There's no worse Hall of Fame omission than that of Marvin Miller
No one in the last 50 years has had a bigger impact on baseball than Miller
He helped organize the players, eliminate the reserve clause, create free agency
Baseball is also a better game than it was before Miller organized the players
This is the most wonderful time of the year for Baseball Hall of Fame arguments. They're everywhere. The Shoeless Joe Jackson people are still at it, and the Pete Rose people are only just getting started. The Bert Blyleven people want everyone to know that he struck out more batters than Tom Seaver, and the Tim Raines people will point out that he got on base more times than Tony Gwynn, and the Don Mattingly people plead for voters to compare his numbers to those of Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett.
Of course, if you think about it, all of that is pretty silly when you consider this: Marvin Miller is still not in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
"Laughable," says Jim Bouton, author of the seminal Ball Four.
"Outrageous," says Bob Costas, one of America's leading baseball voices.
"Doesn't speak well of the baseball community," says author and baseball visionary Bill James.
And so on. In every Hall of Fame argument there are usually two reasonable sides. Rose may have been the alltime hit leader, BUT he did gamble on the game. Mattingly may have been a great player at his peak, BUT his career was cut short by a bad back. There is, however, no counterargument to Marvin Miller's candidacy. None. If the job of the Hall of Fame is to tell the story of baseball, then it is now Hamlet without the melancholy Dane. Nobody in the last 50 years has had a bigger impact than Miller, who as baseball's labor leader helped organize the players, eliminate the reserve clause, create free agency and, in the words of longtime labor lawyer Steve Fehr, "lead a group that had virtually no rights for 100 years and, within 10 years, establish a system under which players could receive fair market value."
Miller's influence on the game is no secret. Years ago the announcer Red Barber said that Miller -- along with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson -- was one of the three most important figures in baseball history. James says that if you add baseball executive Branch Rickey (who invented the farm system and signed Robinson), you would have baseball's Mount Rushmore. It's a great image. Leaving Miller out of the Baseball Hall of Fame is like leaving Lincoln out of the Presidents Hall of Fame.
"The failure to acknowledge Miller," James says, "is a sort of symbolic holding on to the past, in the worst sense -- holding on to grudges, refusing to forget, refusing to move on."
Baseball today is Marvin Miller's more than just about anyone else's. Everyone will talk so much about what Miller did for the players, without acknowledging how much he did for the game.
And it's a better game than it was before Miller organized the players and won them basic rights. It's a richer game played in new stadiums in more American cities than ever before. People may reminisce fondly about the old days of baseball, but -- as commissioner Bud Selig will yell in the ear of anyone who happens to be nearby -- it's a more popular game than ever. And more to the point: It's a fairer game.
So what's happening here? Well, Miller is hostage to the process. Former players are elected by members of the Baseball Writers of America, but executives and "pioneers" are voted on by a Veterans Committee that has 12 members -- seven of whom are current or onetime members of management. (A candidate needs 75% of the votes for induction.) People are still fighting old wars. How else could you explain that in the last election, Miller received fewer votes than nondescript Detroit owner John Fetzer? People who fought and lost labor wars still carry scars and long for those halcyon days when shortstops didn't make much more than the average guy down the street. "They want to finally win one against ol' Marvin Miller," Bouton says.*
*If you don't believe, consider this: Two years ago, former commissioner Bowie Kuhn was elected to the Hall of Fame. Kuhn spent the bulk of his career wearing short sleeves to prove it wasn't cold, whining that baseball was doomed and, mostly, losing battles to Miller. He eventually was let go by the owners. As I've written before, putting Kuhn but not Miller in the Hall of Fame is like putting in Bluto but not Popeye.
Bitterness is hard to overcome. Miller is still alive and kicking -- kicking hard -- at age 92. He is, as ever, the true believer, railing against management and screaming about players' rights. His outrage over drug testing and salary caps may turn people off: Costas says Miller has not been correct for 20 years. But he adds, "Of course, that doesn't matter. It would be like Willie Mays hitting .150 for five straight years. It simply doesn't matter. He's a transformative figure of the game."
There are many good Hall of Fame causes. Tim Raines is one of mine -- the Baseball Writers just voted in Andre Dawson, and I have little doubt that Raines was at least the equal of his more famous teammate. But to argue about Raines -- or Blyleven or Ron Santo or Mark McGwire or Gil Hodges -- with Miller out of the Hall of Fame seems beside the point. Without Miller, a good case can be made that there should not even be a Baseball Hall of Fame.
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