Why Marvin Miller Doesn’t Belong In The MLB Hall Of Fame In Cooperstown [Updated and RETRACTED!]

UDDATE! With apologies to all, I’m retracting this post. I had bad information: the entire thesis of the post is based on the false belief, which I acquired literally decades ago, that baseball union chief Marvin Miller was a lawyer. I know that a lawyer should not be celebrated for achieving the goals of his client; I’m not at all sure about my conclusions if the individual is a non-lawyer labor leader. I haven’t considered Miller in that context. I have to think about it.

I apologize to Ethics Alarms readers and also the admirers of Mr. Miller, and I hope he won’t be visiting me on Christmas Eve. One thing the web doesn’t need is more bad information, and I regret adding to it, even for a couple of hours.

My sincere thanks to reader LoSonnambulo for the slap in the face…

Last week,  Major League Baseball’s 6-member Modern Baseball Era committee considered ten Hall of Fame candidates, previously passed over in the regular voting process, whose biggest contributions to the game came between 1970 to 1987. It elected former Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Jack Morris and his Tiger team mate Alan Trammell, one of the very best shortstops of the era. Both were borderline choices, but Trammel was certainly deserving. Morris got over the hump because of a single memorable game, his Game 7, 10-inning, 1-0 shutout that won the 1971 World Series for Minnesota over Atlanta in of the 1991 World Series. Now that starting pitchers in the Series seldom go even 5 innings, much less ten, Morris’s performance seems especially god-like, but the fact remains that single achievements are not supposed to put players in the Cooperstown, New York Museum. Among the candidates who were rejected was my beloved Luis Tiant, the spinning, whirling, Cuban ace of the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox, one of the most unique pitchers in the history of the game, and while he was active, universally considered a great player, which he was. “Looie” deserves to be in the Hall, and is in his eighties now. He should have been voted in over Morris.

But the rejected candidate that sportswriters have long been rooting for wasn’t even a player. He’s Marvin Miller, who died in 2012 and who headed the players’ union from 1966 to 1982. Under Miller’s direction, the MLB players’ union became one of the strongest unions in the United States. He is credited with leading the efforts to eliminate the Reserve Clause, which once bound players to teams until they were traded, released, or retired. When he took over the union, the top baseball salary was about $100,000 a year. Today it is about 30 million a year, and the minimum salary is over $500,000. Legendary broadcaster Red Barber once said that  Miller, “along with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson, is one of the two or three most important men in baseball history.”

Well, Arnold Rothstein, Barry Bonds and the inventor of anabolic steroids had immense impact on baseball too.

All right, that’s very unfair: Miller’s work for the players reformed an unjust system, and allowed players to have real negotiation power and to be compensated in a more fair proportion to the value of their skills. It also resulted in ticket prices that make what was once cheap entertainment that could be afforded by the average 12-year-old now mostly a diversion for the wealthy, made many teams look like bus stations on the way to the New York Yankees, and made it extremely profitable for players like Bonds to cheat.

Miller didn’t worry  about any of the bad stuff. Indeed, when MLB was trying to impose drug testing to weed out the cheats, Marvin Miller fought it tooth and nail. He also was behind the first player strike and was the reason behind two lockouts by the team owners, disruption having the cumulative effect of nearly killing the sport.

There is nothing in Miller’s background that suggests that he played baseball, watched baseball, enjoyed baseball, followed baseball, or even knew how the game was played. That’s perfectly acceptable: lawyers are only required to do their legal, ethical best to achieve their clients‘ goals, which the lawyers need not share or even agree with. However, it is simply wrong to attribute those client goals to the lawyer who is, in essence,  a hired gun.

Does Johnny Cochran belong in the acquitted wife-killer’s Hall of Fame?

Miller was a brilliant labor lawyer. I’d vote for him to be admitted to the Labor Lawyer Hall of Fame, if there was one. He was one of the great union leaders in history: elect him to the Labor Union Hall of Fame. His impact on baseball, however, was his clients’ mission, not his. Lawyers like Marvin Miller don’t belong in baseball’s Hall.

(He also looked like Simon Legree, but that’s just my personal bias…)

12 thoughts on “Why Marvin Miller Doesn’t Belong In The MLB Hall Of Fame In Cooperstown [Updated and RETRACTED!]

  1. I’ll write more on this in a bit, but for now just a correction: Miller wasn’t a lawyer. He had an economics degree from NYU, and spent the first part of his career as an economist with the United Steelworkers Union.

    Also, it’s a 16-person panel who voted, not 6.

    • That’s interesting. So, he was a union rep. I think their ethical duties are even more stark than are lawyers’.

      This eulogy from the union: In a statement, Michael Weiner, the executive director of the MLBPA, said: “It is with profound sorrow that we announce the passing of Marvin Miller. All players – past, present and future – owe a debt of gratitude to Marvin, and his influence transcends baseball. Marvin, without question, is largely responsible for ushering in the modern era of sports, which has resulted in tremendous benefits to players, owners and fans of all sports.”

      Hah! Owners and fans?

  2. “10-inning, 1-0 shutout that won the 1971 World Series for Minnesota over Atlanta in of the 1991 World Series”

    Don’t you mean. “10-inning, 1-0 shutout that won Game Seven of the 1991 World Series for Minnesota over Atlanta”?

  3. “…the fact remains that single achievements are not supposed to put players in the Cooperstown, New York Museum.”

    The rules prohibit “automatic elections” based on special achievements, but don’t prohibit considering those achievements as part of a player’s overall record. I recall telling someone at the time that his extra-inning win had put put Morris into the Hall of Fame, but that would not have been true if he had not already put together quite a bit of the necessary resume.

    I love Luis Tiant, as well, and at his best I would probably choose him to pitch a game over Morris. That the latter is the one in the Hall of Fame is largely a matter of timing. Tiant arrived in the majors in 1964, when baseball was ruled by pitching giants like Koufax, Marichal, and Gibson, soon to be joined by Palmer, and Carlton, and Seaver. As great a pitcher as he was, Tiant didn’t quite reach their levels of performance.

    Jack Morris arrived in the majors in 1977. His selection this year made him the first starting pitcher whose career began between 1970 and 1986* to be voted into the Hall of Fame. Many great pitchers started their careers during that period, but pitchers get injured quite a bit. That group of pitchers endured a bloodbath, and all of the pitchers who looked like Hall of Famers at some point saw their arms go bad prematurely. Among those are Vida Blue, Don Gullett, Frank Tanana, Mark Fidrych, Ron Guidry, J.R. Richard, John Candelaria, Rick Reuschel, Steve Rogers, Mike Flanagan, Dave Steib, and Fernando Valenzuela. Morris probably wasn’t as good as these guys, but he outlasted them all and recorded more wins than anyone else in that generation. That got sloganed into “The Most Wins During the 1980s,” and with his postseason play and some other achievements his narrative was enough to put him in the Hall of Fame.

    I see some sense in Morris being selected ahead of Tiant. Baseball’s a zero-sum game: every hit by a batter is a hit against the pitcher, every win by one pitcher is a loss against another. If two lineups are equal, then the one with the better pitcher is usually going to win. That’s true whether the two pitchers are all-time greats, or a little off that level. It may have been just dumb luck, but I think Morris was more often the better pitcher in his games than Tiant was in his.

    *Roger Clemens, who would have been voted in if not for steroids issues, debuted in 1984.

    • That’s an excellent analysis. Tiant’s record matches up almost exactly with Catfish Hunter, who had better teams behind him. I still can’t get over the X-Factor being ignored: Looie was unlike anyone else, and his Game #4 in the 1975 Series was as impressive in its way as Morris’s gem, a 165 pitch grit-fest in which Tiant didn’t have his best stuff and still held a one run lead.He had many duels against Nolan Ryan, and prevailed as often as not.

      I’d say Morris was a good comp to Stieb. Fernando, Vida and Guidry were better, but didn’t last as long.

      • Have you ever looked at Miller’s memoir? If not, I’d urge you to read the chapter about the Curt Flood case. Based on Miller’s description, I think that he badly disserved Flood by bankrolling the case instead of telling him that Miller’s job was to get things by collective bargaining. I’d be curious to know if you agree.

        • I think he sacrificed Flood, that the case was necessary to get to the next step. Flood’s career was wrecked as a result.

          The owners were fools not to see the writing on the wall and agree to loosen the reserve clause without losing it entirely. But I don’t think they ever would have reached a satisfactory accord by collective bargaining.

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