The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

 

Miller Time

Wednesday was a big day here at Futility Central. In addition to doing three radio hits in a 24-hour span on topics as diverse as fantasy duds (XM's Rotowire Fantasy Sports Hour with Chris Liss), the impact of maple bats on baseball's scoring levels (XM's MLB preview show with Mike Ferrin) and the exciting debut of Jay Bruce (my homies in Toledo), I conducted a 20-minute interview with one of the most influential men in baseball history, Marvin Miller. Last week, the 91-year-old former head of baseball's player union made waves by requesting that the Hall of Fame end its ongoing charade by taking him out of consideration for election via its once-again-reconstituted Veterans Committee.

I'd already written the bulk of a piece about Miller's odd request when, at the encouragement of Alex Belth and Allen Barra, both of whom I'd consulted for some background for the piece, I did something I rarely do, something I need to do more often: pick up the damn phone and go to the source. Miller is completely accessible, listed in Manhattan's white pages, and while he's physically frail, he's sharp as a tack, mentally. Despite the dour subject matter -- we did discuss the man's posthumous wishes, after all -- ours was a delightful conversation. I had trouble getting a word in edgewise during the first six or seven minutes as he laid out his history with the Hall, but by the end we were sharing laughs, and Miller made my head swell when he paid my previous writing about him a compliment.

Anyway, the article is today's freebie at Baseball Prospectus; a full transcript of our conversation will run in the near future:
The Hall of Fame was in the headlines last week, and not just because the retirement of Mike Piazza kindled the inevitable debate over his Cooperstown credentials. No, an even more deserving honoree made waves via what was almost certainly a first: a request to the voters not to be elected.

The unusual appeal came from Marvin Miller, who served as the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1966 to 1982, overseeing baseball's biggest change since integration via the dismantling of the Reserve Clause and the dawn of free agency. Snubbed by an ever-changing electoral process three times in the past five years, the 91-year-old Miller is not only tired of his hopes being dashed, but disillusioned with the institution itself. "As I began to do more research on the Hall, it seemed a lot less desirable a place to be than a lot of people think," said Miller in a recent interview with Baseball Prospectus. "Some of the early people inducted in the Hall were members of the Ku Klux Klan. Tris Speaker, Cap Anson, and some people suspect Ty Cobb as well. When I look at that, and I looked at the more current Hall, it was about as anti-union as anything could be," he continues, citing recently ousted Hall president Dale Petroskey's past service in the union-busting Reagan White House. "I think that by and large, the players, and certainly the ones I knew, are good people. But the Hall is full of villains."

...It's unclear whether the Hall will honor Miller's wishes. President Jeff Idelson--who took over in late March after Petroskey resigned--believes the VC will again be reconstituted before the next vote. He says that the institution plans to discuss the matter with Miller, and that while his request will be communicated to the screening committee, there's no guarantee his wish will be heeded; Miller will be nominated if the committee so decides. That reaction suggests Miller's statement may work as a bit of reverse psychology -- if he's daring the electorate not to tab him, what better way to piss the man off?

Miller is hardly waiting for the Hall's overtures. He sounds genuinely at peace with his own intractability on the matter, invoking an unlikely pair of historical figures in Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman and comedian Groucho Marx. "[Sherman] basically said, 'I don't want to be president. If I'm nominated I will not campaign for the presidency. If despite that I'm elected, I will not serve.' Without comparing myself to General Sherman, that's my feeling. If considered and elected, I will not appear for the induction if I'm alive. If they proceed to try to do this posthumously, my family is prepared to deal with that."

The mention of Marx adds a final bit of levity to Miller's request. "What [Marx] said was words to the effect of, 'I don't want to be part of any organization that would have me as a member.' Between a great comedian and a great general, you have my sentiments."
Thanks to Barra, Belth, and of course Miller for their cooperation and encouragement with this article. While I think the Hall of Fame is a lesser place without Miller and part of me hopes that someday this sorry chapter ends with his induction, I admire his chutzpah for speaking up. His place in baseball history is already guaranteed with or without the sanctioning of Cooperstown's cronies, and his actions expose major cracks in the Hall's foundation, cracks that the institution would do well to address while the men it should be honoring are still alive to enjoy their glory.

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