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Opinion: Baseball's Hall of Fame needs to explain Marvin Miller's exclusion

BILL SHAIKIN / ON BASEBALL

First leader of the players' union falls short again of election into the Cooperstown shrine and those voting hide behind a curtain of confidentiality that needs to come down.

December 09, 2013|By Bill Shaikin
  • Marvin Miller, the first leader of the MLB Players Assn., was not selected to be inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame after falling 10 votes short of the requirement.
Marvin Miller, the first leader of the MLB Players Assn., was not selected… (Associated Press )

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — There might be a perfectly good reason to vote against Marvin Miller for the Hall of Fame. It is long past time for the people casting those votes to explain them.

Baseball's longest streak of absurdity continued Monday, when for the sixth time a committee declined to elect Miller to the Hall of Fame.

The full and proper name of the Cooperstown shrine is the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Yet, there is a vast emptiness to the place without Miller, the pioneering leader of the players' union. In terms of historical impact among baseball figures, Jackie Robinson is at No. 1. You can argue where in the top five Miller might belong, but can you seriously argue that he does not belong in there?

Maybe you can. Of the 16 men on this year's committee, at least 10 passed on voting for Miller. No one would say why.

The vote left a chorus of predictable outrage in its wake, starting with one of the three men whom the committee elected to the Hall of Fame.

George Steinbrenner, the late New York Yankees owner, also was snubbed by the committee. But Joe Torre, one of the electees, deflected a question about Steinbrenner to stump for Miller.

"Marvin Miller should be in," Torre said. "He made an impact on the game."

In the world before Miller, players had no rights. Teams paid what they wanted, and they held on to each player for as long as they wanted.

Miller led the union through bruising fights to win player rights through free agency and salary arbitration. The price of freedom: players striking, and owners locking players out, both repeatedly. Miller interrupted the national pastime to secure player rights, and that did not endear him to the management types who used to ride herd over the Hall of Fame election committees.

However, when Miller last came up for election three years ago, he fell one vote shy of election by a 16-man committee. This time, he fell at least 10 votes short — the Hall of Fame would not be any more specific — and only four of the 16 committee members were management types.

"In the first half of the 20th century, no single person was more important to baseball than was Jackie Robinson," said Donald Fehr, who succeeded Miller as union leader in 1983. "In the second half of the 20th century, that recognition unquestionably belongs to Marvin Miller.

"... Marvin should have been elected to the Hall many years ago. It is a sad and sorry state of affairs that he has not been, and continues to reflect poorly on the very organization that has as its purpose recognizing and celebrating baseball's best."

The union Miller led has endured as the most powerful of sports unions, and one of the most powerful of any kind of union, anywhere. His tactics and their results did not lead to ruin. On the contrary, the sport has flourished on and off the field, with attendance and revenue unimaginable a generation ago, and all without the salary cap owners had insisted would be necessary for prosperity.

Said Tony Clark, the current executive director of the union: "Over the past 50 years, no individual has come close to matching Marvin's impact on the sport. ... Despite the election results, Marvin's legacy remains intact, and will only grow stronger, while the credibility of the Hall of Fame continues to suffer."

Miller had grown so disgusted by the process that, after four appearances on the ballot, he asked to be removed from consideration. The Hall of Fame ignored his wishes. Miller died last year.

Clark is absolutely right. The credibility of the Hall of Fame continues to suffer, by the omission of Miller but even more so by a process shrouded in secrecy. We hear that some of the resistance to Miller lies in his strident rejection of drug testing — even after he left office — but we have no way of knowing for sure.

In its voting for baseball's annual awards, including most valuable player and Cy Young, the Baseball Writers' Assn. of America reveals the ballot of every voter. The Hall of Fame controls this election, does not reveal any ballot, and demands that committee members keep their discussions and votes secret.

End the secrecy. Hold the committee publicly accountable. If one of the giants in baseball history does not merit admission to the Hall of Fame, have the courage to tell us why not.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

Twitter: @BillShaikin

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