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Miller’s Hall of Fame election has complex path both before and ahead

The late Marvin Miller, former executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association

The seemingly endless and quixotic journey that landed Marvin Miller, the late former executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, in the National Baseball Hall of Fame took its final twist when he was elected by the 16-member Modern Era Committee along with former catcher Ted Simmons on December 9.

It was the eighth try on various iterations of the Veterans’ Committees for the landmark union leader before finally making it.

Like the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot focused on players, the current iterations of the Veterans’ Committees, now focused on various eras of baseball history, requires a 75-per-cent threshold for individuals to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. And the key function of the revamped Veterans’ Committees, like before, is to fill in the blanks and recognize figures that were overlooked in their initial evaluation. 

The committees are also the lone pathway by which non-player figures such as executives, umpires, and managers can be elected to the Hall of Fame.

And the Hall of Fame’s Modern Era Committee elected Miller with exactly the 12 of 16 needed votes from the panel, while Simmons received 13.

“We all know that things can happen, and players can fall through the cracks,” says Jane Forbes Clark, Hall of Fame chair. “And that’s what we are still looking for. We’re always looking for the player who may have fallen through the cracks because of what may have happened during the period when they were on the BBWAA ballot.”

But for Miller, the situation isn’t remotely so simple. There wasn’t really anything to overlook with the former steelworkers union executive. Leading the players’ union from 1966 to 1982, he was a prime mover in helping usher in free agency to baseball in the mid 1970s. He successfully negotiated a wide range of other unprecedented benefits for players, dramatically altered the entire business of baseball, and should easily make anyone’s short list as one of the most impactful figures in the sport’s history.

Time and again, though, Hall of Fame recognition fell short for Miller.

As Miller was repeatedly rejected over the years by Hall of Fame voters, his reluctance to engage with the institution turned to anger before his death in 2012. Before his passing, he grew so frustrated that he asked Hall of Fame officials to stop putting his name on the ballot.

Additionally, he said he wouldn’t attend or acknowledge the Induction Ceremony if he ever was elected, a stance his son, Peter, and daughter, Susan, intend to still honor.

The two children told various news outlets in recent days they don’t expect to attend the July 26, 2020, ceremony in Cooperstown, New York, when Miller and Simmons are inducted along with any selections from the BBWAA ballot.

Former New York Yankees shortstop and current Miami Marlins chief executive Derek Jeter is a lock to be elected from that ballot, and could become the second player following former teammate Mariano Rivera to be chosen unanimously.

Despite the ongoing reticence from the Miller family, Hall of Fame officials remain undaunted. A spokesman for the institution told SportBusiness this week in a text message: “We have made contact with both Peter and Susan and look forward to the continuing discussions in the process.”

An answer of ‘no’ only means ‘no’ until it doesn’t anymore, as the 16-member Modern Era Committee proved after a long day of deliberations on December 9 before announcing their decisions. And it can certainly be argued that an optimal makeup of the panel was a significant boost to both Miller and Simmons in their elections.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The BBWAA voting block, now winnowed to about 375 members after the exclusion of some older voters, may be somewhat amorphous from era to era. But year to year, it largely remains the same, made up primarily of actively working national and local baseball writers.

Conversely, the various Era Committees that now serve the prior function of the Veterans’ Committee change each year. As a result, the panel that rejected both Miller and Simmons two years ago was completely different than the one that just cleared them for induction.

This year’s Modern Era Committee was made up of six former Hall of Fame players (George Brett, Rod Carew, Dennis Eckersley, Eddie Murray, Ozzie Smith, and Robin Yount); five baseball operations executives (Sandy Alderson, Dave Dombrowski, Walt Jocketty, Doug Melvin, and Terry Ryan); one former team owner in David Glass, who previously led the Kansas City Royals; three baseball writers (Bill Center, Jack O’Connell, and Tracy Ringolsby); and a historian and statistician, Steve Hirdt.

That makeup presented far less representation from ownership than several prior iterations of the committees. And that shift is notable given Miller repeatedly prevailed at the labor negotiating table against management, and likely bore lingering resentment from team owners, even after his retirement.

The general managers in particular did not operate during Miller’s era, but are certainly well aware of his impact. The players, meanwhile, all benefited greatly from Miller’s union leadership, and the historic financial growth he engendered.

Prior to Miller’s death and after another unsuccessful vote to the Hall of Fame, he addressed the makeup of who was then evaluating him.

“I find myself unwilling to contemplate one more rigged Veterans Committee, whose members are handpicked to reach a particular outcome while offering a pretense of a democratic vote,” Miller said in 2008. “It is an insult to baseball fans, historians, sportswriters, and especially to those baseball players who sacrificed and brought the game into the 21st century. At the age of 91, I can do without farce.”

Alderson declined to detail the voting process that led to Miller prevailing this time around, as the committee is governed by a confidentiality agreement between the members and the Hall of Fame. But he said he did not bear any ill will toward Miller, even after numerous labor battles and work stoppages during his lifetime.

“Well, I don’t have animosity toward almost anybody in baseball,” Alderson says. “Animosity is not a word that I associate with the game.”

And while at one time, there was plenty of anger and animosity on the Hall of Fame committees directed toward Miller, even lingering somewhat into his last vote two years ago. But it’s also understandable why now with the passing of time and shift to another generation, many of those feelings no longer exist.

Amid Miller’s outsized legacy, he always was something of an anomaly within baseball norms. Coming from the United Steelworkers union and with no prior experience in sports, Miller was elected by the players to head a fledgling union in 1966, soon thereafter presiding over the destruction of the vaunted reserve clause, which team owners had used for decades to anchor a player to a particular team forever unless traded. 

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Miller then turned that win into lucrative salary arbitration, and ultimately free agency for players. 

Along the way, he was not afraid to take ultimate measures to advance the organization’s goals, whether it be leading a players’ strike, or using the courts as needed.

In 1976 and as free agency was dawning in baseball, the average player salary was $51,101 (€45,697). Now it is $4.36m. And despite years of doomsday predictions of economic ruin from team owners as player salaries continued to soar, attendance and revenue also grew exponentially over the decades. 

And despite recent stagnation in baseball attendance, franchise values continue to grow, and no MLB club is now worth less than $1bn, and the average value is nearly twice that. 

Simmons over his career was an active union member and was close to Miller. He says he is thrilled to be inducted with Miller, and said of him, “Marvin had a profound effect on my life and the lives of my family.”

As to the vote this time around, Simmons says both he and Miller were aided by a strong familiarity with their respective accomplishments by the committee members.

“Well, I think everyone on the committee all knew Marvin,” Simmons says. “Every one of the players had played against me, and the general managers had seen me play. And so, when you have that kind of group totally familiar with your body of work, whether it was my own or Marvin’s, these are first-hand accounts.”

“When the committee was announced, I looked at that committee and I said, ‘I have a chance here,’ ” he says.

A chance that finally became a quixotic reality for both men. 

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