Tuesday, December 07, 2010

An injustice, a crime, a sham – Marvin Miller not in the Baseball Hall of Fame

For the fourth time in the last seven years, the Baseball Hall of Fame has denied Marvin Miller his rightful place among the greatest honor offered to those who have in one way or another impacted professional baseball. Monday, as was the case in 2003, 2007 and 2009 those entrusted with the responsibility of voting on behalf of the Baseball Veterans Committee let him down again. Miller fell one vote short of enshrinement.

Serving on the committee were Hall of Famers Whitey Herzog, Johnny Bench, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Tony Perez, Frank Robinson, Ryne Sandberg and Ozzie Smith along with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, Orioles President Andy MacPhail, former Phillies owner Bill Giles, Royals owner David Glass, Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun, Tim Kurkjian of ESPN, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated and retired Los Angeles Times reporter Ross Newhan.

Marvin Miller offered the following Monday: "The Baseball Hall of Fame's vote (or non-vote) of December 5, hardly qualifies as a news story. It is repetitively negative, easy to forecast, and therefore boring.

"Many years ago those who control the Hall decided to rewrite history instead of recording it. The aim was to eradicate the history of the tremendous impact of the players' union on the progress and development of the game as a competitive sport, as entertainment and as an industry. The union was the moving force in bringing Major League Baseball from the 19th century to the 21st century. It brought about expansion of the game to cities that had never had a Major League team. It brought about more than a 50 percent increase in the number of people employed as players, coaches, trainers, managers, club presidents, attorneys and other support personnel, employees of concessionaires, stadium maintenance personnel, parking lot attendants, and more. It converted a salary structure from one with a $6,000 a year minimum salary to a $414,000 a year salary from the first day of a player's Major League service. The union was also the moving force for changing the average Major League salary from $19,000 a year to more than $3 million a year, and the top salary from $100,000 to more than $25 million a year. The union was a major factor in increasing the annual revenue of all Major League clubs, combined -- from $50 million a year before the union started in 1966 to this year's almost $7 billion a year. That is a difficult record to eradicate -- and the Hall has failed to do it.

"A long time ago, it became apparent that the Hall sought to bury me long before my time, as a metaphor for burying the union and eradicating its real influence. Its failure is exemplified by the fact that I and the union of players have received far more support, publicity and appreciation from countless fans, former players, writers, scholars, experts in labor management relations, than if the Hall had not embarked on its futile and fraudulent attempt to rewrite history. It is an amusing anomaly that the Hall of Fame has made me famous by keeping me out."

Current union chief Michael Weiner wrote: "On behalf of members past and present of the Major League Baseball Players Association, I express my frustration, disappointment and sadness that Marvin Miller today was again denied his rightful place in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Every person who has benefited in the past half century from baseball's prosperity -- player, owner, executive, manager, coach or member of the media -- owes a debt to Marvin. Marvin's legacy is undiminished by this vote; the Hall, by contrast, once again squandered a chance to better itself as an institution."

Former union boss Donald Fehr expressed similar sentiments, writing that once again Marvin Miller has been denied election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

"There can be no question as to the extraordinary contributions that he made to baseball. In the last half of the 20th century no one had a greater or more meaningful positive impact on the game than did Marvin Miller.

"Generations of players are already in his debt, as all future players will be. The fact that a few members of the Expansion Era Committee saw fit to continue to deny recognition to the representative of the players -- who are the reason that the Hall exists in the first place -- says more about them than it does about Marvin.

"This is a sad day for anyone who is or has been a Major League player."

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 do not believe Marvin Miller should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame maybe you just do not understand the state of baseball. You definitely do not get it 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.

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 us 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. At the same time it sparked the MLB becoming a business capable of generating billions of dollars annually.

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 is 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 has continued to be 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."

While Miller not being voted in is not a criminal act – there was a crime committed against Baseball Hall of Fame’s integrity, an action that impacts the image of the Hall of Fame and takes away from the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.

For SportsBusinessNews.com this is Howard Bloom

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