BY EVAN WEINER
THE BUSINESS AND POLITICS OF SPORTS
Marvin Miller is once again up for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The 93-year-old Miller literally built the Major League Baseball Players Association with Richard Moss from scratch starting in 1966. By the time Miller left his post as the association's executive director Major League Baseball was transformed with the players gaining free agency and huge sums of money.
Miller, according to many sportswriters and baseball executives, ruined the game.
There are 12 names that the 16-member Hall of Fame Committee will consider at a December 6th vote. Miller's credentials will be examined long with those of eight players, Vida Blue, Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Ron Guidry, Tommy John, Al Oliver, Ted Simmons and Rusty Staub; former five time Yankees manager Billy Martin; and long time baseball executive Pat Gillick, who built championship teams in Toronto and Philadelphia and the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
There are other names that should get consideration are missing, one time Boston and Milwaukee Braves owner Lou Perini, one time Houston Colt 45s and Astros owner Roy Hofheinz and one time Kansas City and Oakland A's owner Charles Finley, The Baseball Hall of Fame is far from perfect and those three along with Miller should have been members of the Baseball Parthenon a long time ago.
Miller was passed over in 2003 and 2007 for baseball political reasons. Miller was not liked because he changed the economics of the industry in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. He negotiated new deals with the owners and took their concerns to the courts, the National Labor Relations Board, and arbitrators. His actions eventually led to free agency.
If Jim Kaat, a long time pitcher and announcer, had a vote, Miller would be enshrined immediately. If Bill Madlock, a good hitter in his playing days in the 1970s and 1980s had a vote, Miller would have gotten a call years ago.
"Actually, the central issue that Marvin went after was always the pension plan," said Kaat in an interview in 2000. "Nowadays, you would not think that but the pension plan in the 1960s was much more important to the players than salary. Because in those days, if you projected to when you were 55 or 60 years old and you could draw $30,000 a year in a pension plan...a lot of players weren't making that much in salaries.
"That's how he kept everyone together. If you talk to Marvin, he will reiterate that. It was a big issue.
Kaat came up to the major leagues with the Washington Senators in 1959 and was with the Twins when Miller entered the picture in 1966.
In 1966, the players were tied to their teams because of the reserve clause.
The maximum salary seemed to be $100,000 and that money went to Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays type players. There was no free agency. The owners controlled the game and the players had little to say in their careers.
"It was a combination of getting organized as a players association with all of the television revenue that came until the game," said Kaat. "It gave the players an awful lot of strength. The owners didn't have a lot of foresight in what was going to be."
Kaat went on strike in 1972 along with his fellow association members over the percentage of the nation television revenues that went into the pension plan. That strike lasted nine days and the players got a guaranteed percentage of the TV revenues.
"Marvin used the pension plan as the cornerstone. He got all the stars with a few exceptions," Kaat recalled. "The (Chicago) Cubs had a very good owner in Mr. (Phil) Wrigley, a player-friendly owner. And so did the (Boston) Red Sox in Mr. (Tom) Yawkey. They were a little tougher sell. But we had a big rally in New York City in the late 1960s with Willie Mays, Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente. You had all of these stars saying we won't give in. They stayed together and encouraged all of the players to stay together."
That generation passed the torch to Bill Madlock and the players of the 1970s and 1980s.
"We started off with the Andy Messersmith decision," said Madlock of his introduction to Miller. Messersmith and Dave McNally were granted free agency by arbitrator Peter Seitz and that opened the floodgates in the mid-1970s for player freedom.
"It just got better and better," Madlock said also in 2000. "I think the owners got intimidated by him. They knew very few guys could get these millionaire players together as one. There was no hesitation, what he said we did."
Madlock added that Miller explained all the options that were available to them and let the players decide.
"He did not try to make the decision for us," said Madlock. "He would put out all the information and what affect it would have — not only then but in five or 10 years down the road. He made it very simple.
Miller is head and shoulders ahead of the other 2010 candidates but there are a good number of people who helped "change" the game that aren't honored either.
Without Lou Perini, there is a good chance that Los Angeles and San Francisco, along with the Twin Cities in Minnesota, would have waited until the lords of baseball decided to expand beyond 16 teams to enter those cities. Because of Charles O. Finley, Major League Baseball had teams in Oakland, Kansas City, Seattle, San Diego, Milwaukee, Toronto, and Montreal. Without Roy Hofheinz, it might have taken a lot longer to change the blue-collar fan-base not only of MLB, but also the NFL, into well-heeled customers.
Perini had owned the Boston Braves, a franchise that could not get people out to Braves Field in the early 1950s. He started looking around for greener pastures and knew that Milwaukee city officials were intending on getting an MLB franchise. Milwaukee was the first city to put up taxpayer dollars to build a facility and had talked not only to Perini, but also to the owner of the St. Louis Browns, Bill Veeck, about relocating to the city. Perini took the offer and moved his team in the middle of spring training in 1953. The Milwaukee Braves' franchise broke National League box office records, Perini was suddenly awash with money, and that got the attention of Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley. Because of Milwaukee's success, O'Malley concluded Brooklyn could no longer compete with Milwaukee as long as the team played in Ebbets Field.