1995 Atlanta Braves Season: Spring Training

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The baseball strike that ended the 1994 season continued into 1995.   The owners and players  had no love loss for the other.  Both sides believed their position was the only one that mattered. The owners proposed a salary cap and the division of local broadcasting revenue among all of the teams.  The owners argued that without a cap and revenue sharing small market teams would be forced to cease operations.  The players adamantly opposed the proposal.  Compromise, much less a settlement, seemed a distant hope.  The Braves prepared for the season with replacement players at their spring training facility in West Palm Beach, Florida during February and March.

Potential replacement players and minor leaguers mingled together in the minor league clubhouse.  Braves management kept the major league clubhouse closed.  The Braves offered players who made the Opening Day roster $115,000 to play the season.  Many of the players earned as little as $1,000 per month in the minor leagues so such a salary motivated the men to do their best to make the team.

However, the Braves coaches felt less excited about the upcoming season than the players. Bobby Cox rode in a golf cart between fields and played as much golf as he could.  Leo Mazzone complained about the lack of talent among the pitchers in camp.  Of course, who wouldn’t after having coached Greg Maddox, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery?  The position players did nothing to make the coaches forget Fred McGriff, Javy Lopez, David Justice and Ryan Klesko.

Braves regulars passed the time away at home with various activities while hoping the strike would end.  Greg Maddux spent his time on the golf course, as did John Smoltz.  Mark Wohlers worked at an automobile body shop.

Nothing remarkable took place in West Palm Beach until tragedy struck on March 25.  News reports detailed that a Braves replacement player had been murdered. Police found Dave Shotkoski, 30 years old, lying dead after a gunshot wound.  Apparently, Shotkoski had gone for a walk near a bad part of town.  Someone on a bicycle tried to rob Shotkoski, a confrontation ensued, and the robber shot him.  Police found a trail of blood where Shotkoski had tried to pull himself to the street.

Shotkoski had a wife and an eight-month old daughter. He had reached the Double A level professionally as a pitcher in 1991 and hoped to make the Braves roster for the 1995 season.  The news of his death rocked the clubhouse.  Terry Blocker and Shotkoski had become friends while in camp together.  Blocker took the news very hard and cried when thinking about Shotkoski’s widow and fatherless baby.

Blocker took it upon himself to find the person who had murdered Shotkoski.  Blocker canvassed the streets in the rough neighborhood near where Shotkoski was shot and figured that people would talk to another African-American.  Through conversations with some of the residents of the neighborhood, Blocker gathered enough information to help the police find Shotkoski’s killer.  The police arrested the murderer on a Sunday.  On Monday, the Braves cut Blocker.  The Braves gave Felicia, Shotkoski’s widow, the benefits from a $10,000 life insurance policy they had taken out on him.  Two unnamed Braves players contributed to a trust fund set up for Alexis, Shotkoski’s little girl, but none of the players ever called Felicia to express their sentiments.  Braves officials did honor her on Opening Day of the regular season, helped with a fund raiser at a minor league game in Pennsylvania and convinced Shotkoski’s hometown near Chicago to name a street after him.  Mrs. Shotkoski believed the Braves organization could have done more.

A few days after police arrested Shotkoski’s killer and Blocker’s release, the 25-man roster of replacement players headed to Atlanta for three exhibition games.  The players participated in the first two games in late March but on March 31, Sonia Sotomayor, current Supreme Court Justice, ruled as a judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York that the owners had committed unfair labor practices under the National Labor Relations Act. Her ruling gained support from the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit after the owners appealed, thereby forcing the owners to be bound by the rules and stipulations of the prior collective bargaining agreement.  The players then voted to end the strike and baseball was set to return for an abbreviated 1995 season.  Each replacement player received $5,000 upon his release.

Comments

  1. Matt Daniels says:

    Good article. I talked to Smoltz at the annual PGA show in Orlando in January of 1995. He said he was sick of golf and “wanted to p[lay some baseball.” I thought that was cool coming from a grown man.

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