1994: What could have been

Sixty-one homers. Seems like such a quaint record now, doesn't it? In '94, Williams was the only one on pace to hit 62 -- in fact, he did hit 62 in a 162-game stretch from September 1993 to May 1995 -- but there were others in the conversation.

Williams finished 1994 with 43 home runs. Griffey had 40, and Jeff Bagwell had 39, and Thomas 38 and Bonds 37. It was a big year for offense.

"I watched Barry every day," Williams says. "I remember thinking, 'It doesn't matter what I do. Barry's going to beat me, anyway.'"

Williams finished with one of the strangest statistical juxtapositions in history: 43 home runs, 16 doubles. "An odd grouping," he deadpans.

"I've never had any regrets or reservations about any of it," Williams says. "I didn't think I was ever going to get there. The strike was a foregone conclusion -- everybody knew that -- but it wouldn't have mattered if we'd played the whole season. I mean, come on? Me? Seriously?"

Wetteland, the Expos' union rep, began to feel more like a spokesman than a relief pitcher. He went to the park every day to find reporters standing at his locker, ready for that day's labor update.

One day in July, he approached Fletcher.

"Hey, Fletch, I need some help," Wetteland said. "This is wearing me out."

Fletcher became the backup spokesman, and the duty began to chip away his excitement for the season. "It was a grind," he says. "It was all downhill after the All-Star break."

Fletcher was one of six Expos to play in the All-Star Game, a moment he calls "the apex of Expo Nation." He has to be reminded that Montreal played its best baseball after the break. In fact, the Expos finished the season with 20 wins in their last 23 games to finish 74-40 and open up a six-game lead over the Braves in the National League East. "I don't remember the last few weeks being all that fun," he says. "We could see the storm clouds on the horizon. There was definitely a feel in the major league clubhouses that this was it."

Many players, subconsciously or not, drifted through games. ("The last week was especially bad," Fletcher says.) The intensity level dipped with every failed attempt to avert a shutdown.

"After the break, it really set in," says Van Horne, now broadcasting for the Marlins. "You could see how acrimonious the relationship between the owners and the union had become. It was clear: If the owners were going to thrust this onto the players, they were going to walk.

"When the reality of that hit, all of us -- broadcasters, the Montreal media, everyone close to the club -- figured it was going to happen but it wasn't going to last long. Two weeks, we thought, and cooler heads will prevail. I felt that way. Perhaps it was wishful thinking."

The last two weeks of the season were a mess of confusion, misinformation and irritation. Teams that were on the road as the doomsday deadline of Aug. 12 approached heard rumors they'd be stranded by management, left to make their own accommodations on their own dime.

On Aug. 11, after the Expos beat the Pirates in Pittsburgh and a work stoppage went from likely to inevitable, Expos general manager Kevin Malone stood before the team and said, "If you guys go on strike tonight, find your own way home."

The players looked at him, disbelief turning to fury.

Malone let the words sit there.

"Just kidding," he said.

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