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.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

 

Miller's Crossing

The nation's leading sticks in the mud, the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee, are having a vote in a few weeks. Two of them, in fact, one on umpires and managers and the other on executives and pioneers. Marvin Miller, the former executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association who led the fight to end the Reserve Clause, is among the latter group. BizofBaseball's Maury Brown examines the ballot and asks if this is finally the year for the man who irrevocably reshaped baseball's landscape.

Sadly, no, I don't think so. I had the pleasure of interviewing Miller for a Baseball Prospectus feature a year and a half ago. Still feisty and sharp as a tack at 91 years old, he had just announced that he was fed up with the Veterans Committee's election process and wished to be taken out of consideration for all future voting:
As former executive director of the players' union that negotiated these changes, 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. It is an insult to baseball fans, historians, sports writers 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 a farce."
Alas, the Hall has not abided by his wishes, as the VC's screening committee has put him up for yet another vote — and likely another defeat.

In our interview, Miller noted that the deck was stacked against him because nine of the 12 members on the VC had management ties. "[On]e thing a trade union leader learns to do is how to count votes in advance," he told me. "Whenever I took one look at what I was faced with, it was obvious to me it was not gonna happen."

Specifically, Miller was referring to the fact that three of the members of the VC — Bill Giles, Andy MacPhail and John Harrington — were front office executives and management hardliners during the late-Eighties collusion era.* Frustrated by getting their asses kicked by Miller, they tried to break the union by conspiring to chill the market for free agents after the 1985, 1986, and 1987 seasons. Their crime wound up costing teams $280 million dollars in damages, according to the 1990 settlement (pdf). From my BP feature:
In the 2007 election, [former commissioner and Miller adversary Bowie] Kuhn had garnered just 14 out of 84 votes, well behind not only Miller but six other candidates. In fact, of the elected, only [former Dodger owner Walter] O'Malley had received significant support beforehand:
                   2007    2008
Barney Dreyfuss ---- 83.3%*
Bowie Kuhn 17.3% 83.3%*
Walter O'Malley 44.4% 75.0%*
Ewing Kauffman ---- 41.7%
John Fetzer ---- 33.3%
Marvin Miller 63.0% 25.0%
Bob Howsam ---- 25.0%
Buzzie Bavasi 37.0% <25.0%
Gabe Paul 12.3% <25.0%
John McHale ---- <25.0%
Bill White 29.6% ----
August Busch Jr. 16.0% ----
Charley O. Finley 12.3% ----
Phil Wrigley 11.1% ----
The reason for that stunning reversal was a deck stacked significantly in favor of Kuhn and against Miller. Of the 12 men on the committee, only Monte Irvin, Bobby Brown and Harmon Killebrew ever played in the majors, and none of them played a single game in the post-Reserve Clause era. Along with three writers — Paul Hagen (Philadelphia Daily News), Rick Hummel (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) and Hal McCoy (Dayton Daily News) — the committee contained no less than seven owners or executives: Brown (American League president), John Harrington (Red Sox), Jerry Bell (Twins), Bill DeWitt Jr.,(Cardinals), Bill Giles (Phillies), David Glass (Royals) and Andy MacPhail (Orioles). If anyone needed further evidence that the vote was reliant on the Old Boy network, it's worth noting that DeWitt, Giles and MacPhail are legacies whose fathers (and in MacPhail's case, a grandfather) were on the management side during the Reserve Clause era. Worse, Giles, Harrington and MacPhail were all on the management side during baseball's disgraceful collusion saga in the Eighties.

"Now I took one look at that committee and I didn't have to have any help. I couldn't possibly get nine votes out of that committee," says Miller, noting not only the taint of collusion among those ranks but also more subtle links to management. "Just take Monte Irvin. Fine player, et cetera, but after he was a player, he worked for Bowie Kuhn for more than 10 years. Would you expect him to vote for me?"

Were this a jury, Miller could have demanded a mistrial due to the slate's bias, but Hall candidates have no such recourse. As Jim Bouton succinctly summarized, "Essentially, the decision for putting a union leader in the Hall of Fame was handed over to a bunch of executives and former executives. Marvin Miller kicked their butts and took power away from the baseball establishment — do you really think those people are going to vote him in? It's a joke."
According to Brown's article, Bell, DeWitt, Giles, MacPhail and Glass — a bloc of enough stooges to prevent Miller's election right there — are all still on the VC. The three players have been replaced... by two players, Robin Roberts and Tom Seaver. Both were among those who declined a seat on the committee the last time around, and while perhaps they can more eloquently state Miller's case to the rest of the committee, that's still one fewer vote than he had going in.

I'm torn here. While I'm 100 percent convinced that the man should be in the Hall of Fame, I also respect his wishes. I suppose I'd rather see him tell the Hall exactly how far to shove it if the election were to somehow turn out in his favor. Given the makeup of the VC, I simply don't see that happening. The bottom line is that we're in for another farce.

* In the interview transcript, I mistakenly listed the three collusion-linked execs Miller was implicating as DeWitt, MacPhail and Harrington. The feature, which was published a few days prior, gets it right.

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