In the absurd outcome of the 2007 voting of the Hall of Fame veterans committee, Bowie Kuhn was elected to baseball’s Hall in Cooperstown, N.Y., but Marvin Miller was not. No matter what Hall officials say, it was exactly the outcome they wanted because it was the outcome the owners wanted. In their twisted thinking, it was a fitting revenge for all of the dastardly deeds Miller had perpetrated against them.
Now comes a development to which I can only say eat your heart out, Bowie, wherever you are, and your management sycophants, too. Miller has achieved a status that is unprecedented, unique and most unlikely to be matched by any civilian.
On April 24 Miller will be the recipient of an honor that exceeds anything the Hall could ever have done for him. Miller, who turned 95 years old Saturday, has had as great an impact on Major League Baseball as anyone and more than all but a handful, if that, but Hall of Fame committees have refused in a series of votes to acknowledge his overwhelming and unchallenged contribution to baseball.
This actually is a double honor. Miller, who wasn’t even a lawyer but an economist, is pictured on a baseball-type trading card that is part of a series of cards celebrating justices of the United States Supreme Court. In this newest rendition in the “Supreme Court Sluggers” series, he is paired with former Justice Arthur Goldberg, who was Curt Flood’s lawyer in Flood’s failed effort to rid baseball of the reserve clause.
Even more impressive, a portrait of Miller, from which the card is adapted, will join the collection of portraits of Supreme Court justices that populate the halls of the court building on First Street across the street from the U.S. Capitol building and next door to the Library of Congress.
Miller will be the only non-justice who will be so honored. The recognition only shows how foolish and small-minded Hall of Fame officials and voters have been in shunning Miller for membership.
Ross Davies, a law professor at George Mason University in Arlington, Va., has spearheaded the Miller honor along with Sam Estreicher, also a law professor and director of the New York University Center for Labor and Employment Law, which is sponsoring the April 24 event at N.Y.U.
“There are two driving forces behind this event,” Davies said in a telephone interview. “One is Mr. Miller. He deserves to be attended to every few years like any historical figure deserves it.”
The second reason, Davies said, is linked to Miller, who in 1966 became the first leader of the baseball players union, the Major League Baseball Players Association.
“It is also partly about 2012 being the 40th anniversary of the first strike in sports,” he said. “There was not a lot of money gained or lost, not a lot of games lost. But it was an extraordinary event. Since World War II it has been rare to have a new independent and successful labor union. There aren’t that many entities we can study.
“Some of the witnesses are around and we need to capture their knowledge. We need to extract from him one more time what he thinks went into getting things started so successfully.”
The beauty of this honor is its source. Unlike baseball’s ignorant, narrow-minded club owners, Davies, a labor historian, understands what Miller accomplished, starting with nothing but a restless band of players who outwardly didn’t resemble steelworkers or mineworkers or auto workers.
When Miller and Richard Moss, his general counsel, won free agency in December 1975 in the Messersmith-McNally grievance, not as The New York Times would have you believe as a result of the Flood lawsuit and the Catfish Hunter breach-of-contract grievance, then commissioner Kuhn declared that it would destroy baseball.
Kuhn lived long enough to see that he had been woefully wrong but not long enough to see the current results: the players’ average salary soaring beyond $3 million because the owners’ revenue has reached $7 billion a year.
While Kuhn has a plaque in Cooperstown, Miller’s portrait will join the Supreme Court collection in Washington, as of later this month or early next month, Davies estimated after speaking recently with Catherine Fitts, curator of the Supreme Court.
Davies is editor-in-chief of the “Green Bag,” a small, not-for-profit legal academic publishing house that produces, among other publications, a quarterly law journal called “The Green Bag” and an annual collection of exemplary legal writing (”The Green Bag Almanac & Reader”).
The Miller portrait, which the Green Bag commissioned, is the work of John A. Sargent III, an accomplished portrait and landscape artist and a relative of John Singer Sargent, the great portrait painter of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Sluggers series includes portraits of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Abe Fortas, John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Antonin Scalia. Some of the justices appear in different guises in the light-hearted series:
Roberts as Three-Finger Brown, Stevens as Gabby Hartnett in catcher’s gear, Scalia as Rick Ferrell, accompanied by George Washington as Connie Mack, James Madison as John McGraw and Alexander Hamilton as the Spalding Base Ball Player – a marketing mascot in the late 19th century.
Miller is portrayed as himself, Davies said, “because in the baseball world being himself is plenty.”
“It was my idea,” Davies said. “The start of it was meeting him last year and talking with him, appreciating how much he knows, how much he brings to the historic nature of it. I want to know more about the roots of the Major League Baseball Players Association. The 40th anniversary of the first strike gave me the idea.”
Miller said that when Davies contacted him he asked “Why me?”
“He said ‘I’ve been a baseball fan a long time. You’ve had serious connections with the Supreme Court, going back to Truman seizing the steel industry. You also worked with Goldberg for more than a decade, and then you had him do the Flood case.’”
Miller, an economist for the United Steelworkers Union in the early 1950s, said in an interview that he helped write union briefs for the 1952 Supreme Court case after President Harry S. Truman seized the steel industry.
Miller, however, also recalled how he became involved with a future Supreme Court member, Mr. Justice Stevens, when Stevens was a Chicago lawyer and represented Charlie Finley, the owner of the Athletics, who then played in Kansas City.
“The Athletics were coming back from a road to Boston ,” Miller said, relating the 1967 incident. “They were on a commercial flight, and the players were acting up. Finley reacted with great rage. He was in the middle of negotiations to move to Oakland, and he was afraid the incident would undermine his efforts.
“So he fired the manager, Alvin Dark, released Ken Harrelson, suspended Lew Krausse and suspended the player rep, Jack Aker.
I called him and said, ‘Charlie, you can’t do this. You had no grounds.’ I said talk to me. He said I don’t want to talk to you about it. I said I’ll file an unfair labor practice charge with a grievance.”
Two days later, Miller continued, Commissioner William Eckert called “me and asked what was going on.”
Eckert arranged a meeting in his office between Finley and Miller and their lawyers. Stevens was there with Finley, Moss with Miller.
“Stevens was extremely helpful,” Miller recalled. “Finley exploded, and Stevens would often put his hand on his arm and talk to him. At times they would go off to the bathroom. When they came back each time Finley was noticeably calmer. I give Stevens full credit for what happened.”
Miller, of course, didn’t represent Dark so he remained fired. Miller insisted that the two suspended players, Krausse and Aker, be reinstated with back pay, and they were. He sought the same result for Harrelson, but the Athletics’ star player had become a free agent as a result of his release, preferred that status and signed with the Boston Red Sox.
Stevens has since come and gone as a Justice. Finley is long gone from baseball and life. At 95, Miller remains an admired figure in baseball history among sensible segments of observers as well as a rare and valuable asset to baseball historians and even those who have lived the history.
From Miller’s standpoint his Supreme Court portrait is a poignant development. It will be unveiled on the day his wife, Terry, would have celebrated her 93rd birthday. She died in 2009, eight weeks short of their 70th wedding anniversary.