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The Life

August 29, 2002
The replacements
ESPN The Magazine

It was one of the lowest points in baseball history, a time of anger, confusion and disgrace. In spring training of 1995, major league players were on strike, so teams were built with replacement players, a collection of minor leaguers, former major leaguers and anyone else who could play at all. Tigers manager Sparky Anderson was so disgusted, he boycotted the exercise.

Regrettable -- in some cases, nearly unavoidable -- decisions were made, decisions that affect a group of players today. For those players on major leaguers who are classifield as replacement players by the Players Assocation -- a group that includes Shane Spencer, Rick Reed, Brian Daubach, Damian Miller, Cory Lidle, Benny Agbayani and Keith Osik -- the fiasco of 1995 is a painful memory. They are welcome members of their current teams, but some of their teammates never will forget what they did.

Replacement players
According to the Players Association, the following players on 40-man rosters were replacement players in the spring of 1995 and are not allowed union membership:

Benny Agbayani, Brian Daubach, Brendan Donnelly, Angel Echeverria, Charles Gipson, Matt Herges, Cory Lidle, Kerry Ligtenberg, Ron Mahay, Tom Martin, Walt McKeel, Frank Menechino, Lou Merloni, Kevin Millar, Damian Miller, Eddie Oropeso, Keith Osik, Rick Reed, Chuck Smith, Shane Spencer, Pedro Swann, Jeff Tam, Brian Tollberg, Chris Truby, Jamie Walker.

The replacement players are represented by the Players Association on matters of arbitration and other grievances, and they receive pension benefits, but they are not part of the union, they are not allowed to vote on union matters and they do not get licensing money. Some have applied for inclusion to the union. Only Billy McMillon (who played in one replacement game because he was fraudulently made to believe it wasn't one) has been allowed in.

Miller, the catcher for the Diamondbacks and one of the leaders of the team, doesn't consider himself a replacement player. He played in one "B" game that spring because he was told by his team at the time, the Twins, that he would not be punished by participating. Yet, to some degree, he still is being punished. His name was not included on the Diamondbacks' T-shirt celebrating the team's National League West title in 1999, nor on the T-shirt commemorating the 2001 World Series championship. When the Diamondbacks have met on union matters, Miller would leave the room and sit in the manager's office. How uncomfortable is that?

Seven years ago, the minor-league players who crossed the line perhaps weren't aware of the potential severity of their decision and the risks involved. Rick Reed knew. He was pitching for the Reds' Triple-A club, his 10th year of pro ball. He was told by the Reds to cross the line or he'd be released, then blackballed. Reed's mother was sick, he was paying her medical bills, and he couldn't stop working. So he played. Late in the 1995 season, he was recalled by the Reds because they badly needed pitching. General manager Jim Bowden called a team meeting to inform the players of what he was planning to do. One player stood up in the back of the clubhouse and screamed his opposition, claiming he would never be a teammate with a "scab."

Reed was recalled, making for a tense situation, but he didn't stay long, and didn't do particularly well. Two seasons later, he won 13 games for the Mets. Three years after that, he pitched in the World Series. "He's one of us," said Mets pitcher John Franco.

Just like Shane Spencer is one of the Yankees. He got two at-bats in a replacement game in 1995, which was enough to brand him. He just wanted to win a job in Class A; had he not played, he was told by the team he would be released. He was impressive in a workout and was viewed as a potential major leaguer, so the Yankee coaches purposely ran him out of camp so his future would not be ruined by playing in replacement games. He was not the only player who was "saved" in that way. The Yankee replacement team was so bad, it took batting practice for three days at Coors Field in Denver and didn't hit a ball over the fence.

The strike was settled before replacement players could be used in major league games. Whenever a new labor agreement is reached -- it is "at best, 50-50" that a deal can be reached before Friday's deadline, a source close to the situation said Thursday morning -- the board for the Players Association will examine the case for each player to determine if he will be allowed in the union. There's a chance that all, or most of them, will be allowed in.

We can only hope that no matter what happens on the labor front, the spring of 1995 never will be repeated.

Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Baseball Tonight. E-mail

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