Behind the ScoreboardDecember 08, 2009
Was Marvin Miller Snubbed?
By Sky Andrecheck

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.


Hmmm, I think the Unit actually would still be playing for the Expos dynasty (built on the likes of Vlad Guerrero and Larry Walker).

Finally, a voice of reason speaks out.

I agree, Miller made things better for the players. I just never thought he made the game better, and that should be the criteria.

In my opinion.

Well said. I was mocked on BTF for asserting it is ridiculous to consider him for the Hall of Fame. That maybe a little strong, but I can not see all the folks over there who get agitated about Miller not being selected. I can understand a Tigers fan who is bothered by Trammell (or Whitaker) not getting support for the Hall of Fame. However, I don't understand the strong feelings about some labor lawyer. If their is a union HoF or a lawyers HoF stick him in it. However, he really had little or nothing to do with baseball, definitely little positive impact. Some could actually claim that Miller's efforts lead in a round about way to the steroids mess. Greater salaries potential obviously increased the temptation to take greater risks.

Boy, talk about a pro owner point of view. With the billions of dollars now in the game you would have the people most responsible for that, the players, stuck in servitude to the owners and having not much of a share of the wealth they helped create. As a fan I know I always go out to the park in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the team's owners and stockholders. Do you have the right to sell your writing ability to the place you most want to or are you stuck with whomever first allowed you to publish something. Marvin Miller deserves the honor of the Hall as a man who has made a major impact on the game, positively.

It was never Marvin Miller's intention to make the game better and it ever was, the MLBPA had good cause to find new representation. I don't know if the game is better or not, although I think using some less emotional metrics than those put forward in the article, an argument can be made that it has become a better game. What seems clear, however, is that the game is fairer than it was before Marvin Miller. The people directly responsible for the value of a baseball experience now share in the rewards for that created value. If that is not a positive influence I'm not sure what is.

In essence, the argument seems to be that slaves in the arena is OK as long as the Romans enjoy the circus.

One metric is how often players change teams. I studied that question a few weeks back and found veteran and good players change teams far more often since free agency. I consider that a net negative for the fans.

People's emotions and perceptions of the players have a large impact on their enjoyment of the game.

Miller certainly made the game fairer for the players. But did he make it better for the fans?

John, he didn't say it was Miller's goal to make the game better. He said it surely must be a criterion for putting Miller in the HOF. Miller's goal, similar, was surely not to end up in the HOF.
But the question is: should he be there, given what he did?

I agree with the first comment: finally, a voice of reason regarding Miller. And that's not pro-owner. Changes would have been made in any event, as the article's last paragraph suggests. I have no doubt of that.

But anyone who's ever listened to Miller knows that the bizarre, ideologically fixed, reality-denying view of the world associated with Don Fehr and with all of the bad aspects of the union is a continuation of the culture and personality given to the union by Miller. It is surely true that there would have been testing, and fewer strikes, without him. There's a lot of bad to Miller and his legacy.

This article appears to be an effort to write something controversial, even if it makes no sense. Since when does the Hall of Fame insist on a uniformly positive contribution as the standard for inclusion? Walter O'Malley was inducted in 2008, but fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers would swear that he damaged the game by moving the team to Los Angeles. Tom Yawkey was elected in 1980, but he clearly dragged his feet on integration of the Red Sox for two decades. And so on.


Do you have any information that says the author of this piece championed the cause of O'Malley or Yawkey? My guess (and it is only as guess) is he wasn't thrilled about them being named to the HoF.

Miller's impact on the game is almost uniformly positive both from a moral and practical perspective.

To assert that ownership's domination of the game in any way benefited the fans is blindness. They had no compunction about moving teams, trading fan favorites or using the press to enrage fans about players' efforts to "extort" (to use their language) better salaries. Just read the stories of how the fans turned on Joe DiMaggio when he held out for more money and how the press was manipulated by ownership-probably willingly manipulated-to demonize him.

As for benefiting the fans, at the time Miller emerged, baseball was in the doldrums and fan interest was cratering. Since his era, baseball has hit the money jackpot for owners and players alike, while attendance has increased astronomically. The annual off-season free agent market has excited enormous interest in every city. And as for competitive balance, there are fewer teams that go through lengthy periods of helplessness and more teams that are contenders for the ultimate prize every year than there were in earlier eras.

The sad story of Pittsburgh recently is far more anomalous today than the lengthy failures of the Phillies, Red Sox, As, Braves, Browns and other teams were from the 1920s through the 1960s.

And incidentally, while claiming that the owners' dictatorship benefited competitiveness, check into the stories of team owners who developed stars for the express purpose of selling them to richer teams and who had no intention of even trying to compete. The unrestrained tyranny of that baseball era bred corruption beyond anything we see today, only less well-known because of their unholy alliance with the press.

I don't think this argument is disingenuous at all. If one's primary achievement was fundamentally bad for the game, you shouldn't include them in the Hall. Yawkey's not in BECAUSE he was slow to integrate, just as O'Malley's not in BECAUSE he moved the Dodgers.

Miller's greatest accomplishment is free agency. That makes him an unusually tricky case: his influence is profoundly ambiguous, in the ways Sky argued. I don't think there's any way to decide Miller's credentials without entering into the debate over whether free agency has been beneficial to the game.

Put in a salary cap ($145,000,000 ?), increase revenue sharing, and DEMAND THE MARLINS, ROYALS, PIRATES, and every other non-competitive bottom-feeder, HAVE A MINIMUM PAYROLL OF $85,000,000.

Miller changed the game for the least we don't have the Yankees playing to the level of succcess they achieved from 1949 - 1964 with the help of teams like the KC Pathetics selling them players who achieved stardom

...or perhaps it is not so profoundly ambiguous.

How about a "designated hitter" by Bob R on Marvin Miller?

I agree that Miller's case for the Hall is ambiguous; just as any non-athlete's case typically is and should be. In fact it is one of the joys of sport, that we can reduce grays to blacks and whites through analyzing pure production. With executives, owners, managers (to a certain extent) we can't. We're left with influence, and in my view, and here I agree with Sky, whether that influence is positive should be accounted for. For full disclosure I was born two years after free agency was established and my wistful baseball memories are of the late 80s San Francisco Giants teams, who were unable to keep a worshipped Will Clark in 1994 who sought cash elsewhere. Miller's efforts definitely did not perfect the game but his leadership more effectively allocated resources and forced owners to recognize what actually entertained people. What has not been mentioned is expansion, something I think most would agree was unthinkable pre-Miller and something most would agree as real progress. I said earlier that less emotional metrics should be used to evaluate the state of the game but the reality is that not's really possible, as Sky mentioned. The same is true with evaluating non-athletes for the Hall. They will always tend to be symbolic choices, and none more so than Miller. The question then, ultimately, is his work a symbol to value? I think it is, but I certainly understand the political roots of that judgment and why others might disagree.

This was a well argued and provacative article. And I agree that the calls to include Miller in the Hall don't make much sense. Yes, he had a big impact but what if the impact was mostly negative? Also, I agree O'Malley and Yawkey shouldn't be in the Hall.

There is actually more reason to eventually elect Fehr. Cooperation between the union and the owners improved after 1994. The 1994 strike seems to have been a last ditch attempt to destroy the union (more of a lockout), and only a little of the blame attaches to Fehr. Miller made the union a factor to be reckoned with, but when he retired it was not really integrated into the sport (not entirely his fault), hence the long list of work stoppages.

You can argue that the players are an important part of the game, so improving their conditions does ultimately help the game. Also a situation where the revenue coming into baseball exploded due to television but little of it was going to the players was untenable and had to be changed.

I actually agree that players switch teams more often, but there was nothing stopping the owners instituting a system OTHER than free agency that would have enabled the players to get a higher cut of revenue and more control over their careers (for example, free agency but only with long term contracts, with an option for a player to buy out the remaining years of his contract). We have the system we have because they didn't do this. I also agree that fans can't relate as well to multimillionaire players, but major league baseball is based in a country with increasing wealth stratification and where a ridiculous amount of GDP goes into entertainment. The game wasn't going to remain immune to these trends.

I consider Miller to be among the 4 or 5 most positive forces in baseball history of all non-playing persons. Second only to Rickey in eliminating a systemic evil, the reserve clause, that was patently unjust and used by owners to tyrannize over the players. In fact, I think a case can be made that he did more good with less evil attached of any baseball personality, as Rickey's achievement was accompanied by the evisceration of the negro leagues and their investors with no compensation, an injustice that Bill Veeck apparently opposed.

Among Cartwright, Harry Wright, Chadwick and Rickey, Miller finds a comfortable place in advancing the game into the future and cleaning up its injustice. Had Landis not been so instrumental in maintaining the segregated game, he might have belonged in that pantheon.

The work stoppages and labor strife were not new to baseball. What changed was the balance of power so that the players had a chance to defend their interests, unlike the failures of earlier efforts. If some think the balance has swung too far in the players' favor, that can hardly be debited to Miller whose job it was to build a strong union and who was aided in that task by the obstinacy and stupidity of the owners who would not accept any diminishing of their despotic control and were willing to violate agreements and the law to maintain that position.

"In an alternate, Miller-less world, A-Rod would perhaps be toasting his longtime teammates Ken Griffey and Randy Johnson"

Not knowing that after the season, he would be sent a contract with the maximum 10% paycut.

With no choice other than to sign or hold out, A-Rod misses most of spring training.

A-Rod's relationship with the fans deteriorates as he is called a greedy bum for refusing to sign a contract for $875,000.

Griffey, who has faced this situation before with the hard fisted Seattle front office can only sympathise and mouth platitudes to the press, having meekly signed his own contract which was also reduced the maximum 10%.

Randy Johnson is nowhere to be seen, having been unceremoniously released. His 314 wins for Seattle not-withstanding.

Yeah it's a great story isn't it?