Labor disputes, strikes and lockouts happen in the billion-dollar business of pro sports. This year’s NHL season started in the second period. Last year’s NBA schedule didn’t tip off until midway through the second quarter. But sometimes, short seasons produce the craziest results. These are 10 of the best and worst historic moments from such seasons.
1. Mark Moseley, 1982 NFL strike
The only kicker in NFL history to win the Most Valuable Player award, Moseley was nearly automatic for the eventual Super Bowl XVII champion Washington Redskins — connecting on 20-of-21 field goals, yet just 16-of-19 extra points. Moseley hit his NFL-record 21st straight field goal on a game-winner against the Giants that clinched the Skins’ first playoff berth since 1976.
2. Chicago Blackhawks, 2012-13 NHL lockout
When the lockout ended and the puck finally dropped in January, the Blackhawks were ready to rock. Chicago got off to the best start in NHL history, earning at least one point in the first 24 games of the season. When the Hawks finally lost, 6–2 to the Avalanche, it was their first defeat since a 6–1 beatdown against the Predators on March 25, 2012.
3. Rollie Fingers, 1981 MLB strike
The only relief pitcher in history to be named Most Valuable Player, Fingers’ first season in the American League resulted in both an MVP and Cy Young Award. Rollie curled his mustache to the tune of a 6–3 record, 1.04 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 28 saves and 61 strikeouts in 78.0 innings for the Milwaukee Brewers. Fingers narrowly beat out Rickey Henderson — who hit .319 and had 56 stolen bases in 108 games — in what was essentially a two-man race for MVP honors.
4. Curt Flood, 1972 MLB strike
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Major League Baseball, 5–3, over Curt Flood, who has since become synonymous with free agency in MLB. After refusing a trade from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1969, Flood fought for players’ rights and — although he was unsuccessful in front of the Supreme Court — he ultimately ushered in the era of free agency (and inflated salaries) we know today.
5. Suge Knight, 1987 NFL strike
Before becoming one of the most feared men in the music industry during the 1990s, the Death Row Records CEO was a replacement player during the 1987 NFL strike — as a defensive end for the Los Angeles Rams, or “L.A. Shams” as they known. Fellow scabs included Sean Payton and Rick Neuheisel. But neither of those quarterbacks-turned-coaches has the street cred of the intimidating big man who was in the car when Tupac Shakur was shot and killed in Las Vegas after a Mike Tyson fight in 1996.
6. Fernando Valenzuela, 1981 MLB strike
“Fernandomania” jumped out to an 8–0 start with five shutouts and an ERA of 0.50 before finishing the season with a 13–7 record, 2.48 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and a NL-leading 180 strikeouts in 192.1 innings. Valenzuela’s leg kick windup and larger-than-life persona won over baseball fans everywhere during a dark strike-interrupted time. As a result, Fernando became the first rookie to win the Cy Young Award, while also claiming Rookie of the Year honors for the eventual World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers.
7. Tony Gwynn, 1994 MLB strike
Mr. Padre was attempting to become the first player to hit .400 since Ted Williams (.406) in 1941. Instead, Gwynn was forced to settle for a .394 average over 419 at-bats in 110 games. The 1994 season ended premature and a completely different type of history was made, as the World Series was canceled for the first time since 1904.
8. LeBron James, 2011-12 NBA lockout
The NBA regular season was shortened from 82 to 66 games the year that King James finally won his first ring. Does that add an asterisk to the Miami Heat star’s championship? Michael Jordan won his six rings after 82-game seasons, right? Well, James did average 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists in the 62 regular season games he played — before an eye-popping 30.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists over 23 playoff games.
9. Tim Duncan, 1998-99 NBA lockout
The first of Duncan’s four NBA Finals wins and three NBA Finals MVP Awards came following a lockout-shortened regular season that shrunk from 82 to 50 games. In just his second season, the “Big Fundamental” averaged 21.7 points, 11.4 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots in 50 regular season games — before posting 23.2 points, 11.5 boards and 2.6 blocks in 17 playoff games alongside David Robinson.
10. Gary Bettman, 2004-05 NHL lockout
There was no Stanley Cup awarded for the first time since 1919, because there was no NHL season in 2004-05 — the first time in major pro sports that an entire season was canceled due to a labor dispute between players and owners. There were 1,230 games canceled over the 10 months and six days that the lockout lasted. No big deal for Commissioner Bettman, who has gone through three labor disputes since taking over the top spot in 1993.