IT’S MILLER TIME

By Murray Chass

December 1, 2013

With the Hall of Fame’s “expansion era” committee scheduled to vote Dec. 9, this seems like a good opportunity to explore the Marvin Miller matter one more time. Maybe, for one reason or another, it will be the last time.

Over his objection to having his name appear on a Hall of Fame ballot, which he stated more than four years before he died in November 2012, Miller is one of 12 candidates (players, managers and executives) who will be discussed by a 16-man committee on the day of the vote.Marvin Miller4 225

Although Miller belongs in the Hall for his matchless impact on Major League Baseball, the Hall’s officials have bungled his status, perhaps deliberately, and now the electors should honor his wishes just as the Hall has dishonored him.

Despite his request to be omitted from consideration, the Hall and the Baseball Writers Association’s historical overview committee put his name on the 12-man ballot, and now the voters should do the honorable thing and not vote for him. Someone has to clean up the Hall’s mess.

If the voters think they can achieve that by electing Miller to the Hall, they are mistaken. If they elect Miller because they think he belongs in the Cooperstown mortuary, they will benefit not Miller but Hall officials, rescuing them from the shame that shrouds their fraudulent establishment.

They have dug their trough of muck; let them wallow in it.

This is the sixth time Miller’s name has appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot, meaning he is 0-for-5 in votes by assorted committees in various formats. It was after his third snub in 2007 that he told me of his desire to be omitted from future ballots, asked me what I thought of the idea and also asked me the appropriate way of going about communicating that desire.

I sympathized with his desire to no longer be abused by the Hall of Fame and suggested that he write to Jack O’Connell, secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers Association, a committee of whose members makes up the ballot.

Miller wrote the letter, but it had no effect. He was back on the ballot in 2009 and was rejected a fourth time. By this time, Miller, irate at the Hall’s ignoring his request, was calling the committee rigged to make sure he was not elected.

Miller died a year ago but not before reiterating his feelings to his children. “They’re cowards doing it after he died,” Susan Miller said a few weeks ago about her father’s name on the ballot. With the election approaching, Peter Miller recently sent an e-mail to three people, including me, emphasizing his father’s position.

The e-mail that follows was written to Allen Barra, a freelance writer, who collaborated with Miller on his autobiography; Ross Davies, a law professor at George Mason University, who created an academic event with Miller at New York University in April 2012, and me.

“The MLBPA asked for my response on the impending HOF vote. Here, FYI, is what I wrote in response.

“No one in our family will attend or speak at any HOF ceremony regardless of the outcome of the HOF vote. It’s important for union members and the media to understand why, so that the story does not get misrepresented as ’sour grapes,’ personal pique, or anything of the sort.

“My father felt that the essence of the honor, if any, was in celebrating the MLBPA’s accomplishments in changing Baseball from a management-dominated industry to one characterized by an equal labor-management relationship, a change resulting in a vastly more competitive game, fan interest, and increased wealth for all, including the owners of baseball clubs.

“These changes were brought about by the concerted action of union members, the baseball players themselves. Although he enjoyed the recognition, my father did what he did not for fame and glory, but for justice and for equitable labor-management relations. To treat that as something incidental, as of lesser value than personal fame, is really to dishonor him and the players.

“My father’s wishes, stated in writing, and reaffirmed to me in person many times, and for the last time within weeks of his death, were that he did not want to be on the HOF ballot. In a 2008 letter to the Baseball Writers Association, he wrote:

“’Paradoxically, I’m writing to thank you and your associates for your part in nominating me for Hall of Fame consideration, and, at the same time, to ask that you not do this again. The anti-union bias of the powers who control the Hall has consistently prevented recognition of the historic significance of the changes to baseball brought about by collective bargaining.’

“The May 29, 2008 Baseball Prospectus blog quoted my father on what he regarded as his family’s role in carrying out his intentions:

“’Miller is hardly waiting for the Hall’s overtures, invoking General William Tecumseh Sherman. [Sherman] basically said, ‘I don’t want to be president. If I’m nominated I will not campaign for the presidency. If despite that I’m elected, I will not serve.’ Without comparing myself to General Sherman, that’s my feeling. If considered and elected, I will not appear for the induction if I’m alive. If they proceed to try to do this posthumously, my family is prepared to deal with that.’

“Our course of action couldn’t be clearer. I’m sure there will be those who want to ‘do the right thing’ out of guilt, or because of some newly discovered perception of historical accuracy. But nobody needs the HOF to understand my father’s place in baseball and labor history. The historical record is widely available on the Web and in the Marvin Miller archive at NYU. His portrait is at the Supreme Court in Washington DC, which is more accessible than Cooperstown.

“I sincerely wish the HOF well in its efforts to improve its integrity, but must respectfully decline, for the reasons stated above, to participate in any of its activities, and ask again, as my father did during his lifetime, that they leave his name off their ballot.”

Peter Miller had expressed these same views in an e-mail exchange with me the past month.

“My father as you know never campaigned for any honor, and certainly not the dubious ‘honor’ of HOF enshrinement,” Peter said in one e-mail.

“He never sought personal fame or glory. And if he ever showed any signs of doing so, my mother when she was alive always reminded him to take out the garbage. In this way we understood that fame was lower in the hierarchy than garbage.”

“Regardless of how the voting turns out,” he added in another e-mail, “it would be good for fans, readers, and the baseball community to understand why the family refuses to take part in the ceremony.”

And from another e-mail:

Marvin Miller2 225“It’s true the HOF votes were rigged, but so what? If you don’t care about the outcome, then you don’t care – period. Before stories headlined ‘Miller kin refuse honor’ appear, it would be best to note that my father’s role, crucial though it was, depended on employees acting together to bargain as equals with baseball management. The honor belongs to all those who created the most successful labor union in the history of the world, who (like Curt Flood) put their careers and livelihoods on the line for free agency, and who created a model of labor-management relations for others to follow. My father might symbolize all that, but mere fame for its own sake wasn’t part of his agenda.”

The voting panel has six Hall of Fame players – Rod Crew, Joe Morgan, Frank Robinson, Carlton Fisk, Paul Molitor, Phil Niekro; four owners/executives – Jerry Reinsdorf, Andy MacPhail, Paul Beeston, Dave Montgomery; two managers, Tommy Lasorda, Whitey Herzog; and four whom the Hall calls historians but three are writers—Steve Hirdt, Bruce Jenkins, Jim Reeves, Jack O’Connell.

I don’t know how any of these voters will vote so there’s no certain way of forecasting the outcome, but a rough guess voter by voter gets me to 11 votes, one short of the number needed for election.

That outcome would undermine the prediction I have made. I have said I thought Miller would win election now that he is dead and the Hall and owners would not have to fear listening to him speak at an induction ceremony.

VOTE DELAYED IS STILL A VOTE

The packet of information for the writers’ vote for the Hall of Fame arrived in the mail, and if it had included an actual ballot, I would have immediately marked an X next to Jack Morris, whose name appears for the last time of his 15-year eligibility.

(Omission of the ballot was to be rectified this week.)Jack Morris World Series Game 7 225

The 254-game winner received 67.7 percent of the vote a year ago, the highest of his 14 years, but he was 42 votes short of the number he needed for election. Once a player reaches the level Morris attained last year, he is almost certainly assured of making it.

However, gaining another 40 or 50 votes, depending on the number of writers who vote, will be difficult, and the presence of Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine on the ballot for the first time will make Morris’ quest even more difficult.

Maddux is certain to be elected, and Glavine has an excellent chance. Not on my ballot, but first-timer Mike Mussina could also get in Morris’ way.

Among the candidate hitters, Frank Thomas will be one of the more interesting to watch with his 521 home runs, 1,704 runs batted in, .301 batting average and .419 on-base and .555 slugging percentages (total .974).

Thomas, however, will lose votes because he accumulated those numbers largely as a designated hitter. In his 18-year career he played 971 games at first base and served as the d.h. in 1,310 games. He was a d.h. only in his last four seasons and for the most part in 8 of his last 11 seasons.

Should a player be penalized for being a designated hitter? That’s a debate that is on-going and as thorny as the steroids debate.

Should players be dismissed in the voting if they used performance-enhancing substances? What if they have never tested positive but are suspected for other reasons for having used them?

The voters have spoken on players who have tested positive or have been found guilty of using on reasonable circumstantial evidence. In some cases, though, the voters don’t seem to be sure.

Results last year showed clearly what the voters think of this group (numbers are percentage of votes with 75 percent needed for election:

  • Roger Clemens                        37.6%
  • Barry Bonds                             36.2%
  • Mark McGwire                         16.9%
  • Sammy Sosa                             12.5%
  • Rafael Palmeiro                         8.8%

This was another group:

  • Craig Biggio                            68.2%
  • Jeff Bagwell                            59.6%
  • Mike Piazza                             57.8%

These players are suspected of having used PEDs but have never been proved to have used. Some voters say because they don’t know for sure who did use and who didn’t so they will declare this the steroids era and vote as if everyone was equal.

I don’t agree with that view. But then I don’t agree with those who vote for no one because they aren’t certain who did and didn’t use.

My position at the moment is I gather the best information I can on a player, use my best judgment and vote. I have not voted for any of the players on the accompanying lists and don’t expect to this year. If I continue to vote – it’s not certain that I will – and additional revealing information on players emerges, I will vote accordingly.

MISSING IN DECENCY

Unless you are Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort in the 1971 film “Harold and Maude” you probably don’t like attending funerals. And it’s not my place to tell people they should have attended Michael Weiner’s funeral. But active major league players should have attended the funeral out of respect for their union leader.

Michael Weiner 225Half an hour from Newark and LaGuardia airports and 45 minutes from JFK, the Nov. 24 funeral was easily accessible on a one-day trip to the New York-New Jersey area. But the only active player who attended was Alex Rodriguez.

Some people had the audacity to impugn Rodriguez’s motives for attending – the idea that he wanted to make himself look good, given the negative reaction to his appeal of his 211-game suspension – but he was there and he was low key; he did nothing to make himself obvious to the hundreds of people who crammed into the funeral home in Paramus, N.J.

A few former players attended – Dave Winfield, David Cone, Al Leiter, along with union officials Tony Clark, who is Weiner’s successor as executive director, Bobby Bonilla and Steve Rogers.

Frank Thomas was reported to have been there, but the person who resembled Thomas turned out to be commissioner Bud Selig’s security man. Joining Selig from his office were executive vice presidents Rob Manfred and Tim Brosnan

Also present were Tom Werner, the Boston Red Sox chairman; Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria; Omar Minaya, head of San Diego Padres baseball operations, and Jay Horwitz, New York Mets’ media relations vice president.

Not that anyone was keeping score, but the funeral of the head of the union was attended by more owners than players as well as more agents than players: Scott Boras, Arn Tellem, Jeff Borris, Adam Katz, Seth Levinson, Jay Reisinger.

As head of the union, Weiner would not have wanted anyone to be critical of players for their boorish behavior where it involved him. But I’ll let a union official speak on the subject:

“You can’t make people do what they don’t want to do. They were informed. There should have been 20 or 30 current players there.” If not more.

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