It's a shame the Baseball Hall of Fame has
yet to install this plaque
The National Baseball Hall of Fame is once again doing its best NASCAR imitation. For the second time in three years, the Hall’s Board of Directors has changed the voting process for electing veterans – managers, umpires, executives, and players who have been retired for more than 21 seasons - to Cooperstown.
NASCAR is a wholly owned entity of the France family that oversees and controls stock car racing at virtually every level in this country. In addition to owning the oversight body, the Frances also own majority interest in International Speedway Corporation which owns or controls 13 of the 21 tracks at which Sprint Cup races are run. When NASCAR wants to make changes to the rules of racing, it does so unilaterally, without input from those with the most at stake: team owners, drivers, and track owners whose last name isn’t spelled F-R-A-N-C-E. Imagine MLB Commissioner Bud Selig owning 18 of the 30 MLB teams and making all the rules and financial decisions governing baseball without input from the other 12 owners or the players and you get the picture.
Come to think of it, baseball’s picture was similar to NASCAR’s until 1966 when a successful labor leader named Marvin Miller agreed to become the first full-time executive director of the Major League Baseball Players’ Association. At the time, the minimum player salary was $6,000, the average player salary was $19,000, free agency didn’t exist and slavery - better known as the reserve clause - bound players to one team until they were traded or released. The owners and the commissioner of baseball, who was nothing more than a hand-picked pawn of the owners, had it pretty good, if you think 20 teams grossing a combined total of approximately $50 million per year is nirvana.
Ten years after Miller took office, the detestable reserve clause was relegated to the legal scrap heap. The players obtained free agency, which turned out to be the biggest boon to the sport in its 150-year history. Thirty-five years after the death of the reserve clause, the minimum player salary is $400,000 and the average salary is $3.3 million. The owners haven’t fared too badly either; the 30 MLB teams are projected to grossed almost $7 billion this year in revenues.
Is Miller solely responsible for what Selig rightfully refers to as the Golden Age of Baseball? Of course not. But anyone who ignores Miller’s contribution to the glut of riches in the sport is effectively re-writing history.
Which brings us to the Hall of Fame. Four times in the past seven years, Miller has been on the veterans’ ballot for election to the Hall and four times he has failed to receive the necessary votes for enshrinement. When Miller first appeared on the ballot in 2003, voters consisted primarily of living members of the Hall of Fame. Seventy-five percent of the votes are required for election and Miller received 44 percent. In 2007, the second time Miller’s name appeared on the ballot, he received 63 percent of the votes, nearly a 50 percent increase in support.
Prior to election number three, the Hall’s Board of Directors decided to change the voting procedure. The new procedure called for a 12-man committee to vote on veterans, with nine votes being required for election. The committee, appointed by the Hall’s Board of Directors, was dominated by baseball executives, the group that Miller consistently outsmarted and outfoxed – due in large measure to their own incompetence and dissension – during his 16 years as union chief. In 2008, the first year under the new format, Miller garnered just three votes. Last year, the committee membership changed and Miller received seven votes, two shy of election.
In July, with Miller apparently on the cusp of enshrinement, the Hall announced changes to the voting format once again. Henceforth, Veteran candidates will be considered in three eras – Pre-integration (1871-1946), Golden (1947-1972), and Expansion (1973-present) - on a three-year rotating cycle. The committee was increased from 12 to 16 members. The results of the first vote, on a list of Expansion Era candidates that includes Miller, will be released on December 6 during the Baseball Winter Meetings in Orlando.
Last year’s Veterans’ Committee membership consisted of seven executives, three media members and only two former players. Miller’s most vocal supporters from that group – Hall of Fame pitchers Tom Seaver and Robin Roberts – will not be voting this year. Seaver was elevated to the Hall’s Board and Roberts passed away in May.
To garner 75 percent of the vote, Miller needs 12 votes from this year’s 16-member electorate, which consists of seven former players, a former manager, four media representatives and four executives. It’s difficult to imagine Miller appearing on any of the executives’ ballots (Bill Giles, David Glass, Andy MacPhail and Jerry Reinsdorf), which means he needs to sweep the remaining votes in order to be elected. Not even Pete Rose would take that bet.
The Hall’s press release announcing the most recent changes to the voting procedures stated, “The changes, effective immediately, maintain the high standards for earning election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.” Nothing can be further from the truth. In addition to changing the voting procedures at will, the Hall is violating its “high standards” by allowing George Steinbrenner’s name to appear on the ballot. According to the Hall’s press release, veteran candidates include executives who have been retired for at least five years and those who are still active but have attained the age of 65. Steinbrenner, who passed away on July 4, doesn’t qualify under either interpretation.
It appears unlikely that Miller, 93, will garner sufficient votes to be elected to the Hall next month, and perhaps not in his lifetime. Whether the machinations engaged in by the Hall are a conscientious effort designed to make it easier or more difficult to elect veterans - and Miller in particular – is impossible to determine with certainty. But one indisputable conclusion from the multitude of changes to the voting process is that the Hall of Fame, by emulating NASCAR, has morphed into the Hall of Shame.
Jordan Kobritz is a staff member of the Business of Sports Network. He is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Eastern New Mexico University and teaches the Business of Sports at the University of Wyoming. He looks forward to your comments and can be contracted, here.
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