Seven years ago, writing for The New York Times, I polled numerous baseball luminaries on whether former Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Marvin Miller should be voted into the Hall of Fame. Here were the results:
Hank Aaron: “Marvin Miller should be in the Hall of Fame if the players have to break down the doors to get him in.”
Tom Seaver: “Marvin’s exclusion from the Hall of Fame is a national disgrace.”
Joe Morgan: “They should vote him in and then apologize for making him wait so long.”
Bob Costas: “There is no non-player more deserving of the Hall of Fame.”
Let’s also add this 1992 endorsement from legendary broadcaster Red Barber: “Marvin Miller, along with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson, is one of the two or three most important men in baseball history.”
And for good measure, let’s throw in opinions from:
Bill James: “If baseball ever buys itself a mountain and starts carving faces in it, one of the first men to go up is sure to be Marvin Miller.”
Studs Terkel: “Marvin Miller, I suspect, is the most effective union organizer since John L. Lewis.”
The late tennis great and historian Arthur Ashe: “Marvin Miller has done more for the welfare of black athletes than anyone else.”
And yet: Another vote has come and gone, and Marvin Miller, age 90, has once again been snubbed by the Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s about time for someone to ask why the man who founded the players’ union, brought free agency to baseball, and changed the economics of the game
doesn’t deserve a plaque in Cooperstown?
For decades, the issue was clouded by the interpretation of Hall of Fame Rule 6(B), which states that along with managers and umpires, “baseball executives are eligible.” Whenever someone from Major League Baseball was asked why Miller wasn’t eligible, the reply would be: “He wasn’t a baseball executive.” Finally, in 2001, someone—me, actually—asked Jeff Idelson, vice president for communication and education, if the rule really did exclude Miller from consideration. His reply: “There is nothing in Rule 6(B) to prevent Marvin Miller’s candidacy.”
So why isn’t Marvin Miller in the Hall of Fame? Jim Bouton, former Yankee pitcher and players’ rep, suggests starting with the 12-member electorate who voted this year. Here are their names: former players Monte Irvin and Harmon Killebrew; former Yankee player and American League president Bobby Brown; John Harringon, formerly of the Red Sox; current executives Jerry Bell (Twins), Bill DeWitt (Cardinals), Bill Giles (Phillies), David Glass (Royals), and Andy MacPhail (Orioles); and media members Paul Hagen (Philadelphia Daily News), Rick Hummel (St. Louis Post-Dispatch), and Hal McCoy (Dayton Daily News).
“How did these people vote, and why are their votes kept secret?” Bouton asks. “And why aren’t there more players on that committee? Hank Aaron, Jim Bunning, Bob Gibson, Fergie Jenkins—they’re all on the committee for reviewing the managers and umpires. Essentially, the decision for putting a union leader in the Hall of Fame was handed over to a bunch of executives and former executives. Marvin Miller kicked their butts and took power away from the baseball establishment—do you really think those people are going to vote him in? It’s a joke.”
Anyone who doubts the truth of what Bouton is saying only has to look at the two MLB executives who
were voted in: former commissioner of baseball Bowie Kuhn, a man repeatedly bested by Miller and the union in every negotiation, and Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley, the man who moved the team out of Brooklyn.
Does Bouton, then, blame the MLB establishment for keeping Miller out? “No, I blame the players,” he says. “It’s
their Hall of Fame; it’s their balls and bats that make the hall what it is. Where are the public outcries from Joe Morgan or Reggie Jackson, who was a player rep? Why don’t these guys see that some of their own get on these committees? That’s the least they owe Marvin Miller. Do they think they became millionaires because of the owners’ generosity?”
Oddly enough, it was a Republican HOF member, Kentucky senator Jim Bunning (himself a former players’ rep), who said it best: “The Hall of Fame is about players, and no one did more for the players than Marvin Miller.”
Seven years ago, Brooks Robinson, a member of the Hall of Fame’s board of directors, told me: “Too many of us who want this to happen have let it slide for a long time. This year, we’re going to ask the right questions and find the right answers to get it done.”
We’re still waiting, Brooks.