Was Marvin Miller Snubbed?
Marvin Miller was once again denied entry into the Hall of Fame this year by the Veterans Committee. The committee did induct two new members, with manager Whitey Herzog and umpire Doug Harvey gaining entrance, but the exclusion of Miller was widely seen as an injustice and an outrage.
A few weeks ago here at Baseball Analysts and over at Sports Illustrated, I talked about how the small sample size of voters for postseason awards could potentially select players for awards even if the larger consensus disagreed. With the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee this was an even larger issue. Of 12 former players, writers, and executives, people in consideration for the Hall needed just 9 votes.
Does Tom Seaver really deserve to have that much power to bestow people with baseball's highest honor? Why are there so many executives on the committee? Can they really be objective about a man who bested them time and time again? Is this in any way a fair process? Of course, it's not fair at all, but that's not what I'm focusing on here.
Despite Seaver's adamant support, Marvin Miller was barred access from the Hall. Should he have been? Miller changed the game to be sure. His contributions were instrumental in allowing the birth of free agency. In that sense few men have had the impact on the game that Miller did - he transformed the game from one in which the owners had most all of the power, to one in which players also had a say in where they went and how much they would be paid.
According to Bud Selig in 2007, "The criteria for non-playing personnel is the impact they made on the sport. Therefore Marvin Miller should be in the Hall of Fame on that basis. Maybe there are not a lot of my predecessors who would agree with that, but if you're looking for people who make an impact on the sport, yes, you would have to say that."
Certainly no one can argue with Selig's assertion that he had a huge impact on the sport, however, nowhere can I find that impact alone is the only basis for the Hall. One would assume that a positive impact is required, and on that Miller's induction is debatable.
There's no question that Miller made a positive contribution to players' wallets. Before free agency in 1975, the average major league salary was $45,000 - today the average player makes $3,260,000. Even with inflation, that 72-fold increase isn't too shabby. But baseball doesn't exist for the players - it exists for the fans.
And the advent of free agency has had questionable consequences for fans of the game. For one, Miller's hardball tactics allowed the MLB players to transform from "well-paid slaves" to being part of one of the nation's most powerful unions. While that's nice for them, it's had consquences. Before Miller came upon the scene, there had been zero work stoppages. After he was elected head of the MLBPA in 1966, we have seen strikes or lockouts in 1972, 1973, 1976, 1980, 1981, 1985, 1990, and 1994, five of which came under Miller's guidance which lasted until 1982.
Miller did his job well, and his transformation of the MLBPA and bamboozling of the fragmented owners and was masterful work. But along the way, the sport got changed as well. While players' wallets got a boost, their reputations took a hit. In the pre-Miller era, the greedy prima donna athlete stereotype so ubiquitous today did not exist. Nor did fans boo their former heroes for bolting town for the highest offer once they became free agents. Back in 1966, athletes of all stripes seemed to share more with the common man than the fat cats in the owners boxes. Today, fans are more inclined to view them as one in the same.
In an alternate, Miller-less world, A-Rod would perhaps be toasting his longtime teammates Ken Griffey and Randy Johnson in Seattle on another World Series title, with all three enjoying the same kind of local working-man's hero status that players like Ted Williams and Ernie Banks used to share. Perhaps also in this alternate world, the owners would have actually had the power to implement steroid testing with teeth before so many enhanced players made a mockery of the game. Perhaps Bud Selig as commissioner could have done something about the competitive balance problem which has plagued the game. In the post-Miller world of free agency and MLBPA power, these are all impossibilities. The game has changed, but is it better?
But perhaps this all gives Miller too much credit. It's a different world than it was in 1966, and the game was bound to follow suit with or without Marvin Miller. Still, it's likely that Miller ushered in an era of maximized profits and transformed baseball from primarily a game to primarily a business. Players were getting treated unfairly, and Miller gave them the power to negotiate for salaries equivalent to what they were truly worth. For that he should be celebrated. However, the fallout from his bold transformation was not all positive. While Miller was a godsend to the players and professional athletes everywhere, whether he had a positive impact on the game and on the fans is far from an open and shut case. It could be said that Miller was intrumental in forming the modern era of sport. Miller's case for the Hall of Fame probably depends on whether you like this modern era or not. As for me, I'm not so sure.