January 4, 2011
Once again the self appointed guardians of baseball's history - Hall of Fame voters - have denied a man who in some ways has exercised nearly as much influence on the sport as Babe Ruth or Jackie Robinson. That man is 92 year-old Marvin Miller, the original and longtime head of the Major League Baseball Players Association. Nine of 12 votes are required for induction by the Veteran's Committee and Miller was only able to garner seven.
It was an utterly contemptible tally, tinged with not an insignificant degree of bitterness, envy and rage vented by those with vested interest in the sport's plantations who took umbrage to Miller's freeing of the baseball slaves in the 1960's and 70's. In a venue where objectivity and reverence for the legacy of the sport is supposed to reign, the vote just tarnishes the Hall itself.
The Veterans Committee is comprised of seven baseball executives (current or retired). There are also two Hall of Fame players, and three veteran baseball writers. The reasoning for having the majority of balloters on the committee executives is that this group's votes are often for those who held baseball management positions. So perhaps Miller deserves to be voted upon in a different category.
And why are there only two players represented? Who would know better the value of a man's worth to the game than those who actually played it. Tom Seaver, speaking with ESPN, exhibited justifiable anger after hearing of the snub. "I agree with the process, but I don't agree with the result regarding Marvin. I think we probably have to have a couple more players [on the panel] to have a balance in that meeting," Seaver said. "That's the thing I'm going to suggest. This is not about your feeling on Marvin Miller. This is about the history of the game of baseball. It's a no-brainer for me. I said it in the meeting - he is on a par with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson in terms of his impact on the game of baseball. He is right there."
Miller's accomplishments forever altered the national pastime. In fact, many believe that the MLBPA is not only the most powerful and successful sports union but is actually one of the few most powerful unions in any field in the country. Perhaps a brief review of his achievements is in order.
When the Bronx born economist and labor negotiator started the players' association in 1966 (he stayed in that role until 1982) players were forever shackled to one team for life. By 1968 he had negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement and with it the first minimum salary increase in nearly 20 years for the players, from $6,000 to $10,000. Can one imagine working without a base increase for such a long period in any field or endeavor?
But perhaps his greatest accomplishment was his ability to get arbitration included with the collective bargaining agreement in 1970. This meant that salary disputes would be heard by an independent arbitrator - not with the commissioner. Up to that point, it was the commissioner, a man hired by owners, who would rule over such decisions and in most cases would side with the owners.
And in 1974, Miller used the arbitration clause to great success in the famous case resolving eccentric Oakland A's owner Charlie Finley and his star pitcher, Catfish Hunter. The arbitrator ruled in favor of Hunter, declaring that Finley had not met the terms of the contract so Hunter was free to negotiate with any team of his choice - and thereby giving birth to the earliest stages of free agency. Hunter of course went on to sign a five year, $3.5 million contract with the Yankees - a massive sum of money for the 1970's.
The final nail in the coffin of indentured servitude in the sport came in 1974 when Miller and the MLBPA took on baseball's reserve clause. This kept players tied to their team for a year beyond the end of an existing contract. This practice, Miller reasoned, inhibited a player's ability to determine his own career. The arbitrator sided with the MLBPA and free agency was now official.
Now, whatever one thinks of the current positions of the union - and there is much to take issue with, not least of which was the union's refusal to tackle the steroid issue before it exploded as well as the greed and arrogance it fosters among players - there is just simply no questioning Miller's importance to the sport. His aggressive lobbying on behalf of the players also resulted in a greater degree of parity in the 1970's and 80's.
Miller will undoubtedly be elected in the coming years, most likely after he passes. But I doubt he cares much at this point. He's known all along how engineered the process is at the Hall to reach their favored conclusion.
Speaking in an interview in the summer of 2008 he stated, "I find myself unwilling to contemplate one more rigged Veterans Committee whose members are handpicked to reach a particular outcome while offering a pretense of a democratic vote. It is an insult to baseball fans, historians, sportswriters, and especially to those baseball players who sacrificed and brought the game into the 21st century. At the age of 91, I can do without farce." Well said. Perhaps it's time to channel Miller and demand another strike of sorts - players should boycott all elections at the Hall until Miller's bust is forever enshrined at that exclusive club in upstate New York.