It’s a column those of us who cover baseball for a living have written a lot: Of course Marvin Miller should be in the Hall of Fame.
So why isn’t he? And if he does get in someday, he won’t be alive to enjoy it. Why does this happen so often? Why do we wait so long?
It was like Ron Santo last year.
Santo was on the Veterans Committee ballot, yet he wasn’t elected until a year after his death. It’s still an honor for the family, and the committee doesn’t know when someone is going to die, but I would have loved to see Santo give his induction speech in Cooperstown. I mean, didn’t we all know that Santo was a Hall of Famer for a long, long time?
It’s not as if we haven’t trumpeted Miller’s case for years, either.
Miller was 95 when he died Tuesday, four decades after he changed baseball forever when he opened the door for free agency and created a powerful players union that transformed not only baseball but other sports forever.
It has been 44 years since Miller negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement in sports history in 1968. It’s 38 years since he challenged the “reserve clause,’’ when Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally played out the option years of their contracts and won their freedom.
The result of all this was that in the next collective bargaining agreement, players were granted free agency after six years of major league service.
Think about this: When Miller first formed the union, the major league minimum salary was $6,000. Today it’s $480,000. He got salary arbitration. What resulted from that? An average salary of $3.4 million in 2012, that’s what.
That’s why you now have the “Hot Stove” season. Because of Miller, there is interest in the game when it isn’t even being played on the field. It’s why news organizations spend millions of dollars covering offseason news, with significant players changing teams as free agents.
The Hot Stove season is almost as exciting as the regular season.
Because of this transformation, the worth of franchises has gone through the roof.
Thank Marvin Miller.
The Hall of Fame has a category for contributors, which usually means a successful owner, or general manager, or even a legendary umpire.
But Miller has to be considered one of the most influential people in baseball history. Who in the game has had a greater impact. Jackie Robinson? Babe Ruth? Hank Aaron? OK, they all played the game at a very high level and accomplished incredible things.
But tell me that Miller doesn’t belong in the same conversation as any Hall of Fame owner, manager, or broadcaster.
For a few years, the Veterans Committee has taken its vote during the winter meetings, and I can’t tell you how many times the question has been asked of panel members, “Why didn’t Miller get any support?”
I don’t want to buy into the theory that baseball executives resent him. Please, in 2012, they still resent him? When Miller started his drive to unionize the players, he was met with all sorts of threats and criticism. Can this still be going on?
And sure, maybe we curse him when some player gets a five-year, zillion-dollar deal and is a complete bust. But that’s not Miller’s fault.
There are a lot of anti-union sentiments these days, and critics have always said the Major League Baseball Players Association isn’t a real union because its constituency doesn’t fall into the usual blue-collar demographic.
But if it hadn’t been for Miller, the stars of the game never would have received their just due or just pay for making money for the owners who employ them.
Red Sox special adviser Bill James wrote the introduction to Miller’s book, “A Whole Different Ballgame,” and has one sentence that truly sums up Miller’s contribution to baseball: “If baseball ever buys itself a mountain and starts carving faces on it, one of the first men to go up is sure to be Marvin Miller.”
If there is a baseball Mt. Rushmore, he would be Jefferson or Washington. Right now, Miller’s face is not represented in Cooperstown, but many players who benefited from his leadership are.
Miller, who led the union through three strikes and two lockouts, missed out on enshrinement in 2003, 2007, and 2011.
Even Miller himself was upset at the 2007 vote, saying, “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, 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.”
And now I’m wondering, when he’s eligible again a year from now, whether all of a sudden the deceased Miller will get the necessary votes to gain entry. And then we’ll shake our heads and say, “Couldn’t this have been done a lot sooner — like when he was alive?”
Why do we do this? We have long known that Miller’s accomplishments warranted him being in the Hall of Fame.
We never seem to do the right thing . . . until it’s too late.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.