HALL OF FAME PUTS ITS SHAME ON THE LINE

By Murray Chass

November 10, 2010

In his concession speech after losing the 1962 California gubernatorial race, Richard Nixon told the assembled reporters they would miss him. “You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore,” he said.

The baseball Hall of Fame this week made sure it would have Marvin Miller to kick around some more. It put Miller on the ballot that the veterans committee will vote on next month.Marvin Miller 225

Miller, probably the most successful labor leader in United States labor history, has been on the ballot four times in the past seven years and has failed to gain the requisite number of votes each time. He is batting 1.000 or .000, depending on one’s point of view.

Miller, 93 years old and not likely to live forever despite what some of his friends think, has understandably become disgusted with his repeated failures. Not that he has ever said that he believes he should be in the Hall of Fame, but he has grown weary of the telephone calls from reporters and others before and after the elections asking how he feels about his chances or how he feels about the Hall’s latest failure.

Hall of Fame officials should be weary, too, of embarrassing themselves every time they put Miller on the ballot and he loses. It is the shame and disgrace of Jane Forbes Clark, the Hall of Fame chairman, and her fellow officials, not Miller’s, that he is not in their building.

A couple of years ago Miller decided the Hall had kicked him around long enough and asked that his name no longer be placed on the ballot. It was nevertheless placed on the ballot again, and he lost again.

Now he is back for a fifth time, though not happily. “They won’t let me take myself off the ballot,” he lamented in our latest phone conversation.

And then he immediately sized up his chances for election. He didn’t say slim and none, but he meant slim and none with the emphasis on none. “I’m not holding my breath,” he said.

He took particular notice of the latest change in voting format, under which a 16-man committee will vote on the 12 candidates on the ballot of former executives, managers, umpires and long-retired players, who made their marks primarily in the period beginning in 1973.

“Every time I get close they change the committee,” he said Tuesday. “You can’t fault these guys. They do their homework.”

This is what Miller meant, and it’s difficult to say he is being paranoid. The developments speak for themselves:

In the February 2007 vote of a committee made up primarily of Hall of Famers, Miller received 63 percent of the votes, up significantly from the 44 percent he got in a 2003 vote of the same committee. Historically, a player who experienced that kind of increase is elected in the next vote.

However, when Miller next appeared on the ballot, the Hall’s board of directors had changed the format. Now a board-selected 12-man committee would vote on Miller and others. Heavily dominated by management people, the committee achieved the board’s purpose.

It gave Miller a mere three votes while electing the hugely undeserving Bowie Kuhn, who in 15 years as commissioner was a negative force in baseball and did nothing he should have been saluted for. One example: When the owners were dragged kicking and screaming into free agency in 1976, Kuhn, bitterly opposed to players being free, said it would ruin baseball.

Kuhn is not around to see that baseball has flourished and this year had a projected revenue of $7 billion. Miller, as a union leader, had far more to do with that development than Kuhn, but Miller still was outside the Cooperstown mausoleum.

But last December in the next vote of the 12-man committee, whose lineup had undergone some changes, Miller came closer again, this time receiving seven votes, only two shy of the nine he needed.

Sure as the season follows spring training, the Hall’s board did it again, changing the rules by enlarging the committee to 16 members. If Miller couldn’t get 9 of 12 votes, how was he going to get 12 of 16?

Maybe it would be in the makeup of the committee, which consists of seven Hall of Fame players, a Hall of Fame manager, four owners or management executives and four baseball writers.

Marvin Miller Today“I looked at the list of 16 voters,” Miller said, seeing no reason to be optimistic. For example, noting that Jim Palmer was one of the voters, Miller said, “Jim Palmer was a great pitcher, but he was an anti-union sonuvabitch. There are others, not in Palmer’s class but in the doubtful class.”

Earlier this year Miller was prepared not only to ask that his name not be on the ballot but also to ignore the Hall if – miracle of miracles – he were elected. But then an unexpected thing happened.

Around his 93rd birthday last April he began hearing from former players, and he learned about a Web site, ThanksMarvin.com., on which former players posted comments saluting Marvin and thanking him for what he did for them and all players.

The Web site was the idea of Bob Locker and Jim Bouton, who were teammates with the Seattle Pilots. “We started the Web site to boost Marvin’s spirits and also improve his chances for the Hall of Fame,” Locker said.

At last count, the site had comments from 86 former players (some of whom were pre-Miller), one player’s widow, former Commissioner Fay Vincent and Ray Grebey, the owners’ chief negotiator and Miller’s bitter adversary in the players’ 50-day strike in 1981.

But what is missing is comments from bigger-name players, but players at higher levels often are the least concerned about people other than themselves. Remember that it was the Hall of Famers who didn’t elect Miller his first two times on the ballot.

“I had a hard time getting in touch with Hall of Famers,” Locker said. “I also tried other things, but nothing worked. It hasn’t gone as far as I had hoped. Everybody in all sports who are making the money they’re making today should all thank Marvin. He is the textbook for every major sport and every union in all sports.”

Locker, who pitched for five major league teams, is not one of the seven players who will vote on Miller Dec. 5.

“My wife used to say I would build a worst-case scenario, that I’m a pessimist,” said Miller, whose wife, Terry, died last year. “Now I look for the bright side. The bright side in this one is given the nature of those who run the Hall of Fame, not being elected adds to my credibility as a union leader. Being elected would cast doubt on my status.”

Comments? Please send email to comments@murraychass.com.