SAME OLD SAME OLD

By Murray Chass

December 7, 2010

As the Hall of Fame was once again rejecting Marvin Miller as a member, the Boston Red Sox were negotiating a trade for Adrian Gonzalez, a player his team couldn’t sign, but, of course, Miller did not have a sufficiently major impact on baseball to be elected to the Hall.

As the Hall was rejecting Miller for the fifth time in eight years, the Washington Nationals were signing Jayson Werth to a 7-year, $126 million contract, using free agency to improve their chances of escaping from the nether regions of the National League. But Miller’s efforts in players’ gaining rights and freedom were not instrumental in that aspect of baseball’s development in the last quarter of the 20th century.Marvin Miller 225

As yet another Hall concoction of a committee was selling and voting Miller short – one vote short in this instance – Major League Baseball was counting its receipts for the 2010 season and watching the numbers climb to $7 billion for the first time. But what did Miller have to do with that economically awesome development?

No one, including the three troglodyte owners who formed the major unit of the 16-man committee that blocked Miller’s election, can argue against the impact Miller had on the game and the business of baseball. Whether or not they liked it – and the owner members of the committee surely didn’t like it – fair-minded, intelligent people have to acknowledge Miller’s impact on and contribution to baseball.

But who ever said David Glass (Kansas City), Bill Giles (Philadelphia) and Jerry Reinsdorf (Chicago White Sox) were fair-minded and intelligent?

Glass is a Neanderthal when it comes to labor relations.

Meticulous notes kept by Giles at 1985 owners meetings chaired by Commissioner Peter Ueberroth were critical evidence against the owners in the union’s successful collusion grievances of the mid-1980s.

Reinsdorf, who has a commendable record in minority hiring but a poor one in labor relations, still blames and hates Donald Fehr, a Miller successor as head of the players union, for the 1994 strike, refusing to accept his own central role in it after spearheading the movement to oust Fay Vincent as commissioner.

But these were three of the four management members the Hall of Fame put on its new, expanded veteran committee for this vote. Had the Hall wanted to recover from its shame and humiliation of keeping Miller out, it could have put two recently retired union officials, Don Fehr and Gene Orza, on the committee instead of Glass and Reinsdorf.

Management people would have been critical of such a move, but it wouldn’t have been any more foolish than having Glass, Giles and Reinsdorf.

The fourth management member on the committee was Andy MacPhail of Baltimore, who was believed to have voted for Miller in two previous votes in the smaller 12-man committee and who works for an owner, Peter Angelos, who became wealthy enough to buy the Orioles by representing workers in asbestos lawsuits.

The Hall does not disclose individual votes so unless committee members say whom they voted for, their ballots remain secret. That practice, however, leaves room for speculation, and Miller said some people told him they heard or believed the other two no votes, besides the three owners, were Frank Robinson, the Hall of Fame player, and Tom Verducci, the sports writer.

[UPDATE: The speculation about Verducci was discovered to be erroneous. See http://www.murraychass.com/?p=2707.]

I had heard a few weeks before the Dec. 5 vote that Robinson didn’t like Miller and would most likely not vote for him. Miller himself had said that Jim Palmer was a strong anti-union member of the union and didn’t expect his vote, but Palmer said the next day he planned to vote for Miller.

Then there was Whitey Herzog, the Hall of Fame manager, whom I wasn’t sure of, but Miller told me Monday after the results were announced, “Whitey once called me the smartest man in baseball.”

Marvin Miller Today“The real target has been the union and I’m a symbol of it,” he said in a telephone interview before issuing a statement. “They are not comfortable with the major impact the union has had on baseball. They are trying to rewrite history instead of recording the history.”

In his statement, Miller was harshly critical of the Hall, saying news of his failure to be elected “hardly qualifies as a news story. It is repetitively negative, easy to forecast, and therefore boring.”

“Many years ago,” he said, “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.”

He cited the union’s tremendous gains in minimum and average salaries, as well as the top salaries, and noted the union’s influence in other developments. The Hall, however, refuses to give the union its due recognition, concluding:

“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.”

As feisty and harsh as he was in his statement, though, the 93-year-old Miller in the telephone interview seemed to be wearying of this absurd dance with the Hall. He was asked, for example, about continuing the effort he began a couple of years ago to get the Hall to keep his name off the ballot.

“No,” he said, “I’m done with that. I tried to give them the easy way out so they could say ‘Hey, what can we do about it,’ but they got their backs up and said ‘No one can tell us what to do.’ No, I have no intention of asking them to do anything.”

Miller will be 96 years old when he will next appear on the ballot.

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