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Groz: MLB spring training has a cloud over it, just like 25 years ago

Full squads reported to MLB spring training on Tuesday. (Getty)

It’s usually one of my favorite days. The full squads report and MLB spring training is officially under way. This year, though, feels different.

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The Astros and Red Sox cheating scandal has dominated the headlines and every day a new player is blasting those players who cheated or MLB commissioner Rob Manfred for his response. The last time I remember baseball having this kind of cloud over the start of spring training was 25 years ago: the spring of the replacements.

Baseball was still on strike after cancelling the 1994 season so spring training that year started with replacement players. Some were former big leaguers, while some like Kevin Millar and Rick Reed were future big leaguers. Most were chasing a dream denied and this was their one shot – teachers, coaches and construction workers.

The MLB’s choice to go with replacement players was disastrous. The Orioles refused to field a team. The Blue Jays were unable to.

People forget how close a season of replacements came to happening. The strike ended on the day before replacement baseball was going to have its opening day – April 2, 1995 – thanks to an injunction by Judge Sonya Sotomayor that ruled the owners had engaged in unfair labor practices. The regular players returned for a 3 1/2-week spring training to get ready for a 144-game regular season to begin on April 26. But that was hardly the end of this spring of baseball’s discontent.

A week before the season was to start, a bomb ripped through the Murrah building in Oklahoma City, the worst case of domestic terrorism at the time. While six years later baseball would be a needed distraction, this time it just felt like it was in the way. Small crowds of angry fans dominated the early weeks of the season, and though baseball survived – and thrived – it remains the worst spring training I can ever recall.

Hopefully this one won’t be as negative, though it’s off to an inauspicious start.

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