Marvin Miller’s death at 95 has spurred public expressions of appreciation and recognition of all he did for baseball, baseball players, and sports in general. But it’s also highlighting the remaining misplaced animosity towards him from the owners because he’s still not in baseball’s Hall of Fame. I’m reminded of the scene in Godfather 2 where, during his rant about Moe Greene, Hyman Roth tells Michael Corleone that in spite of everything Greene did and created with his idea for Las Vegas, there’s “isn’t even a plaque, or a signpost, or a statue of him,” to commemorate what he accomplished.
The scene is below.
You can say the same things about Miller. His obituary in the NY Times explains who he was and goes into detail of his rise to prominence, status as a hero to the players, and the vindictive loathing he still endures from the owners, but there was something more. Miller took over as the executive director of the MLB Players Association in 1966 during a time when the owners’ collective self-importance and belief that their political connections would supersede any true attempt by the players to effectively unionize and garner greater compensation for themselves.
Miller used that arrogance and greed against them and impressed upon the players what was possible if they stuck together and were willing to take the necessary steps to strike in the face of public scorn and threat to their livelihoods. Back then, but for a select few stars, baseball couldn’t justifiably be considered a “livelihood” since most players had off-season jobs to make ends meet and their baseball careers could end on a whim from the front office. The reserve clause had tethered players to their teams for the duration of their careers and the anti-trust exemption was brandished as a weapon to flog their indentured servants and hold them in check.
Miller wasn’t what the owners portrayed him as: a rabble-rouser who put it in the players’ heads that they deserved more of the financial pie and ruined their monopoly, thereby destroying the game. What he did benefited everyone. In fact, without Miller the owners who bought or owned clubs as a family hand-me-down would not be part of the still-established monopoly known as Major League Baseball with a built-in fanbase, guaranteed appreciation on their investment, massive television and advertising deals, as well as the clout from being an MLB owner. The most financially hindered franchises such as the Tampa Bay Rays have doubled in value over the past five years. Would that have been possible for the lower echelon teams of the 1960s before Miller came to prominence?
Miller took a chunk of the power from the owners and placed it in the hands of the players. No longer was the rich guy in the suit able to hammer the desperate worker with the lingering prospect of unemployment and no recourse; with the warning that not only would they be out of a job as a player, but they wouldn’t be able to get another job as a player for another team and definitely wouldn’t find work as a coach, scout, manager, ticket-taker or beer vendor. The idea of the “real world” was so horrifying that players wound up signing the contracts, enjoying the ride, cursing the situation, and hoping it wouldn’t end prematurely due to injury or by angering the wrong person.
The mindset of the player had to be altered to enlighten them that the owners weren’t doing them any favors; they weren’t friends; and if the players joined together en masse and demanded that they be treated more fairly, they would achieve concessions they never thought possible. When engaging in a negotiation, each side must have a stake in the outcome. There’s no need for animosity nor a suspicion of the other’s motives provided each side understands how the failure to reach an agreement will negatively affect both sides. The players and owners have made one another a lot of money because of Miller.
But former commissioner Bowie Kuhn is in the Hall of Fame and Miller isn’t.
Many players today wouldn’t know who Miller is or what he did for them. They would have no clue and presumably little interest that pre-Miller, the money wasn’t always what it is now; the players didn’t have the right to sell their unique set of skills to the highest bidder; and the generous perks including medical care and pensions would not be available had it not been for him.
But he’s still not in the Hall of Fame.
Had the players taken a stand demanding that Miller be inducted, there wouldn’t be this debate. Because they had an investment in their own futures, they stood with Miller when the owners held the players in their fists and utilized any and all tactics to keep them in line. Why haven’t they stood up for him and his Hall of Fame candidacy not with a sense of urgency, but a sense of justice?
The more eloquent and influential players like Tom Seaver can make a case; the Nolan Ryan and Frank Robinson type can intimidate and use their status as front office insiders to make something happen; Joe Torre can make voters offers they can’t refuse. Have they done everything they can? Since Miller is still on the outside looking in, the answer is clearly no.
He deserves that plaque; that signpost; that statue. In fact, he deserved it while he was alive to enjoy the moment. Hopefully, though, it will be realized—by the owners too—that Miller has earned his place in baseball history and they’ll give it to him even if it’s far too late.