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Serious Issues.

Namely, it is failing as a meritocratic honor society. Marvin Miller

Five men were elected this morning by the Veterans Committee: Walter O’Malley, Barney Dreyfuss, Dick Williams, Billy Southworth, and Bowie Kuhn. O’Malley and Dreyfuss were team owners, and each played large roles in the sport during their eras. Williams and Southworth were World Series-winning field managers. I have trouble making a legitimate case against any of them, except that they seem to be benefiting from the inherent randomness of the who’s in, who’s out culture.

But I can say this with confidence: that Bowie Kuhn was elected and Marvin Miller was not is perhaps the greatest injustice in the history of the Hall of Fame.

This is the Washington Generals being honored ahead of the Globetrotters. Wile Coyote being enshrined before the Roadrunner. For anyone who knows the history of these two men, this is more than a strange happenstance; it is complete ignorance, at it’s very worst.

Here are two executives that were on opposite sides of the same bargaining table for over a decade, whose careers in baseball overlapped almost completely. You cannot tell Bowie Kuhn’s story without telling Marvin Miller’s, and vice versa.

And when these stories are told, it’s clear that you are not discussing two equals. Miller was a brilliant thinker and strategist, a man set on revolutionizing the sport’s business model, all while righting a tremendous wrong. He was, I believe, the second most influential off field personality in the history of baseball, behind only Branch Rickey.

Kuhn, on the other hand, simply did his best to avoid failure. He had neither the forceful nature of Judge Landis, nor the business sense of Peter Ueberroth, nor the consensus-building skills of Bud Selig. The business grew under his watch out of pure necessity, only after Miller’s labor victories changed the teams’ once negligible cost structures.

And those victories were as numerous as they were earthshaking. When Miller became executive director of the Players Association in 1966, the sport had no collective bargaining agreement. Players were bound under the oppressive reserve clause, which would have been deemed illegal in any other industry in the country. They received a small pension from All-Star Game revenues, and that was it.

Miller changed all that, and quickly. He negotiated the first CBA in 1968, and in 1970 had binding, independent, arbitration included in the second such agreement. He soon parlayed that into his greatest gains: Catfish Hunter’s free agency in 1974, and the monumental Seitz Decision in 1975. With these victories under their belts, the MLBPA had turned the tables: thanks to Miller’s incredible foresight, they had taken over the power in salary negotiations, making many of them exceedingly wealthy in the coming decades.

Where was Kuhn when all this was going on? Flatfooted, along with all of his bosses. The owners were soundly beaten on every level, over and over again, because of their unwillingness to even recognize the possibility of change. When Miller first came on board, after working for several labor unions including the United Steelworkers, management personnel went above and beyond to belittle him. If anything, this tactic only helped solidify the players’ resolve. Later, when Peter Seitz outwardly hinted that he was going to rule for the players, and strongly suggested that the owners should cut a deal, they refused to even listen.

This was representative of Bowie Kuhn’s leadership, and should be his legacy. But apparently it isn’t. Instead, he will be enshrined into the Hall of Fame, while Marvin Miller is kept out.

The Hall remains a fabulous museum, and a great place to spend some time if you find yourself in upstate New York. But as an honor society, it is lacking. And while there have always been mistakes, this is its greatest.

Here’s hoping this wrong is righted in two years, when the VC will again vote on a list of executives. Here’s also hoping Marvin Miller, now 90 years old, will still be alive and well when it happens.

Feedback? Write a comment, or e-mail the author at shawn(AT)squawkingbaseball.com

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  1. on December 4th at 07:43 am
    Linkmeister said:

    Amen, brother. Murray Chass at the NYT (linked at my place) suggests Miller ought to withdraw his name for consideration from this point on. I’m not in that camp, but this is a travesty.

    Oh, and if you look at the members of the VC you’ll see that when it was reconstituted the last time it was virtually stacked to ensure that Miller couldn’t get in.

  2. on December 4th at 12:53 pm
    robustyoungsoul said:

    Seriously, is there another sport that can get it wrong off the field so often?

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