Monday, December 03, 2007

Put Marvin Miller into the Baseball Hall of Fame

The Baseball Hall of Fame has managed to get things right more often than they’ve gotten things wrong. The hallowed halls of Cooperstown remain the most difficult Hall of Fame someone can be selected for enshrinement. Hopefully today, one of the most important builders will finally be welcomed in Marvin Miller.

If the revised Baseball Hall of Fame selection process is to have any real integrity, Marvin Miller MUST be inducted. At 90 (Marvin isn't getting any younger), the time is right and the time is NOW! It’s no understatement to suggest in the last 100 years, Marvin Miller’s contributions to the evolution of baseball as a business enabled the sport to move from the dark ages, to its modern era where the game has thrived both and off the field – and Marvin Miller was at the center of the modern baseball revolution.

“Whether you agree or disagree, he was one individual who had as large a ramification as anybody on the history of the game,” Baseball Hall of Fame member Tom Seaver told The New York Times Murray Chass this week. “If the Hall of Fame is an historical repository, he deserves to be there.”

When Marvin Miller was elected as the first executive director for the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1966, the average MLB salary was $19,000. The reserve clause tied players to whatever organization they had signed with as youngsters for life. Effectively, the reserve clause represented slavery. The numbers are staggering. Consider when Miller assumed control of the union, the minimum salary has risen to $380,000 from $6,000, and the average salary to a little less than $2.7 million from $19,000.

Miller for his part, made it clear to The New York Times he’d be honored to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but he isn’t holding his breath. Amazingly, one of the players who didn’t vote for Miller was Reggie Jackson, baseball’s first mega free agent. After the 2003 vote, Jackson told the media he believed the Baseball Hall of Fame should only be for players. Miller’s drive and determination may have made Mr. October a millionaire many times over, but it didn’t make him any smarter.

“The only players I talked to,” Miller told The New York Times, “were those who said: ‘I don’t understand this. I don’t know why this happened. It’s ridiculous.’ ”

A 12-member group that featured two Hall of Famers, seven executives and three media members studied the executives/pioneers ballot that includes prominent owners and general managers as well as a commissioner and Miller.

The committees met Sunday at the Opryland Hotel with the results to be announced Monday. As is the case with the player voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America, candidates must be named on 75 percent of ballots cast for election, which would be 12 of 16 for the managers/umpires ballot and 9 of 12 for the executives/pioneers ballot.

In the previous Veterans Committee process, these two groups were together on a composite ballot. In each of the elections in 2003 and 2007, the leading vote-getter was former umpire Doug Harvey, though he failed to receive the requisite 75 percent support from a voting panel that included Hall of Famers and winners of the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting and the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for writing.

Miller who last appeared on the Veterans Committee ballot earlier this year as was the case in 2003 failed to be recognized by many of the players who thanks to Miller’s efforts earned tens of millions of dollars. Miller has always been soft spoken but direct when it comes to talking about his chances of being enshrined into the Baseball Hall of Fame and his legacy.

“It would be nice,” Miller said, “but when you’re my age, 89 going on 90, questions of mortality have a greater priority than a promised immortality.”

Brad Snyder’s book, ‘A Well Paid Slave’ looks back the life and very tough times of Curt Flood. Curt Flood changed professional sports in 1969 after he refused to accept the St. Louis Cardinals trading the All-Star outfielder to the Philadelphia Phillies. Flood contacted Miller and the rest became baseball free agency. Flood and Miller failed in their attempts to rid MLB of its archaic reserve clause, but Flood’s courage and conviction along with Miller’s drive and determination led to the end of the reserve clause and free agency in 1976.

“To me Flood epitomized the modern player who began to think in terms of union, to ask questions like "Why is baseball an exception to how labor is treated in other industries? Why should we be treated like property? Why should we agree to have a reserve clause?" Basic questions that had gone unasked.” Miller offered in a 2004 interview with Counterpunch.

“Curt Flood came to me to discuss the possibility of a lawsuit and I thought that it was a losing case, the chance of winning was terrible. How was he going to finance it? I felt that he would indeed need help, and I was concerned how easy it was to make bad law with a bad case--and I felt the union should back him. And I began to lobby his case with the executive board and since we were going to meet in early December 1969 in San Juan, I arranged with Curt to have him come to the meeting, and have Curt be questioned, and when it came time to bring Curt in, I had already briefed him, and maybe some of them knew Flood but not in this context. I brought him into the board meeting and turned it over. And finally a board member asked Curt, 'The motivation here: why are you doing this?”

“Was it--to attack the reserve clause to stop the owners from trading a player where he didn't want to go? Or was this a sign of 'black power' and Curt looked at him and said 'I wish it was" but we are dealing with an issue that affects every player. Color has nothing to do it. We are all pieces of property,” Miller remembered the impact Curt Flood had on the growth of baseball.

Let’s be very clear. Flood had the courage, but it was Miller’s understanding of the law, and how baseball players where being treated that led to the explosion in salaries, and MLB becoming a business capable of generating billions of dollars annually.

“It’s not just that the players’ situation has improved,” Miller told the New York Times. “That’s undeniable. But it’s the whole industry. There has been an improvement that affected everybody. Now there are more players, scouts, concessions workers, managers, general managers, club presidents and so on.”

“I look at that with great satisfaction,” he continued. “That wasn’t my job as I viewed it. My job was to right some wrongs, improve conditions of players, and that was done.”

He added in The Times report: “It’s salaries generally, it’s the average, the median, the top salary, any way you want to look at it. I confess: that’s a great source of satisfaction to me. I didn’t do it all, but I played a part. I helped build a structure that has held together.”

There are those who will argue Marvin Miller is responsible for economic disparity and chaos in sports. Former MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn (also not in the Baseball Hall) was a strong believer that Miller hurt the game more then he ever helped it. When you consider industry revenue had risen to a record-high $5.2 billion this year from $1.2 billion in 1992 it’s easy to appreciate how little Kuhn understood regarding the evolution of sports as an industry. Because of Miller’s leadership, not Kuhn’s ineptitude, sports is a half trillion dollar industry. When Miller left the MLBPA in the hands of Donald Fehr when he retired in 1986, the MLBPA remains to this day the strongest union in America.

When Miller left the United Steel Workers to take charge of the newly formed MLBPA in 1966, the players as Miller told “Counterpunch” in 2004, the union was anything but strong.

“I don't know that they wanted a real union [at first]. If I had to make an educated guess, the one thing the players had which they prized was their pension plan. It was called a benefit plan, That had been put into effect also in 1947 once again the owners saying, let's do something to prevent the union here. 18 years later, two things, were concerning the players. One was that the pension had not kept pace over 18 years of progress; also they picked up strong rumors that the owners were wanting to change it. Television by 1965 had grown tremendously. [L.A. Dodgers owner] Walter O'Mally saw this and wanted to after the benefit plan. But beyond that I was also learning that it was like pulling teeth learning what else made them unhappy.”

“This was because they were a work force basically unschooled in working conditions. They had all undergone a bunch of brainwashing that being allowed to play major league baseball was a great favor that they were the luckiest people in the world. They were accustomed never to think, "This stinks. We need to change this." You have to remember baseball players are very young and with few exceptions have no experience in these matters,” Miller recalled.

Maury Brown publisher Biz of Baseball.com asked Miller in an interview for SABR (The Society for American Baseball research), where Miller saw his place in Major League Baseball history, and if Miller ever expects to get the 75 percent vote he needs from the veterans committee.

“No. I think the votes were never there. I found it interesting. But [it was] kind of uninformed when so many people said just because they changed the method of voting for non-players from the old veterans committee to all of the living members of the Hall of Fame that that necessarily meant I would be eligible. I never agreed with that. I think it left out an awful lot of factors.”

“One of the reasons I didn’t agree with all of this, is that I think anybody who has ever been a Union leader has to have gained some skill at being able to predict votes in advance. I think that what’s disastrous for a labor leader is to not have that skill.”

“For example, to call for a strike vote and have the membership turn it down. That’s the end of credibility. Or for a Union leader to go into difficult negotiations, reach a settlement, and then submit it to the membership for ratification and have it rejected. That’s almost the end of the Union.”

“So, you really have to learn how to forecast votes in advance, and one of the things you do is look at the facts.”

“Fact number one is that an awful lot of players in the Hall of Fame are pre-Union. They never had anything to do with the Union back in that terrible period.”

“Number two, is that many of those players and many of the players who were playing in the period in which in which I was involved, after they were through playing, became employed by management. A whole different mindset is set up.”

“Just for example Monte Irvin in the Hall of Fame is a very nice guy, but the last fifteen years in this working life he worked for Bowie Kuhn. You wouldn’t vote for me would you? And it’s not just Monte Irvin. There are people on the Cubs and people on the Red Sox and Hall of Fame who have worked for management and are working for management. There’s this fine great ball player in the Hall of Fame, who’s vice president of a major league team and so on.”

“And then there are members of the press who vote who are the newspaper reporters wing of the Hall of Fame. While some of those might vote for me many would not. There were a lot of them who were, if not in the owners’ pockets, at least on their laps. There are the radio and TV announcers who interestingly enough in almost every case cannot be announcers in radio and TV unless the clubs that they are telecasting or broadcasting agree. They hold the veto power over them.”

“And then finally, if all else fails, to make anybody understand how the votes go, if you have to get 75% of the vote and you do what the Hall of Fame people did two years ago or a year ago, put fifteen people on the ballot. You are making it almost statistically improbable that anyone is going to get 75% of the vote and in fact, no one did.”

“In the history of the United States, this is just to give you a contrast, while occasionally there are three candidates or four candidates, in most cases there are two. And with only two candidates on the ballot, except for George Washington in his first term, who ran unopposed, with only two people on the ballot--in all the rest of the elections no presidential candidate ever got anywhere near 75% of the vote.” Miller told SABR.

And what will Marvin Miller’s legacy to the game be?

“Well, you know every once in awhile you are forced to when you get to be my age. I’m referring to the fact that former commissioner Fay Vincent is involved in a project now, in connection with the Hall of Fame, in which he is interviewing various living people, obviously, who have had a part in baseball history. They are doing this project on film for the benefit of future generations of fans and scholars. As Fay said, when you do a project of this type, you interview the older members first, to make sure they are still around.”

“Certainly, you are forced to think about this, but in terms of things I would hope for, is that I would be remembered in terms of having playing a major part in building the first legitimate and still remaining the only legitimate trade Union in the team sports movement. A Union that has demonstrated to be one of great solidarity and integrity and unity and accomplishment. And that’s good enough.” Miller told Brown.

During Miller's term as director from 1966-84, the players' average salary rose from $6,000 to more than $500,000. In addition, there were increases in pension funds and per-diem allowances, vast improvements in travel conditions and ballpark facilities and the right to arbitration to solve grievances. The cost was often dear, such as the loss in court in Curt Flood's challenge of the reserve clause and players' strikes in 1972 and 1981. There was no greater victory, however, than in the 1975 Andy Messersmith-Dave McNally case in which arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled that the players were not chained by the reserve cause, opening the door to free agency.

His legacy was creating a strong association with remarkable solidarity out of a constituency that at first had next to no history of union activism with a sizeable portion of players to whom such activity was considered subversive. To appease that element, the players thought of offering Richard Nixon, then a private citizen, the job of general counsel. Miller preferred New York attorney Richard Moss. The players wanted Miller and changed their minds about Nixon. Miller and Moss went on to succeed as the "M&M boys" of labor negotiations.

Miller initially was not in favor of the 1972 strike during Spring Training, but was surprised to hear the players demanded such action. Similarly, he was moved by the players' action in 1981 because the issues then did not affect active players as much as those who would come in the future. Miller's pride in what the Players Association has accomplished in 40 years extends beyond what it has meant to the players, but to the entire sport.

"There has been an improvement that affected everybody," Miller told the Times. "Now there are more players, scouts, concessions workers, managers, general managers, club presidents and so on. I look at that with great satisfaction. That wasn't my job as I viewed it. My job was to right some wrongs, improve conditions of players, and that was done. I confess: that's a great source of satisfaction to me. I didn't do it all, but I played a part. I helped build a structure that has held together."

When they announce the newest members of the Baseball Hall of Fame later today, will Marvin Miller’s name be included? If there is any justice, any sense of right or wrong Miller’s name will not only be included, but it will be at the top of the list. At long last Marvin Miller will join the true legends of the game -- Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Reggie Jackson, the greatest of the greatest as an honored member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

Labels: , , , , ,