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December 13, 2010

Another Look

Marvin Miller

by Bob Hertzel

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On the back cover of Marvin Miller’s book, A Whole Different Ball Game: The Sport and Business Baseball, there is a blurb that needs to be revived here, now that the Baseball Hall of Fame has once again denied Miller entry.

“When you speak of Babe Ruth, he is one of the two men, in my opinion, who changed baseball the most. He changed the construction of the game, the construction of bats as well as the ball. And the second most influential man in the history of baseball is Marvin Miller.”

If this were an endorsement from Reggie Jackson and Jim Bouton, who also offer their view on Miller in brief blurbs, you might toss it aside as coming from those who benefited most from Miller’s work to create a baseball union and bring free agency to the sport. Instead, the author of that blurb was one of the most respected voices ever to broadcast the game—Red Barber.

It is difficult to imagine that the 16-man Veteran’s Committee could possibly believe that Pat Gillick is more deserving of enshrinement than Miller. This is not to belittle Gillick’s admirable career, but to emphasize Miller’s importance to the game. Some Hall of Fame voters seem to misunderstand their role in chronicling the most significant men in baseball history. The game has had its fair share of scoundrels and flakes. There is no background check performed when a player signs a contract. Throughout history, countless character flaws and indiscretions of players have been covered up. But even if the Hall is right in keeping Joe Jackson and Pete Rose out of the Hall, it is impossible to explain how Marvin Miller is being left out, short of his own bitter analysis.

Upon being denied induction, Miller issued a long statement pointing a crooked finger at the Hall for ignoring him and the changes he brought to the game.“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,” Miller said.

“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.”

Think of the strides the game has taken since the formation of the union and the change in baseball’s financial structure. Think of the increased access through expansion and television. Think of new stadiums that are sports palaces, the luxury boxes, and the sportswear industry. It wasn’t all what Miller and those who wanted a union envisioned, but it certainly was a byproduct of the change.

“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,” Miller continued. “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.”

Miller sees his exclusion as also being a result of this success. He believes those who still run the business cannot accept that Miller rolled over them and exposed them and the feudal system known as the reserve clause.

“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.”

 The day surely will come when the injustice is rectified. But if it doesn’t come soon—and the next time he is eligible will be 2013—Miller, now 93, probably won’t be there to see it. 

Bob Hertzel is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bob's other articles. You can contact Bob by clicking here

Related Content:  The Who,  Marvin Miller,  Managers Of The Year

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