity and financial strength was on the rise. Why couldn't labor and management figure out how to divide a rich and ever-growing pie?
Fans empathized with neither the millionaire players nor the billionaire owners, a point President Clinton tried to make when he invited player representatives to the White House. They wouldn't budge. If players were out of touch, the owners were worse. In the mid-1980s, they had colluded to restrain the signing of other teams' free agents, and an arbitrator had ordered them to pony up $280 million to the players. That money had been paid, but the players' union never again trusted the owners or their puppet, baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.
By 1994, MLB's collective bargaining agreement had lapsed, and the owners, led by Selig, were again trying to restrain salaries. Not by restraining themselves from handing out exorbitant contracts, mind you. That would have been too logical. No, the Lords of Baseball decided they wanted a salary cap. When they players responded by walking off the job, the owners instituted a lockout the following day. The ensuing standoff consumed the rest of the season.
The result was that the 1994-95 baseball strike did something that World War I, the Black Sox Scandal, the Great Depression, and World War II couldn't accomplish. It canceled the World Series.
Sanity was restored by a black-robed New York Yankees fan on March 31, 1995. On that day U.S. District Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor issued an injunction against the owners for violating the National Labor Relations Act. The strike ended two days later. In 2009, when President Obama nominated her to the United States Supreme Court, he said, with only slight hyperbole, "Some say that Judge Sotomayor saved baseball."
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.