Miller Deserves Hall of Fame Nod
Published: Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, January 14, 2014 01:01
Last week’s announcement that Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas would enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame was certainly a proud day for Braves and White Sox fans. However, baseball fans and players nationwide should be less pleased about the continued omission of Marvin Miller from Cooperstown. A former director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, Miller was without question the most influential figure in the history of sports labor relations. So massive was his impact that his successor at the MLBPA, Don Fehr, suggested that the “first half of the twentieth century in baseball belonged to Jackie Robinson while the second half belonged to Marvin Miller.” Miller’s continued omission from the Hall of Fame represents an undue triumph of the business of sports over the ideals the Hall of Fame purports to represent.
Under Miller’s direction the MLBPA successfully ushered in the free agency era not just for baseball, but for all of American professional sports. Today, many sports fans take it for granted that their favorite players can sign with a new team at the end of their contracts. However, during earlier eras of professional sports, free agency was an unthinkable concept. Teams effectively owned their players for life, and other teams that attempted to lure players away were penalized with outsized fines and sanctions. It represented an effective form of market control that kept salaries low and owners rich.
Miller’s brilliant legal challenge of the policies limiting player mobility led to a dramatic increase in both the salaries and the power of the players. Without Miller, it seems unlikely that we would have ever been treated to LeBron James wasting a half-hour of America’s time to announce his choice to join the Miami Heat. James’ behavior may have irritated many, but his and all other professional athletes’ ability to make that key choice in their career is a critical piece of the modern sports labor market — something athletes owe entirely to Miller.
It is without question that Miller’s accomplishments are on par or even above those of current Commissioner Bud Selig’s. It would be hard to imagine a scenario in which Selig is denied admission even a fraction as many times as Miller has been before gaining admission to Cooperstown. Selig was chiefly responsible for restoring America’s faith in professional baseball after the strike of 1994, and his handling of the steroid issue, while not necessarily inspiring, has been responsive and reasonable. The only difference between Miller and Selig is that the latter spent his career in service of baseball’s owners rather than its players. From this we can infer that Miller’s omission continues to reinforce the unfortunate reality that sports is always a business and occasionally unfair as a result. Perhaps the owners, having been roundly beaten, have played some role in the lack of proper recognition for Miller.
In a sense, I can understand why the owners do not want Miller in. If he had never come around, or maybe appeared on the scene later than he did, owners’ pockets would have been lined with many more millions. Nevertheless, their position is at the very least explainable. More questionable is the glaring lack of outrage displayed by Cooperstown’s more recent inductees. Miller’s legal acumen and long-term persistence in taking on Major League Baseball’s owners made these players very rich. It is despicable that they have failed to support the man to whom they owe their outsized salaries and labor freedom.
A Hall of Fame is a special place that honors the purity of accomplishment in sports. One of the defining features of sports is fairness and equality before the rules of the game. It recognizes only its rules and fair play — not age, class or money. Winning fairly is, as a result, the highest ideal in any sport, and halls of fame properly recognize those who do it with incredible frequency. Miller fought baseball’s owners fairly and won truly remarkable and historic victories for fans and players alike. Cooperstown claims to be the guardian of those values, yet it continues to insult them with even greater force each time it rejects Marvin Miller from its ranks.
Drew Cunningham and Ethan Chess are seniors in the College. The Third Half appears Tuesdays.