DIFFERENT VOICE, SAME CONCLUSION

By Eugene Orza

December 6, 2012

GUEST COLUMN

Note: Gene Orza is the retired chief operating officer of the Major League Baseball Players Association. Although he joined the union as a lawyer after Marvin Miller retired as its executive director, he experienced first-hand the ability Miller used to turn the union into one of the most powerful in labor history and the players into the wealthiest union members.

Gene Orza3 225The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Lately starring, I read, Jake Ruppert, Hank O’Day and Deacon White. That’s nice. But a baseball museum with Jake Ruppert, Hank O’Day and Deacon White in it, and not Marvin Miller? Some museum.

The absurdity, in the end, is entirely the Hall’s fault, and no one else’s, try as the Hall might to shift the blame to others, namely the voters it selects to decide who the worthies are.

But it was the Hall that selected those voters, and if the Hall lacked either the courage or the wisdom even to interview them about any damaging biases they may have harbored that could, in turn, destroy the authenticity of its claim to be a museum, it is the Hall that bears the responsibility for the resulting illegitimacy of the claim.

Look at it this way. You build your own museum, dedicated, say, to 20th century art. In the belief that you yourself lack the necessary expertise to acquire 20th century art, and not wanting that inadequacy to undermine your claim to be a real museum, you appoint curators to whom you delegate the responsibility for the acquisition of the art that will be on display in your museum.

A few years go by, and you notice that your museum, despite having had several opportunities to do so, doesn’t have a single Picasso. Even you, less steeped in modern art, know about Picasso, so this voice starts whispering in your ear that a museum ostensibly dedicated to 20th century art might have a credibility problem if it doesn’t have a single painting, drawing, sculpture, even a napkin, signed by him.

You investigate, and learn that among the curators you’ve hired are several who just can’t stand Picasso. They don’t like his philandering. They just don’t understand all this fuss about Guernica. Cubes, big deal. Besides, the guy sounds like a veritable communist.

What do you do? One possibility, the one the self-described National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum has adopted, is to throw up your hands and say, “Don’t blame me. Blame the curators.” That of course means your museum of 20th century art is destined to remain something appreciably less than that, because it consciously excludes exhibition of any works by the man widely regarded as the greatest artist of that century.

Some might even call your museum, and your calling yourself one, a joke. The other possibility, the one that might enable you to regain some credibility as a museum, to get people to stop laughing at you, is to revisit the way you hire your curators.

Maybe, you could interview them before their appointment. “Hi, Dave. I’m thinking of hiring you as a curator for the museum, but before I do, do you have any biases against people who obviously have to be in the museum. I mean, we don’t have any Picassos at all. Not a one. Turns out, I’ve talked to the last batch I hired, and it seems that some of them didn’t take being a curator seriously enough.”

Of course the Hall won’t do anything similar. Given how closely tied it is to Major League Baseball, a deliberate exclusion of owners and management officials from voting, even if they are biased, is not from the Hall’s vantage a viable option.Marvin Miller

There is, of course, an unfortunate irony in the distaste so many of these people have for Marvin, for his greatest contribution to the sport, the breaking of the perpetual reserve clause, freed the clubs to better compete among themselves as much as it freed the players to have their services competed for. But that shortsightedness on the part of some voters only serves to underscore the Hall’s dilemma. It has incompetent, unqualified voters as part of its curatorial staff, and no way to get rid of them.

So what is left for the Hall to do to recapture a semblance of authenticity as a museum? Maybe a fitting acknowledgment of the error of its ways would be for the Hall to simply say to its voters, “Voting, schmoting. We’re putting Marvin Miller in the Hall. If you don’t like it, sorry, but we’re supposed to be a museum, and without Marvin … well, we just ain’t.”

A unilateral decision by the Hall itself to install Marvin Miller can’t entirely make up for the disgraceful and shameful exclusion of the man during his lifetime – oh, what an induction speech it would have been – but doing so will at least allow the Hall to call itself a baseball museum with a straight face.

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