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.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.
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."
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