Does Marvin Miller have an ironclad Hall of Fame case?

Jim McIsaac

In the wake of Marvin Miller's death at 95, he was universally applauded as a brilliant union leader, unjustly excluded from Baseball's Hall of Fame. Is there a good argument for the other side, though?

One thing I didn't see in the wake of Marvin Miller's passing, at 95: anyone arguing that Marvin Miller does not belong in the Hall of Fame. Which seemed at least a little strange; considering he'd missed election on four different occasions, there must be a great number of significant personages who didn't support Miller's candidacy. Sure, the timing wouldn't have been viewed with much affection. But what better time for full disclosure? Why not a column from one of the newspaper writers who spurned Miller as a candidate, saying, "Yes, he did a wonderful job as the leader of the baseball players' union and lived a full life, but I didn't vote for him and here's why"?

Fortunately, we do have bloggers. Here's one now:

The Hall of Fame is there to remember the best of the best in baseball, whether they are players, managers, umpires, or those who contributed in some other way. The idea that a union leader, especially this one, should be honored is ludicrous. In the last half-century, labor unions have done more harm than good in our nation, and have been instrumental (along with numerous other contributing factors) in creating an entitlement mindset among most modern U.S. citizens that is truly saddening.

--snip--

Marvin Miller's legacy is about millionaires arguing with billionaires, as well as the occasional strike. Such a legacy is not worthy of being immortalized in the Hall of Fame.

I've actually got some sympathy with this argument. Or rather, I've got some sympathy with those who are willing to consider this argument, because very few people have been willing to go on the record with the argument. The last time Marvin Miller was on a Hall of Fame ballot, only three of the 12 voters supported him. But if the other nine explained themselves, I've not seen it. Of course everyone's always happy to discuss their favored candidates, but it's considered poor form to publicly argue against someone. Especially when the someone is (at that time) 93.

But let's go back to the beginning. Is the Hall of Fame really "there to remember the best of the best in baseball"? Well, that's hard to say. Here's the official motto of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum: "Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations".

The Museum handles the first of those, and the Hall of Fame the second. Theoretically, anyway. I think almost everyone would agree that the Hall of Fame was intended to honor excellent players (although you can still find, if you look hard enough, people who take "Fame" literally, and argue for Roger Maris, et cetera). But what about everyone else? Here's a bit from Spalding's Official Baseball Guide in 1936, upon the occasion of the establishment of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown:

It is said that this Hall of Fame will embrace only the players. Very likely the projectors are right. However, there may come a day when they will reach further into the archives of base ball and include some of those men who have been leaders in thought as well. Henry Chadwick is one man who may be cited as an example, a writer -- he was also editor of the Guide for twenty years -- whose life was devoted to chronicling the game in the daily press almost from its inception. Consider how good his work was, although most of it was purely to the perpetuation of the life stories of those for whom a further recognition is now proposed. There are three or four others who have come since the time of Chadwick whose whole life has been devoted to the good of what is now known as our national game.

In fact, just two years later Henry Chadwick was elected to the Hall of Fame. But he wasn't the first "leader in thought" inducted. A year earlier, Morgan Bulkeley, the first president of the National League, had been inducted. So had Ban Johnson, who ran the American League from its inception in 1900 through 1927.

Since then, a number of other league executives have been elected, including Kenesaw Mountain Landis, William Hulbert, Ford Frick, Happy Chandler, Lee MacPhail, and Bowie Kuhn; Landis, Chandler, Frick, and Kuhn all served as Comissioner for at least six years. Were all of those men "excellent" Commissioners? That's very difficult to say. Chandler's tenure lasted for only six years, and he's chiefly remembered (as Commissioner) for being in office when Jackie Robinson broke the color line. While Chandler seems to have later inflated his support for Robinson, he also seems to have behaved honorably throughout most of the process.

Landis, on the other hand, was Commissioner from 1920 through '44 and did nothing to promote the breaking of the color line. In fact, it's generally assumed that if some brave owner had tried, Landis would have fought like hell against it. Chandler, a Kentuckian who served one term as a U.S. Senator and two terms as Governor, lived for a long time. In the 1980s, he told author Peter Golenbock, "For 24 years Judge Landis wouldn't let a black man play. I had his records, and I read them, and for 24 years Landis consistently blocked any attempts to put blacks and whites together on a big league field."

I suppose you can take Chandler at his word, or not. But Landis's overall record is mixed. Chandler's is short. Frick is most famous for saying, about nearly everything that came across his desk as Commissioner, "That's a league matter." Bowie Kuhn presided over two labor stoppages, and lost nearly every battle he fought. I believe that Kuhn did care about baseball a great deal. Is that enough to qualify for "excellence", though? Aside from occasionally slapping Charlie Finley (who deserved it), what did Kuhn really do?

We might look at owners, too. There are a bunch of them in the Hall of Fame, including Tom Yawkey, whose Red Sox won three American League pennants in 44 years. Under Yawkey, the Red Sox were notorious for being unfriendly to black players. Yawkey was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1980.

One thing you can say about all of these men is that they were -- with the possible exception of William Hulbert and Happy Chandler -- historically significant figures for more than just a few years. It's difficult to argue that all of them, including the owners, represent "excellence". Or were "the best of the best in baseball".

What you might say about them is that they were working for what they believed were the best interests of the sport. I'm not sure that you would be right, though. I think it would be more accurate to say the Commissioners, especially Frick and Kuhn, were taking their cues from their employers (the owners), while the owners were working for what they believed were the best interests of the teams they owned.

One thing you can say about them is that they were working for, or within, Organized Baseball.

Marvin Miller was an excellent union leader. He was not working for, or within, Organized Baseball. The long-term health and profitability of the sport was not one of his professional considerations; his job was to represent the interests of the union's members, and union members -- like the rest of us -- don't do long-term interests. More than anything, they wanted (and want) to make as much money as they can make, right now.

I simplify, of course. But it was never really about fairness, or justice, or any of that other namby-pamby crap. It was about money and power. And thanks largely to Marvin Miller, the players got a lot more of both than they'd gotten before. Miller was an excellent union leader. And thus an incredibly significant historical figure.

There's a great deal of precedent for electing baseball executives to the Hall of Fame, which is why Bud Selig's a shoo-in. That's why Barney Dreyfuss and Walter O'Malley were elected five years ago, and why Jacob Ruppert and Sam Breadon deserve to be elected this time around.

There is no precedent for electing labor leaders. As I've written before, if you believe that Marvin Miller belongs in the Hall of Fame, it's not a particularly great leap from Marvin Miller to Donald Fehr, and then from Donald Fehr to Scott Boras.

Do you think Boras has already jotted down some thoughts about his induction speech?

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