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Marvin Miller, Baseball’s Greatest Labor Leader, Denied Hall Of Fame Induction Again

By Travis Waldron  

"Marvin Miller, Baseball’s Greatest Labor Leader, Denied Hall Of Fame Induction Again"

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Marvin Miller talks to Phillies and Red Sox players before a 1977 spring training game,

Marvin Miller talks to Phillies and Red Sox players before a 1977 spring training game,

CREDIT: AP

Baseball’s Veteran’s Committee elected three former Major League managers to the game’s Hall of Fame this morning, unanimously inducting former Braves and Blue Jays skipper Bobby Cox, former Cardinals, White Sox, and Athletics manager Tony LaRussa, and former Braves, Yankees, and Dodgers manager Joe Torre into the 2014 class. Cox, Torre, and LaRussa combined for more than 7,500 wins and eight World Series titles over their years in the game, and their election was all but assured when they reached the ballot this year.

All are deserving entrants. But the story of the day is that another baseball icon was left out. Again.

Marvin Miller, who led the MLB Players Association from 1966 to 1982 and served as an adviser for more than a decade after, received just six votes, just half of the 12 he needed for entry. As might be expected for a labor pioneer who challenged the baseball establishment at every turn, Miller has long been shunned by the people in charge of Hall of Fame entry, so much so that he said repeatedly that he didn’t care about joining it anyway. But Miller died in November 2012 at age 95, and given that the sport is enjoying unprecedented health both financially and otherwise that he helped create, leaving him out again is a travesty, one that ignores what he meant to the game.

Criteria for the Baseball Hall of Fame, particularly for non-players, isn’t clear, and Miller never played a game. But the Hall does include former executives, owners, and commissioners, even those like Kennesaw Mountain Landis, who likely contributed to the perpetuation of baseball as a segregated game, and Bowie Kuhn, who was Miller’s main labor adversary in the 1960s and ’70s. Miller, on the other hand, is as responsible for Major League Baseball as we know it today as any single person — famous baseball announcer Red Barber once lumped him in with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson as “one of the two or three most important men in baseball history.” Yet Miller missed again, this time farther away than he has been in previous elections (he garnered 7 votes, two short of election, in 2009 and 11 votes, one short, in 2010).

Yes, he’s partly responsible for baseball’s contentious labor past, one that features a Supreme Court case and more than a half-dozen labor stoppages. But that strife also led to the creation of free agency and a game that gave players more rights than they’d ever enjoyed in baseball or any other professional league in the past. Miller, a longtime labor attorney before he came to baseball, helped players negotiate professional sports’ first collectively bargained contract in 1968 and led them on the first labor stoppage in American sports history four years later. That leadership allowed baseball players to share in the prosperity they created for the first time: the average salary more than tripled in his first decade at the union, and salary gains bolstered the players’ pension plans too. As TV money and increased advertising began turning baseball into the multibillion-dollar business it is today, it was Miller who helped ensure that the players to have a substantial stake in its growth.

Miller was still working as an adviser to the union in 1994, when baseball’s players walked off the field and canceled the World Series during a labor fight with ownership. It was that stoppage, over the owners’ demand for a salary cap, that ultimately broke the long string of labor strife between the two parties. As ugly as the fight over salaries and health and pension benefits was, it set a precedent: any radical action from owners would be met with similarly radical action from players, without whom there could be no games. There hasn’t been a work stoppage sense, and the owners’ claims that rising salaries brought on by Miller and the union’s demands would bankrupt their teams were proven false. Today, baseball and all of its clubs are as financially healthy as they have ever been, even as player salaries are rising too.

I’d argue that those fights made baseball a better game, but whether you’re pro-labor or against doesn’t really matter. The introduction of collective bargaining as a strong vehicle for player rights to the game of baseball transformed the sport — and other professional sports with it — into one where both players and owners could be prosperous. His impact on the game of baseball during the latter half of the 20th century is simply undeniable. The committee can leave him out and it won’t matter much, since the Hall of Fame is, in the end, just a museum. But if we want it to tell us the story of baseball, how our game got here, it’s doing us a disservice as long as it excludes the man who did as much to create the game we know today as anyone else in recent history.

Update

Tony Clark, the new executive director of the MLBPA, sent out a statement this afternoon decrying the decision not to include Miller in this year’s Hall of Fame class:

“Words cannot adequately describe the level of disappointment and disbelief I felt when learning that once again the Hall of Fame has chosen to ignore Marvin Miller and his unparalleled contributions to the growth and prosperity of Major League Baseball,” Clark said in the statement. “Over the past 50 years, no individual has come close to matching Marvin’s impact on the sport. He proved to all involved in Major League Baseball, and to outside observers, that a healthy collective bargaining environment would benefit all the game’s stakeholders. Today, players, owners, front office personnel, fans and the media owe Marvin a debt of gratitude. Despite the election results, Marvin’s legacy remains intact, and will only grow stronger, while the credibility of the Hall of Fame continues to suffer.”

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