A plaque for the future of the Hall of Fame?
An artist's rendering what Marvin Miller
Every year, the belief is, he will finally be inducted. And, every year, he’s overlooked.
Marvin Miller, the former executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, a man who’s shadow is so large, it covers all of MLB over the last 40+ years. Arguably, Miller has had more influence on the game than anyone in the last half of the 20th century, is still standing on the outside looking in. A byproduct of the old guard of MLB owners still upset with the monumental change that Miller brought to MLB.
As Bill James penned in the forward for Miller’s autobiography, A Whole Different Ballgame, “If ever baseball buys itself a mountain and starts carving faces in it, one of the first men to go up is sure to be Marvin Miller.”
As of today, he has yet to gain inclusion into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Last year, Miller was passed over by the 12 man veteran’s committee that votes on executives and pioneers by electing former commissioner Bowie Kuhn, former Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley, and ex-Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss. The total votes for Miller? 3 of the possible 12 votes.
As outgoing MLBPA Executive Director Donald Fehr said after the vote, "The failure to elect Marvin Miller is an unfortunate and regrettable decision. Without question, the Hall of Fame is poorer for it."
No spring chicken, Miller is now in his 90s. Time is running short for Miller to see his inclusion. Whether he is elected will be announced on Dec. 7 at the baseball winter meetings in Indianapolis this year, less than 3 weeks from now.
While last year was a shock to the system (more than one thought it was a slap in the face to see Kuhn gain inclusion before Miller), this year there may be several factors that could allow for Miller’s selection.
The Ballot is Weak
This year’s ballot is weak, compared to last year. Here is the ballot description, as written by the HOF:
- Gene Autry owned the Angels from their birth in 1961 until his death in 1998. Autry, a television and movie star known for his rendition of Christmas classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” led his teams to American League West titles in 1979, 1982 and 1986.
- Sam Breadon owned the Cardinals from 1917 to 1947, leading St. Louis to nine pennants and six World Series titles during his tenure. Breadon helped develop the modern farm system by stocking the Cardinals’ own minor league clubs with prospects.
- Bob Howsam served as the general manager of the Cardinals in the mid-1960s, helping build a team into a two-time National League pennant winner – and 1967 World Series champion. Howsam then moved on to become the general manager of the Reds, laying the foundation for the Big Red Machine that won four NL pennants and two World Series from 1970-76.
- Ewing Kauffman owned the Kansas City Royals from their birth in 1969 until his death in 1993. Kauffman established the innovative Kansas City Royals Baseball Academy and led the Royals to a first- or second-place finish in the American League West every season from 1975-85, including the AL pennant in 1980 and a World Series title in 1985.
- John Fetzer owned the Detroit Tigers from 1956-83, building one of the 1960s most consistent teams – one that won the World Series in 1968. Fetzer, a broadcasting pioneer, helped negotiate baseball’s initial national television contract in 1967.
- John McHale served as the general manager for the Tigers, Braves and Expos from the 1950s through the 1980s. McHale joined the Expos at their inception in 1969 and built the club into one of baseball’s most consistent teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
- Marvin Miller was elected as the head of the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1966 and quickly turned the union into a powerhouse. Within a decade, Miller had secured free agency for the players. By the time he retired in 1982, the average player salary was approximately 10 times what it was when he took over.
- Gabe Paul served as the general manager of the Cincinnati Reds, the Houston Colt 45s, the Cleveland Indians and the New York Yankees from the 1950s to the 1980s. Paul helped rebuild the Yankees in the 1970s, crafting a team that won three straight American League pennants and two World Series from 1976-78.
- Jacob Ruppert owned the New York Yankees from 1915 until his death in 1939, turning a second-division club into a dynasty. Ruppert presided over the acquisition of Babe Ruth, the opening of the original Yankee Stadium, 10 American League pennants and seven World Series titles.
- Bill White served as the president of the National League from 1989-94 following a successful career as a player and broadcaster. White presided over the addition of the Marlins and the Rockies to the NL and helped consolidate both the American and National leagues under one administrative umbrella.
Looking at the list, the strongest competition could be Gabe Paul for his work with the Yankees, John Fetzer, who was greatly admired by Bud Selig, and to a lesser extent Gene Autry, Ewing Kauffman, possibly Bill White. But, if there was an outcry that Miller was passed over in favor of Kuhn, how would it look if he were snubbed in favor of these individuals? While they are noteworthy, their accomplishments pale in comparison to Miller.
Let’s look past the idea that what the commissioner of baseball is saying is nothing more than lip-service. If Commissioner Selig is sincere, there could be some pressure to give Miller his due. In his most recent and far reaching interview with Bob Costas (excerpts here), Selig said of Miller, "Marvin Miller belongs in the Hall of Fame, if the criteria is what impact you had on the sport, whatever way one wants to value that impact, yes, Marvin Miller should be in the Hall. Not a lot of support. Marvin should be in the Hall of Fame."
Note that Selig said, “Not a lot of support.” If that’s the case, here’s the 12 men you need to focus on. ..
The Veterans Committee
Here’s who will make or break Miller’s inclusion into the Hall of Fame this year. They will discuss the ballot and vote on Sunday, Dec. 6 with the results of the voting released on Monday the 7th.
Robin Roberts and Tom Seaver; former executive John Harrington (Red Sox); current executives Jerry Bell (Twins), Bill DeWitt (Cardinals), Bill Giles (Phillies), David Glass (Royals), Andy MacPhail (Orioles) and John Schuerholz (Braves); and veteran media members Rick Hummel (St. Louis Post-Dispatch), Hal McCoy (Dayton Daily News) and Phil Pepe (New York Daily News).
This is a tough call. You give two votes from the former players to Miller (after all, Roberts was greatly responsible for being involved in the executive director search that eventually landed Miller in ’66), after that, it’s a crap shoot. Let’s say, for conversation sake, all the writers were in Miller’s corner, that would be 5 votes, which leaves 4 current or former execs being needed to get to the requisite 75 percent of the ballots cast in favor of a candidate on the ballot. You might get Schuerholz, possibly Glass or Bell, but after that, it gets cloudy. DeWitt, Giles, Harrington, and MacPhail were well known hardliners for management, so it seems dicey for Miller there. All that said, it shouldn’t surprise anyone at this stage if Miller garnered less votes than last year, or garnered an overwhelming majority. The politics of the Hall is an ever shifting landscape. That said, look at the makeup of the committee: it is swayed toward management (there are only two former players), and as Baseball Prospectus author Jay Jaffe noted, you have three members that were active during the collusion rulings (DeWitt, MacPhail, Giles). That could (yet again) kill Miller's chances.
Select Read More to see "Making the Case for Marvin Miller"
Making the Case for Miller
It’s hard to imagine what the Players Association would have been like if Miller had not accepted the offer from the likes of Robin Roberts--as is, it took two attempts before he accepted the position and left the Steelworkers Union in 1966.
Miller revolutionized labor relations in Major League Baseball. In 1966 he was instrumental in reaching an agreement with management that would raise ownership’s annual funding of retirement benefits from $1.5 million a year $4.1 million annually. The agreement also doubled the previous monthly pension and disability payments. That was just the start. By ’68 he had nearly doubled the players’ minimum salary from $6,000 to $10,000.
In 1973, he and Dick Moss obtained the rights for arbitration to resolve grievances for the players. From January 1970 through June of 1972, Miller and the Players Association backed Curt Flood’s attempt to challenge the reserve clause through the District and Supreme Court systems. Although the Supreme Court ruled against Flood--based on baseball’s exemption from antitrust statutes--it set the stage for the reserve clause to eventually be overturned.
In 1974, Miller and the Players Association argued via arbitration that Catfish Hunter was eligible for free agency after Charlie Finley defaulted on Hunter’s contract. Eventually, arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled in favor of Hunter, opening the way up to the first free agency bidding wars between the owners for the rights to Hunter. When Hunter finally signed a $3.5 million deal with the Yankees, it showed how much money the players could make should the reserve clause be broken.
In 1975, Miller challenged the reserve clause by having Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally go unsigned during their option year. At the end of the year, the players argued that they were free to sign with other teams. The case made its way into arbitration. Miller argued before Peter Seitz that the interpretation of the phrase in Paragraph 10(a) of the Uniform Players Contract had been incorrect for years. It read, "The Club shall have the right to renew this contract for a period of one year." To Miller, this sentence's meaning was clear: the owners did not control the perpetual right to renew after that one year. On December 23, 1975, Peter Seitz ruled in favor of Messersmith and McNally. Although there were legal challenges by MLB on the ruling, it set up free agency as an issue within the collective bargaining process.
With the advent of free agency through the Messersmith-McNally rulings, Miller had the foresight to see that allowing all players to become free agents at the end of the 1976 season would create a glut, and therefore lower the value of the players via free agency. Miller worked to have players enter free agency through a staggered process based on service time in MLB. By controlling the flow of the number of free agents each year, it increased the value of the players, and salaries subsequently skyrocketed. In 1976, Miller and the Players Association negotiated free agency for players after six years of service time.
To place the change in perspective, in 1976, the average salary was roughly $51,000. The following year it rose to $77,000, and by 1978, nearly $100,000. As Miller said, "I haven't researched this, but qualified people have told me that decision and the labor agreement which was signed the following summer resulted in more money changing hands from an owner’s group to an employee’s group than any decision or negotiation in history."
FOR MORE ON MARVIN MILLER:
The Biz of Baseball Interview with Marvin Miller (2004)
Baseball Prospectus Q&A with Marvin Miller (2008)
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Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is available for hire or freelance. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.
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