Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Marvin Miller – time for Marvin and the Baseball Hall of Fame

As he was in 2003, 2007 and 2009 the Baseball Hall of Fame will once again consider enshrining Marvin Miller into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. If you’re waiting to hear Miller’s reaction to the news that the veterans committee will finally elect Miller where he rightfully belongs – forget about that. Miller made it clear when he was “considered” last year he had had enough of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

"I asked not be included on any ballots and gave them notice in writing, and they got their backs up and said, 'Nobody can tell us what to do.' It was a reasonable request in light of the circumstances. Why would they keep putting me on a list and, at the same time, rigging the election so I can't be elected?" Miller told ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick.

Miller almost made it last year falling two votes short of election. Each time Miller hasn’t been elected fingers have been pointed at baseball’s ownership, the group that felt Miller’s wrath throughout his remarkable career when he led the MLB Players Association.

MLB commissioner Bud Selig made it clear as far as he is concerned; Miller belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

"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," Selig said in an interview with the Major League Baseball Network. "Yes, Marvin Miller should be in the Hall."

Former MLB commissioner Fay Vincent echoed Selig’s comments in an Op-Ed piece after the late Bowie Kuhn was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.

"It's preposterous that Marvin Miller isn't in the Hall of Fame," Vincent said. "It's an embarrassment. Some of it is bitterness against Marvin for having taken baseball to its knees over the years, and some of the people who are negative about him are just being small-minded. I don't think a fair-minded person can have any question."

Vincent looks at Marvin Miller, the state of baseball, the bigger picture and realizes – if you don’t believe Marvin Miller should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame maybe you just don’t understand the state of baseball, especially if you blame Miller for what the owners are paying baseball players.

"That's like blaming Thomas Edison for putting the candle industry out of business," Vincent said. "Marvin Miller brought players out of indentured servitude. They were basically slaves. How can you argue that it was anything other than a great thing? It meant that baseball became part of the modern world."

“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 in 2007. “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.

While much of the finger pointing as to why Miller isn’t in the Hall of Fame is always directed at baseball’s management side, a 2007 New York Times report offered some interesting insight.

In the 2007 vote, one of the baseball 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.’ ”

Miller has failed to be recognized by many of the players who, thanks to his efforts, earned tens of millions of dollars.

Brad Snyder’s book, ‘A Well Paid Slave’ looks back on 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 were 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, the late Bowie Kuhn (inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008), was a strong believer that Miller hurt the game more than 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 union, as Miller told “Counterpunch” in 2004, 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.

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 clause, 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."

Will Marvin Miller be waiting by a phone the morning of December 6 when the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee decision is announced? Given how he is made it clear he doesn’t expect the call to happen, the answer is no.

Miller is alive and doing as well as any 93-year old can, two years ago offered some interesting thoughts on the state of baseball and the world we live in to the Boston Globe.

"Prices have gone through the roof and not just in baseball," he acknowledges. "A play on Broadway will cost you a couple hundred dollars a ticket. It costs you a whole week's salary to fill up your auto tank. These are strange times. The real answer is something that people don't understand. When I began and the union was formed in 1966, there were 20 major league franchises and they had a combined revenue the year before of under $50 million for the whole year. The last year, the revenue exceeded $6 billion. That's the industry we've ruined with higher salaries."

Marvin Miller suggested not only did he want his name taken off the Hall of Fame ballot but he’d never visit the Baseball Hall of Fame again. If there is any justice, any real credibility in the Baseball Hall of Fame, any real foundation to the sport’s builders – the Lords of the Diamond will honor Marvin Miller and honor the Baseball Hall of Fame by electing Marvin Miller to the Baseball Hall of Fame – its time to do the right thing.

For this is Howard Bloom

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