December 6, 2010
Gillick Gains Election, Miller Bloc'd Out
It's a good thing I'm not part of Baseball Prospectus' contingent at the Winter Meetings in Orlando, because this morning's news would have had me trashing my hotel room and pointing my rental car in the direction of the Expansion Era Committee, which announced its voting results for the Hall of Fame. From among the 12 candidates — eight players and four non-players — only Pat Gillick gained election, while Marvin Miller was bypassed yet again.
Gillick was an eminently worthy choice. The ranks of the general managers in Cooperstown are underrepresented, but it's tough to find anyone who had so much success at so many stops as Gillick. In 27 years as a general manager, he was the architect of three world champions — the 1992 and 1993 Blue Jays and the 2008 Phillies — and he took four different franchises (the Mariners and Orioles being the others) to the postseason a total of 11 times. In his first appearance on the ballot, he received 13 out of 16 votes from a newfangled successor to the Veterans Committee panel which included seven Hall of Fame players (Johnny Bench, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Tony Perez, Frank Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, and Ozzie Smith), one Hall of Fame manager (Whitey Herzog), four executives past and present (Bill Giles, David Glass, Andy MacPhail, and Jerry Reinsdorf), and four media members (Bob Elliott, Tim Kurkjian, Ross Newhan, and Tom Verducci).
Miller is an even worthier choice, because there is no easy parallel for his impact upon the game, though when former Dodger announcer Red Barber numbered him as "one of the three most important men in baseball history," along with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson, he had the sense of scale down. As the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1966-82, Miller oversaw baseball's biggest change since integration via the dismantling of the Reserve Clause and the dawn of free agency, a change which shifted the game's century-old balance of power from the owners to the players. In addition to securing the right to free agency via the destruction of what was effectively a system of indentured servitude, Miller's leadership brought the players the rights to collective bargaining, to impartial arbitration of grievances, to representation by an agent to negotiate on their behalf, and to rejecting a trade after achieving enough experience. It also established a salary arbitration system and substantially increased pensions. On Miller's watch, the average annual salary of a major-league player rose from less than $20,000 to over $250,000, and the MLBPA became arguably the strongest labor union in the country.
Alas, Miller received just 11 votes, one shy of the threshold necessary to reach 75 percent. That's an outright travesty almost certainly borne of petty vengeance on the part of the executives on the committee whom he and the MLBPA beat at every turn. Giles, Glass, and MacPhail were all part of the past two committees that voted Miller down. Both Giles and MacPhail are legacies whose fathers (and in MacPhail's case, grandfather) were on the management side during the Reserve Clause era, and both were part of management during baseball's disgraceful collusion saga. Reinsdorf, the owner of the White Sox, was a kingpin of collusion and the leader of the anti-union hardliners in the 1994-1995 players' strike. Glass, who owns the Royals, was a fellow hardliner; additionally, he's the former president and CEO of the notoriously anti-union Wal-Mart chain of stores.
By including all four, the creators of the committee forced Miller to run the table from the other 12 panelists in order to gain election, and he lost at least one more vote. The individual ballots aren't available, but it's safe to assume that none of the players, all of whom benefited from Miller's work, were the ones; here it's worth noting that Miller was misquoted by none other than Murray Chass, who had reported — via a blog, the scoundrel! — that the former union head called Palmer "an anti-union sonuvabitch." It's unlikely that Verducci, who lauded Miller in Sports Illustrated years ago, was the holdout; my quick research could unearth no similar writing on Miller from the other three. It's possible Herzog could have been the other holdout — he was the GM of the Cardinals at the time of the 1981 players strike — but as an ex-player, he would also have drawn a pension thanks to Miller, which reduces the likelihood of him joining the management bloc. Note that it's also possible that MacPhail did vote for Miller. In last year's vote, when Miller received seven out of 12 votes from the Veterans Committee, he reportedly picked up two from a bloc of seven execs (talk about a stacked deck): John Harrington, Jerry Bell, Bill DeWitt, Giles, Glass, MacPhail and John Schuerholz; from among that group, MacPhail is the youngest.
Rejection the Hall's gatekeepers is obviously nothing new for Miller. Prior to the VC's expansion in 2001, he had never even appeared on a ballot; even the most venerable members of the old committee, such as sportswriters Leonard Koppett and Jerome Holtzman, disagreed on his eligibility. Since then, he's been voted down five times (2003, 2007, 2008, 2009 and this year), a litany of such disrespect that in 2008, he took the unprecedented step of asking the voters not to be elected. This time around, he issued a terse statement thumbing his nose at the institution (h/t Emma Span):
It's a shame that Miller's non-election overshadows Gillick's election, but the Hall of Fame is less legitimate without Miller among its ranks, not that it doesn't have other legitimacy issues.
As for the rest of the ballot, Davey Concepcion, whom I tabbed as the best of the players but still borderline, was the only other candidate to receive more than 50 percent and thus have his vote total announced. It's no surprise that the other players (Vida Blue, Steve Garvey, Ron Guidry, Tommy John, Al Oliver, Ted Simmons, Rusty Staub) weren't elected, but it rates as more surprising that neither George Steinbrenner nor Billy Martin gained admission. Steinbrenner is likely to get there eventually, but as noted when I wrote about him, it may have been too soon after his passing for the voters to evaluate him objectively. He's something of a Rorschach Test for baseball's economic expansion in the free agency era, in that some can look at him and see History's Greatest Monster, others a particularly savvy businessman whose mellowing with age was an important part of his success.
Meanwhile, last week the BBWAA unveiled its 33-candidate Hall of Fame ballot. Fourteen holdovers headed by Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven, Tim Raines and Alan Trammell join 19 newcomers led by Jeff Bagwell and the sure-to-be-controversial Rafael Palmeiro. The hope here is that Colin Wyers will be able to supply fresh WARP data based upon what he's been cooking up in his laboratory so that I can use it to kick off my JAWS series this week, but I know that Colin's also neck deep in his responsibilities pertaining to PECOTA and the annual book. Follow me on Twitter (if you dare) for further developments as to the start of the JAWS series.