NO LONGER PLAYERS, THEY BECOME INGRATES

By Murray Chass

December 29, 2013

If this were a college course, it would have to be a combination of Labor 101 and Journalism 101. The core curriculum would be divided into two parts:Marvin Miller4 225

  1. The study of ingrates who go to unconscionable lengths to plant a knife in the back of a man who made them wealthy beyond their wildest imagination.
  2. The study of a column that undermines a good story and turns it into one that makes the reporter look like a villain who invites wrath and ridicule upon his head.

The actions of the ingrates are far more unforgiving than the reporter’s poor job of writing. The ingrates are former major league baseball players, who were members of a committee designated to vote earlier this month on a 12-man “expansion era” ballot for the Hall of Fame.

Some of the players voted against Marvin Miller, their former labor leader and patron saint, sending him to his sixth rejection in six appearances on various Hall of Fame ballots in 10 years. Players and others will have to wait for three years before they can kick Miller around some more.

The Hall of Fame players on the committee were Rod Carew, Andre Dawson, Carlton Fisk, Paul Molitor, Phil Niekro and Frank Robinson. All of them played during Miller’s 17-year tenure as head of the players’ union. Whitey Herzog and Tommy Lasorda, Hall of Fame managers, who also benefited as coaches from Miller’s labor efforts, also served on the committee.

The Hall of Fame did not announce individual vote totals, saying only that other than the unanimous election of Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre none of the other nine candidates received more than six votes.

It could be speculated that Miller received six votes, and they all came from the players, but that would be shaky speculation because Miller learned three years ago that Robinson did not vote for him and there’s no reason that Robinson would switch his vote now. Miller said Robinson liked his cushy job in the commissioner’s office too much to vote for him.

People who knew of Miller’s relationships also said it was likely that Herzog and Paul Beeston, the Toronto Blue Jays’ chief executive, voted for Miller, which would mean one or more other former players did not vote for him.

Why would that happen? It seems that there was a new development at the voting committee’s meeting. The 16-man committee raised questions about and discussed Miller’s statements opposing testing for use of performance-enhancing drugs.

This was a first. Questions had not been raised in the five previous times Miller was on a Hall of Fame ballot, and no questions were brought up by members of the historical review committee, two members said, when they met to establish the 12-man ballot.

Bill Madden of the New York Daily News reported the Miller development first on Dec. 8, but he reported it in a way (here’s where Journalism 101 comes in) that he confused some readers and prompted bloggers to hammer him with ridicule and scorn on the Internet.

That’s not an unusual development, as I can attest to, but the way in which he wrote his column prompted (or allowed) the Daily News headline writers to make Madden’s report seem worse than it was.

Marvin Miller, George Steinbrenner don’t meet Baseball Hall of Fame’s ethical standards

And below that, in part:

‘Integrity’ and ‘character’ were two words used by the committee in announcing its class of 2014. The same two words could explain the exclusion of Miller, who decried the players union’s agreement to drug testing…

Bill Madden 225The column, a reader could reasonably conclude, was questioning Miller’s ethics and integrity, an accusation that was stunning because I have never known a man of greater integrity, higher ethics or finer character than Miller.

However, before delving into these charges, which Madden denies having made, I want to get back to the players’ position in this latest episode in the seemingly ceaseless saga of Miller and the Hall of Fame, which incidentally does not measure up to Miller’s ethics, integrity and character.

Most important, I was able to confirm that Miller’s comments about drug testing played a part in the outcome of the election.

Extracting information from committee members is almost impossible. The Hall swears them to secrecy, threatening excommunication if they talk about committee matters.

“One of the things you agree to,” one member said, “is not to talk about it and if I couldn’t abide by that I wouldn’t be on the committee.”

In fact, after I quoted some members of the historical overview committee in a column I wrote Nov. 7 about the committee’s deliberations members received calls asking if they had spoken to me.

In this instance I was able to get enough information to confirm Madden’s column. I asked a committee member if Miller’s drug-testing comments were discussed and had been a factor in the vote against him. The member replied that his stance was THE factor, adding, “It was remarkable to hear ex-players taking that stance.”

In his column, Madden wrote:

“You want to know why Miller, who missed by only one vote in the last Expansion Era election three years ago, didn’t come close this time? You probably need to look no further than his repeated statements prior to his death in November 2012, decrying the players union’s agreeing to drug testing.”

Madden, however, cited no examples, quoted no committee members and offered no context for Miller’s statements. Was he referring to Miller’s statements in the 10 years before his death 13 months ago or in more recent years? Because the statements had never been an issue in Miller’s five previous appearances on the ballot, I can only suspect that they were his comments in the years before his death at the age of 95.

I won’t use age as an excuse to explain why Miller might have said what he did because Miller and his mind remained sharp to the end, and his opposition to random testing was consistent, whether he was 65 or 95. But why did Miller’s views on testing suddenly matter to the players or anyone else on the committee?

At his death, Miller had not been a union official for 30 years. Steroids didn’t exist in baseball when he was executive director (1966-82). Reporters often called the retired Miller seeking his opinion on current baseball labor events, and he was happy to respond. That is a practice in which I have never engaged, whether the former official involved was Miller or Fay Vincent, the former commissioner, or anyone else.

I feel it’s too easy and unfair to get a former official to comment on his successor’s decisions and actions. The former officials aren’t sitting in the seats of their successors and don’t know the intricate elements that might have prompted decisions.

When I have called Miller and Vincent, it has been for historical purposes. For example, Miller was a living encyclopedia of baseball labor history.

Reporters, though, often called Miller about labor developments because they knew, given his strong union positions, they might get him criticizing Donald Fehr or Michael Weiner when they led the union. Miller, always honest, would answer frankly. But Fehr and Weiner did not take positions because of what Miller thought and said.

Miller, however, did not speak critically of all drug testing. He was out of office only a year or two – and I believe this is more relevant than his steroids-testing stance – when the union agreed to a joint drug program with management, and Miller offered no opposition or negative influence.

Did anyone mention that fact at the expansion era meeting? Did anyone even remember that agreement? Five of the six players on the committee were active major leaguers at the time. Did any of the players who might have criticized Miller for his steroids stance say “but he didn’t interfere with the drug agreement in the ‘80s?” And by the way, it was the owners and Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, not Miller, who killed that program on the last day of the 1985 World Series.

Miller opposed steroids testing on Constitutional grounds, saying it was an invasion of privacy and violated the Fourth Amendment. He did not oppose testing for cause.

Do the players on the committee know what the Fourth Amendment is, or were they too busy playing baseball in school to have learned about it?

Richard Moss 225Reacting to Madden’s column, Richard Moss, Miller’s first general counsel with the union, wrote in an e-mail, “Madden is climbing up the wrong tree. We weren’t ‘opposing steroids testing.’ We were opposing random drug testing without cause, on the basis of the right of privacy as protected by the United States Constitution. To suggest that Marvin was unethical is just 180 degrees off – Marvin was perhaps the most ethical person I have known.”

The six players on the committee must have learned something from Miller because they played during his tenure, of which one highlight was his education of the players in labor matters. No one equaled Miller in his ability to educate union members, not to mention reporters if they were paying attention. Including Robinson, the players were on the ground floor of the creation of the strongest, most effective union in sports and subsequently the country.

Player opposition to Miller in this vote is reminiscent of Miller’s experience the first two times he was on a Hall of Fame ballot. The voters in 2003 and ’07 were basically the Hall of Fame players themselves, and they failed to elect him. With 75 percent of those voting needed for election, he received 44 percent and 63 percent.

Why would the players reject Miller, who gained untold wealth and previously unobtainable rights for them and future generations of players? Try selfishness, narrow mindedness, stupidity and ignorance for starters.

After Miller’s initial experience, Reggie Jackson, one of the first players to benefit from free agency, explained his no vote by saying only players should be in the Hall of Fame. When Miller’s wife, Terry, heard that, she chewed out Jackson, and the next time Miller got Jackson’s vote. But he still didn’t make it, and he still hasn’t.

About 10 years ago I talked to a player who was a star pitcher in the 1950s and was still pitching in the ‘60s when Miller became union chief. He said Miller told the players they would never have to strike. That sounds strange enough for me to be skeptical that Miller said that.

A strike was one of Miller’s most effective weapons to achieve his goals. He achieved so much for the players they owe him at least repayment in the form of respect, which was absent from that room if any of the half dozen committee members spoke against him because of his steroids stance that didn’t affect anything or anybody.

Sloppy column or not, Madden has long supported Miller’s candidacy and continues to support it.

“Again, I want to be on record as saying Marvin Miller absolutely belongs in the Hall of Fame and the fact that he isn’t is regrettable,” Madden said in an e-mail in response to my e-mail to him questioning his column. “If I had been on that committee, he would have gotten one more vote, but even that wouldn’t have been enough for him this time.”

Despite this post-column view, Madden got off to a sloppy start in the column, triggering outrage among Miller fans.

The first paragraph:

“A day that will go down as one of the great days of baseball — three class-act managers with impeccable credentials were unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame — was not about to be tainted with the inclusion of Marvin Miller.”

Everyone I spoke with who read that sentence took it to mean that the “tainted” characterization was Madden’s. Madden, however, wrote to me, “I did not write that Miller’s election would have tainted the election of the three others. The headline may have said that, but I did not.”

But “tainted” was Madden’s word; it did not come from Hall officials or any of their committee members, even in the third paragraph in which Madden wrote, “So decreed the 16-member Expansion Era Veterans Committee…”

I asked a fellow I know who is as good as any copy editor I ever had at The New York Times to read the column, and he said, “You can’t blame Madden for the sensationalistic headline or the subhead,” adding, “The headline and the subhead probably skew one’s reading of Madden’s column.”

My editor/reader also blamed a photo caption for misleading readers:

For all his achievements, Marvin Miller all but sabotaged his Hall of Fame-worthy career by refusing to help baseball get rid of steroids.”

Madden said his column, his opinion, explained why Miller wasn’t elected and, in fact, lost ground, and he said he talked to committee members about Miller’s “staunch stance against steroids testing when everyone else” was “trying to get past the steroids era.” Again, those are Madden’s words; he was not quoting anyone.

My editor/reader cited two paragraphs (one included above) that “make it sound like Madden is agreeing.” Although Madden said he talked to committee members (plural) he quoted only one – Niekro, who ignored the Hall’s stipulation of secrecy – and that one talked about the election of the three managers and not about Miller and steroids testing.

Madden quoted no one on the issue of Miller’s stance on steroids testing, did not raise the question of why the issue arose now and not in five previous elections, and did not mention Miller’s absence of criticism of the 1980s drug agreement

If Madden submitted his column for a Journalism 101 assignment, the professor would be hard pressed to give him even a C.

One other element of the column drags down the grade. In his first paragraph, the lede of the column, Madden refers to the election of “three class-act managers.” He later quotes Niekro as referring to them as “three men of integrity and character, following that with this paragraph:

It was an interesting choice of words…integrity and character…which go to the root of the steroids issue that has cast a cloud over the Hall of Fame and the clause in the Baseball Writers’ ballot.”

A reader could infer from that statement that Madden is linking Miller to a lack of integrity and character for his steroids-testing stance.

HOF LaRussa Cox Torre 225The three “class-act managers” would be La Russa, who pleaded guilty to drunk driving; Cox, who allegedly punched his wife in the face, and Torre, who had a different experience.

In his lengthy career Torre appeared to be a friendly, amiable guy, developing good relationships with the writers. But it was all a con, as I discovered one night at Yankee Stadium when he revealed his true self, telling me, “You don’t know shit about baseball,” and adding, “None of you guys do.”

A member of the voting committee said he thought the unanimous votes for the managers had an impact on the rest of the candidates. With each voter allowed to vote for five candidates, the managers received 48 of 80 possible votes. That left 32 votes for the other nine candidates. Twelve votes were needed for election.

I hesitate to bring this up, but there could have been another factor in Miller’s vote total.

Four weeks ago I wrote in a column how Miller didn’t want to be on any more ballots. Since the Hall ignored that request, I suggested that voters do the honorable thing and note vote for Miller, I did not expect anyone on the committee to pay attention to my idea.

“I would say people were aware of what you wrote,” a committee member said. “And the people at the Hall. It could be if he didn’t want to be in there he shouldn’t be.”

“Maybe,” he added, “that was a factor.”

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