Two thoughts on Marvin Miller

I wrote over at NBC this morning that I think Marvin Miller was a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame. Not everyone agrees with that. Not even some pretty damn reasonable people. Here are two perspectives. First Rob Neyer:

I mentioned this morning that I’m still an agnostic regarding Whitey Herzog’s Hall of Fame candidacy. I suppose I’m also agnostic about Marvin Miller. Before you tear my head off, let me ask you one question: If you believe that Marvin Miller belongs, would you be comfortable with Scott Boras someday joining Miller? Because Boras, too, has been historically significant and reaped untold millions of dollars for the players.

Point taken, but doesn’t the innovation trump mere exploitation? Isn’t comparing Miller to Boras this like comparing Henry Ford and Lee Iacocca? Wait, that’s not even fair. Iacocca at least developed the Mustang. Isn’t that like comparing Ford and the CEO of Toyota? If there’s an automobile Hall of Fame Ford’s in it. The CEO of Toyota isn’t.

Another perspective comes from NBC commenter Simon DelMonte (don’t worry; he’s one of the reasonable ones over there):

I’m as pro-union as they come in this day and age, the son of a proud member of the teachers union. And I usually agree with Marvin Miller when he gives interviews on the state of affairs in baseball. But I still feel uncomfortable about having him in the Hall. His accomplishments were off the field. Period. And just don’t know if they helped the game. Helped the players, yes. The game? I don’t think so.

Can I offer a compromise candidate in Curt Flood? Here is a brave man who changed the game as well, but was also a pretty good player. And someone who, unlike Miller, basically lost his career for his principles.

Well, for starters there are a lot of guys in the Hall whose accomplishments were “off the field,” so that’s a non-starter. I understand the thinking behind the “good for the players and not the game” argument, but I don’t buy it. The game is radically different now than it was before free agency, I’ll grant that. But I think it’s a tall order to say that the game is worse off. More people watch it now. Everyone makes more money. The quality of play remains high. There is competitive imbalance, but is it any worse than what we saw during the alleged Golden Age? Are Royals fans really worse off than St. Louis Browns fans were? Wait, we can’t answer that because there are no more St. Louis Browns.

As for Flood: if you’re inclined to put him in the Hall of Fame, I can’t see how you can argue against Miller. Miller was behind Flood’s challenge in the first place. If failed in his case. Miller persisted and ultimately won with other players what could not be won with Flood alone. Ultimately they were after the same thing, and one succeeded where the other failed. Why honor the guy who failed instead of the one who succeeded? Put less harshly, why honor the name out in front of the challenge instead of the mastermind?

Ultimately my argument for Miller comes down to this: there were three times in baseball history where everything frickin’ changed: the end of the deadball era, the integration of baseball and the advent of free agency. Marvin Miller was the force behind that third one. How can you not honor that?

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  1. YankeesfanLen said...

    Unfortunately, Henry Ford was kind of an historical mess.After 1920 he became stubborn and refused to innovate to advance his company.  Hank the Deuce had to save it and empowered Lee to come up with a few “better Ideas” and a power struggle insued with the guy with his name on the building winning.
    Maybe the same thing happened with Miller- he came in and elevated the player’s ability to deal fairly with baseball on an economic basis, the game gained steam, and the guys with their names on the building made out fine as well.
    Not that adding the DH didn’t help……

  2. Rob² said...

    I saw Neyer’s comments today and I thought it was a disingenuous bit of straw man arguing.  People shouldn’t support Miller because he earned a lot of players (and agents) a lot of money.  People should support Miller because he helped to fundamentally changed the structure of the game.  And it *was* a positive change, no matter how distasteful it might be when free agents leave town for the big money in the big cities.

    And don’t tell me that free agent salaries drive ticket prices.  Demand for tickets drives ticket prices.  Revenue drives payrolls.

  3. cosmic charlie said...

    Innovation trumps exploitation – well said.  The historical significance of Marvin Miller greatly outweighs that of Scott Boras.  I would say it’s like comparing Rosa Parks to Jeremiah Wright.  Ballplayers pre-Miller were not oppressed by the likes of Jim Crow laws, but they were paid relatively puny pittances while owners sat back and took the lion’s share of the revenue.  The reserve clause left them no leverage to negotiate and they had no retirement plan at all.  By the 1970’s they were the only American workers who lacked these basic rights.
    Boras just negotiates $16,000,000 a year up to $20,000,000.  It’s not just a matter of degree or perception.  The distinction is principle vs. mere greed.
    The Scott Borases of today could not exist were it not for Marvin Miller.

  4. Tony A said...

    I certainly think MM deserves the honor, but the final question related to how someone could not support his candidacy.  The answer is that the world outside the 2 leagues has more or less gravitated to a pro-owner, anti-player stance, for reasons that completely escape me.  So long as this is true, the baseball writers, who are the group from which HOF votes come, will toe the line that best keeps their bread well buttered…

  5. Ron said...

    Without having the chance to look it up, I believe the criteria for election to the Hall is how did that person affect the game. 

    Marvin Miller defintely had an impact on what happened with the players. No one can argue that.

    But I still (among many others) question his positive impact on the game.

    If you want to advocate Miller for the Hall, don’t you have to include Dr Jobe, George Toma, Dave McNally, the Shea guy who tried to start the CBL and forced expansion in the 60’s, all of the National League owners in the 20’s who advocated the designated hitter, Bud Selig (yeah, I hate to say it, but interleague play, wild card?), Bill Veeck (understood it was about the fans), the inventor of the knuckleball, the guy who invented sliding pads, the first GM to put pads on the outfield walls, and the GM who first figured out that teams need trainers? 

    They all had more of an impact on the gmae as Miller did. And they all had as much an impact on the players as Miller did.

    I’m all into the free market, but creating a system where anyone gets paid $25 mil to play a gmae doesn’t have nearly as much impact at the ones listed above.

  6. Bob Tufts said...

    It’s pretty obvious that the Miller dissenters have not read “Lords of the Realm” or “Imperfect Diamond”. Come back and comment further when you’ve educated yourself beyond the “Waaahhh! Players nake too much money” syndrome stage.

    The fact that Bowie Kuhn is in the HOF before Miller is akin to admitting Wile E. Coyote before the Roadrunner.

  7. Steve C said...

    If you want to talk about non-players / non-coaches being inducted into the hall of fame I think Frank Jobe needs to be thrown into the mix.  The guy played a pivotal role in making “Tommy John” surgery a common occurrence in baseball.

    The least they could do is re-name the surgery after him, right?

  8. MooseinOhio said...

    So where do we stand on the inclusion of the San Diego chicken in the HoF?  He played an really important part in making mascots an acceptable part of the baseball game experience and certainly created a new revenue stream for owners to exploit (I’ve purchased several Wally figures for nephews to understand the power of marketing to kids). 

    If Bud were to be introduced in the same class as the SD chicken – who’s inclusion would be devalued? 

    As for Miller – he should be in with references to Curt Flood who risked a great deal in the fight for players rights as well as Miller needed a complainant to make his case.  The ramification for losing the case were much greater for Flood than Miller.

  9. Aaron Moreno said...

    Jobe should definitely be in the Hall. Czar Bud will be there too. Most commissioners who don’t get slaughtered get in.

  10. Diesel said...

    The comparison of Miller and Boras is problematic thanks to the nature of their roles. Miller’s job was to represent every player in baseball, and by all accounts (except Bowie Kuhn’s) did so with distinction. Scott Boras is an agent to individual players, which means that while positive changes to baseball have been made because of him, they were incidental.

    I think Scott Boras has been great for the players in his own right, but I don’t know that I think he should be in the HOF (nor does anyone else, apparently). Miller, on the other hand, is an indelible face in the history of the game.

  11. Ron said...

    “Miller, on the other hand, is an indelible face in the history of the game”

    Diesel, are you basing that on ‘fame’, and not on his baseball achiievements. Becasue isn’t the Hall supposed to be about achievements in the game itself, not contracts. 

    The game has will play on regardless of the contracts. Someone will always want to play, and somene else will always want to watch.

    They all have an idelible face in the history of baseball.  So do, for that matter, every member of the Black Sox and Hal Chase.

    If you’re basing it on ‘fame’, how come you didn’t add in Rose, Jackson, Morris, etc.

  12. Rob² said...

    “I’m all into the free market, but creating a system where anyone gets paid $25 mil to play a game doesn’t have nearly as much impact at the ones listed above.”

    What about creating a system where millions of fans pay billions of dollars to just sit around and watch a game?

    It’s a simple fact that revenue drives salaries.  Anyone who wants to argue that point should be prepared to demonstrate that ticket prices drop in response to owners cutting payroll.

    I’m tired of hearing that players make too much money.  Without free agency, the athletes that we watch play baseball would be playing other sports.  And that’s the fundamental reason why Marvin Miller made baseball a better game.

  13. Diesel said...

    @ Ron

    If you believe Marvin Miller only changed “contracts,” I would suggest you actually do a little research on the man before offering an opinion on him. You can say that you don’t think his contributions were positive, but it’s inarguable that they were manifest.

    Virtually every commish in the history of baseball is in. Let’s drop the “on the field” nonsense, as a sign of respect for each other. The only reason Marvin Miller isn’t in the hall is because he is and has been reviled in every owner’s box, and worse the former players he helped free and enrich are ungrateful twits.

  14. Rob² said...

    A better though experiment for Neyer’s point about Boras would be if Boras were actually able to eliminate the draft.  Let’s say that he challenged the draft in court somehow and it was eliminated through judicial action.

    Forgetting for a moment the difficulties inherent in this, or the fact that a court could probably not eliminate the draft because it’s part of collective bargaining, would those who support Miller’s candidacy for the Hall (of whom I am one) also support Boras’s?

    I don’t know how I’d feel about it.  I’d probably want to see more of the eventual effect over time, but it’s probably a fairly similar case study to what Miller did in the 70s.

  15. Derek Ambrosino said...

    I’m all into the free market, but creating a system where anyone gets paid $25 mil to play a gmae doesn’t have nearly as much impact at the ones listed above.

    That’s not what Miller did; Miller created a system in which players were not treated as chattel. A subtle difference.

    @ MooseinOhio,

    The San Diego Chicken is in the Mascot Hall of Fame. In fact, he was in the inaugural class with the Phillie Phanatic, and the Phoenix Suns Gorilla.

  16. Calvin said...

    Mostly agree, except on your Toyota analogy. Toyota is credited with inventing Lean Manufacturing and Just In Time Production. Pretty innovative. Heck, those ideas have amazing relevance even in my web startup.

  17. Ron said...

    There’s no doubt that Miller made everything better for the players. And for the record, I’m not against free agency, and think the Reserve Clause and the anti-trust expemptions were both jokes.

    But as I said, Miller made things better for the players. Many of whom don’t care about the game or the fans (you know, the people who make it all possible). What they care about it cashing a paycheck. Some of them were more interested in what thier playoff money was than actually winning.

    And for the record, I don’t have anything against anyone cashiing a check for all they can get. I’m poor. I’d like more, myself.

    Maybe the players should create their own Hall of Fame and enshrine Miller. I don’t have an issue with that. But someone still has to explain to me how Miller made the “GAME” better. Because in my opinion, he didn’t. And that’s what the Hall should be for.

    What’s funny to me, is many of the people advocating Miller go in because some bad commissioners are in are the same names I see commenting that Dawson, Raines, and Blyleven going in would somehow cheapen the Hall. Now that’s funny.

    When a union becomes so powerful that they can stop Rodriguez with accepting a trade to the Red Sox for more money (even though he wanted to) or tells Sabatthia that he needs to sign with the Yankees for as much money as he can get (and not necessarily with the team he wanted), then that proves my point.

    Miller was good for the players.

    How was he good for the game.

    And if people want to go with the fame angle, then he should be inducted alongside Rose, the Black Sox, and Ray Chapman.

  18. Michael Caragliano said...

    I’ve always said that if you carved out baseball’s Mount Rushmore, the four faces up there, based on how they revolutionized the game, should be Alexander Cartwright, Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson and Marvin Miller. I think the Hall of Fame honor just won’t come until Miller is no longer alive- surprising, given that many of the veterans committee voters are the generation of players who most directly benefited from what Miller did.

  19. pinball1973 said...

    Um, when did Neyer turn into a jerk?  I bet we could actually find the exact day, perhaps four years ago, with research.

      What a f-ckin’ STUPID comparison for anyone who has written about the history of Baseball!

    DelMonte just sounds like a run-of-the-mill sportswriter – someone impossible to get annoyed at because there is nothing in that empty little, bitty can.  A maroon. 

      Miller in the HoF this year?  I dunno.  He’s overqualified, so not going in on the first vote seems as much an insult as an honor, especially given the company of the likes of the owners crammed in there.

  20. Simon DelMonte said...

    I am reasonable?  Dear lord, what has the world come to?

    Never mind that apparently I’m being referred to in the same breath as Rob Neyer.  Or at least the same post.

  21. Tony A said...

    I like Jobe, Veeck, and the guy that invented the knuckle ball for the hall, but, the last of those three is sorta persona non grata along with the rest of the Black Sox…too bad…hell of a pitcher…

  22. Derek Ambrosino said...

    So, Miller is the blame for the (alleged lack of) professional motivation of the players?

    There was a system in place. EVERY owner took advantage of it at the detriment of the players. The system was changed. SOME players placed their paycheck above their dedication to their job, you know, like what the vast, vast majority of all people in our country do. I don’t see the problem. And, I certainly don’t see how Miller is to blame, as if the players were somehow bastions of altruism all before this jerkwad helped enable capitalism to work for the workers, a little bit, as well as the owners.

    And, professional athletes, by definition, have out-achieved like 99.9% percent of all those in their field. I love how freely and quickly the general public jumps to question their motivations to succeed. The false dichotomy of talent and work ethic is so ridiculously pervasive among the discourse surrounding the game and its players it really does a great job of thwarting sensible discussion of labor issues.

  23. Derek Ambrosino said...

    If that’s how you feel.

    My comment was basically directed at Ron who was incinuating that players were basically undeserving of the freedoms to negotiate their compensation in a competitive market because… some of them were motivated chiefly by financial success?

    In fact, anybody who works for a living who castigates baseball players for their salaries is, in my estimation, actually tilting at windmills.

    The “they’re playing a game” argument is,I believe, the one that grates me most, as it is ridiculous, naive, and self-aggrandizing on virtually every level possible.

  24. Ron said...

    Derek Ambrosino

    You need to go back actually read what I wrote. Because you obviously didn’t.

    And since you want to resort to name calling, what do you call someone who comments on a post/comment without actually reading it? 

    Did you come over from CTB?

  25. Derek Ambrosino said...

    No. Actually, I’m a writer for a small website you may have heard of; it’s called The Hardball Times. (Fantasy section, though. I assume you don’t make your way to that side of the site, but that’s nothing I would hold against you. I just found it kinda funny you asked where I came from)


    But as I said, Miller made things better for the players. Many of whom don’t care about the game or the fans (you know, the people who make it all possible). What they care about it cashing a paycheck. Some of them were more interested in what thier playoff money was than actually winning.

    …someone still has to explain to me how Miller made the “GAME” better. Because in my opinion, he didn’t. And that’s what the Hall should be for.

    There’s no logical reason to include anything in you first paragraph after the first sentence if that you are not implying what I noted. In fact, I’d assert my intepretation is the only reasonable interpretation of that paragraph. So, if that’s not your contention, the error lies in your communication not in my comprehension.

    And, as to the second para, do you not see a connection between the players and the game?

    In fact, the players ARE the game. You imply, in your first para, that the fans are the game. That’s actually 180 degrees off. The players are what make it a game; without them there is no game. The fans, on the other hand, make it a business. By the way, that’s why the players aren’t just “playing a game,” but producing what is the product on which multi-billion dollar industries are based.

    It has already been pointed out that were the players to not have these freedoms, they wouldn’t be playing baseball. Hence, the game would clearly be suffering.

  26. Ron said...


    As I said, reat what I wrote. Because you clearly haven’t. You’re also cherry picking certain comments and trying to tell me what I said without referencing other statements that clearly contradict your point.

    But thanks for doing my thinking for me. I’m obviously not capable of it myself. Nice to know that an ‘opinion’ can be ‘wrong’. That’s a new one on me.

    I’m trying to decied between Chinese and Mexican for dinner. Can you help me out?

    I’m bettting the answer will be Italian.

  27. Derek Ambrosino said...

    I’ve read all your comments, Ron. I quoted half your post. Cherrypicking? What other context was missing. Are you lamenting the I omitted your contention that sliding pads are more important to the game the repeal of the reserve clause? Because, that clearly strenghens your argument…

    Opinions are not right or wrong (though some are more “valid” than others, but that’s something of a semantic debate). Marvin Miller should not be/does not desrve to be in the Hall of Fame is an opinion, and I can’t say that opinion is wrong, I guess. …That is, of course, provided you’d stick to the same belief if I advanced the “opinion” that Willie Mays doesn’t deserve to be in the HOF.

    But, what I can say, that is a little more objective is that your opinion is predicated on some profound misunderstandings between how the business aspect of the institution is related to the game and to the players, and how the changing dynamics of one impact the others. Also, you seem to be unable to disassociate Marvin Miller the salaries of today’s superstars. That’s, I dunno, like blaming Otto Hahn for Hiroshima.

    But don’t take my word for you being off base, read the comments of everybody else who reacted to your statement.

    The last word is yours.

  28. Jack Marshall said...

    Craig, I wouldn’t vote for Miller. He was a lawyer; he had no interest in baseball at all, its welfare, future or long-term strength. If he could get his clients the money they wanted and destroy baseball, he would have done it. His position on steroids now is typical. He feels the players should never have agreed to testing. He’d protect their use of steroids no matter what its effect on the game,again, baseball has always been his adversary, not his client. I also believe his contribution was fungible. He had the job at the right time, but many other lawyers could and would have accomplished the same thing. I don’t think baseball is appreciably different than it would have been if Miller had never been born.

    I think Boras as a comparison is fair…he’s another lawyer who had no obligation to do anything for baseball. Who was the first big baseball agent? He would be the pioneer, whoever he is…and I wouldn’t elect him, either.

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