FORGET HOF, GO FOR MM

By Murray Chass

December 2, 2012

All right, so the Baseball Hall of Fame has repeatedly refused entry to Marvin Miller and even if it wanted to, the Hall’s committee assigned to Miller’s category of candidates can no longer elect him to membership during his lifetime.Marvin Miller2 225

Miller’s lifetime, which lasted 95 years and eight months, ended last Tuesday. If he is elected next year, when he will next be eligible, the election would be a meaningless gesture. There is, however, an idea to honor Miller that would not be meaningless. It comes from a former colleague at The New York Times.

“All teams should wear a black ‘MM’ on uniform sleeves next season,” Ray Corio wrote in an e-mail “in memory of and appreciation for the guy whose impact on the game was as great as Babe or Jackie.”

It’s such a good idea it won’t happen. Or might it?

The commissioner’s office has to give a team permission to wear an armband on its uniforms. Requests are usually granted because the person a team wants to honor with an armband after his death is usually an owner or a high-ranking, long-serving executive or manager or a popular player who served in a significant role with the team.

Miller is a different matter. He did not serve an individual club or Major League Baseball but rather the players. Honoring Miller with an armband on the uniform of every player would be a test for Commissioner Bud Selig.

Even if Selig, a decent man, thought the idea were appropriate, he could face the wrath of the owners, who have never forgiven Miller for what he did to them, though only two owners, Fred Wilpon of the Mets and Jerry Reinsdorf of the White Sox, remain from Miller’s time. Of course the good Miller did for the players has lived on after him.

I sought Selig’s reaction to the idea late Saturday. “That’s the first he’d heard of it,” said Pat Courtney, senior vice president of public relations, who asked Selig. “He hadn’t heard it before. He said it’s something he might consider. But Rob and Mike would have to talk about it first.”

Rob Manfred and Michael Weiner are the chief labor negotiators, respectively, for the clubs and the players.

Selig has a precedent for directing teams to add “MM” armbands to uniforms. In 1997, he permanently retired the uniform number 42 in honor of the man who wore it, Jackie Robinson, and his breaking baseball’s color barrier in 1947.

mariano-rivera2Not all club owners were thrilled with the Rickey-Robinson act – the Red Sox didn’t use a black player until 1959. However, there were no loud objections in 1997 when Selig, pushed by Len Coleman, the former National League president, issued his Robinson edict.

Since then, a new wrinkle has been added. All players wear No. 42 in games on Jackie Robinson Day in April.

The Miller armband idea needs no embellishments. MM armbands would be sufficient, and they would be displayed and worn by the people most appropriate for delivering the honor.

In addition, Selig has often boasted, with good reason, of baseball’s labor peace. What better way to demonstrate that peace than by saluting Miller, the archenemy, with memorial armbands?

If Miller were to be elected to the Hall next year, it would be more than meaningless; it would be a farce. Miller himself gave up on being elected. He even wrote a letter a few years ago asking to be removed from consideration. He knew what the deal was, how committees had been stacked against him.

If election had come in a timely manner, I think Miller would have felt honored. I also think he stopped caring about it after his wife, Terry, died three years ago.

Who was this man who arrived at the union in 1966 from the United Steelworkers Union, where he was the chief economist under the noted labor leader David McDonald, and turned the M.L.B.P.A. into a formidable example for all other sports unions to follow and make non-sports unions envious?

This was Marvin Miller: “In the beginning,” said Richard Moss, the union’s general counsel, “Marvin thought it was important to gain credibility, and that’s why we ended up on the top of the Seagram Building.”

This was Marvin Miller: “My first week there, in August 1977,” recalled Donald Fehr, Moss’s successor, “we went to lunch and Marvin said, ‘You know, you have a nice title, general counsel. I have a nice title, executive director. None of that means anything. We’re just staff. The owners care only about the players.”

As the union’s lawyers, Moss and Fehr were Miller’s closest colleagues during his 17 years as executive director. Moss, who worked with Miller in Pittsburgh as a USW lawyer, joined him in New York after Miller rejected the idea of Richard Nixon, then the former vice president, as his general counsel.

While Miller provided the labor expertise, Moss contributed the legal strategy that produced union victories in the Catfish Hunter breach-of-contract and the Messersmith-McNally free-agency grievances.

Fehr, a Kansas City lawyer, met Miller and Moss when they hired him to serve as local counsel in the owners’ futile appeal in Federal District Court of the Peter Seitz decision in Messersmith-McNally. When Moss decided in 1977 to leave the union and become a player agent, Miller hired Fehr to replace him.

“I knew Marvin as this nice, gentle guy,” Moss said. “I knew Marvin as a good amateur tennis player.” Despite a withered right arm from a shoulder injury at birth, Miller was a good handball player growing up in Brooklyn.

When Miller moved to Pittsburgh to work for the steelworkers at the age of 38, Moss said, he took up tennis and became a very good player, winning two consecutive amateur city championships. Miller played tennis into his 90s, and I recall the frustration he endured when his body would no longer allow him to play.

Everyone who offered recollections and comments on Miller singled out his speaking ability. He was soft-spoken but made his points strongly and effectively.Marvin Miller Spring Training

“He had a manner of speaking to players using analogies,” Fehr said. “He would just draw players in as he spoke.”

Moss Klein, a retired baseball writer with the Newark Star-Ledger, commented on Miller’s speaking ability in an e-mail, writing, “I admired the way he could explain the most complicated things so simply, making them so understandable, while Ray Grebey (and others) made the simplest things so complicated and incomprehensible”

As true as these views are, I have to admit that the first time I encountered Miller I had no idea what he was saying.

I was a young reporter with the Associated Press in Pittsburgh in 1962, and I was assigned to cover a news conference at which the steelworkers union would explain terms of the deal that settled its strike against United States Steel.

The chief explainer was a union economist named Miller. After too many questions whose answers from Miller I didn’t really understand and I had no idea how I was going to write my story, I asked a question. I don’t remember what the question was, but Miller answered it in English, not economics-eze, and I and, as it turned out, other reporters were saved.

Time and experience obviously made a difference in Miller’s delivery.

The trait I probably admired most in Miller was his honesty. “Marvin never lied to anyone, especially reporters,” Moss said.

Added Fehr: “It was the way you conducted yourself.  There was never a suggestion that you shouldn’t be honest.”

To this day, I am not aware of ever having been lied to by a union official. I can’t say the same for all of management representatives of the past 50 years or so.

Michael Weiner, the latest union chief who is honest, did not work for or with Miller, but he was around him enough to be able to respond instantly when I asked him to name his three favorite Miller experiences.

1.  “In 1990 we had a large player meeting in March during the lockout. When Marvin spoke, you could literally hear a pin drop. That was my first experience seeing his ability to communicate to players. There were about 100 in the room.”

2.  “In 2009 we had Marvin come in and videotaped his answers to questions. He gave 10-minure answers to some. It seemed like he might be getting lost in his lengthy answers, but he’d bring them around to a logical conclusion.”

3.  “Just about a year ago there was an event at N.Y.U. recalling the 1972 strike, the first one in baseball. Marvin had a few notes on a little napkin and it was a remarkable performance for a man of his age.”

Moss was the only one of the group who knew and worked with Miller from the union’s beginning.

“When we started with the union,” Moss said, “it was a classic company union. It was created to hold off a players’ union. When we started, we found files and files of Marvin Miller Richard Moss 225annual meetings that the players had with owners. The player reps were asked to raise any questions about problems they were having.

“The players would give a list to the owners, who said ‘we’ll get back to you.’ They would deny all the significant things that were raised and accept minor things like splinters on the bench and problems with the showers.”

Before he died of liver cancer, Miller witnessed more significant repairs. He saw the average, which was $19,000 when he began, soar beyond $3 million.

“I think he was very well satisfied that this little organization he started came to be the epitome of how an organization should be run,” Fehr said.

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