Should Marvin Miller be in the Baseball Hall of Fame?

As of this year, he won’t be. Many people think that he will never be because some of the people who vote on that issue have negotiated against him and have built up a personal bias toward him.

But in an objective way, does he belong?

I, personally, believe the answer is “no.” Sure, he had a huge impact on the game, but did he improve it? Has free agency, his main accomplishment, in any way improved the fan experience or the accomplishments on the field? Seems to me that all it’s done is line players’ pockets and cancel portions of several seasons. Now I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing…the way players were treated by owners prior to free agency was shameful. However, is the Hall of Fame a place for baseball insiders to indulge in self-admiration, or for fans to admire those who have provided them with enjoyable experiences?

According to the HoF website, 22 MLB executives are in the HoF. I’d say having one union official is reasonable balance. :wink:

Free agency is undoubtedly Miller’s most significant accomplishment, and my contention is that it revitalized a game that was heading toward backwater status in the 1960s and early 1970s. The effect of free agency for the first 15-20 years was actually to spread talent around more evenly, making baseball more competitive. (As recently as 1989-90-91, the World Series winners were the A’s, Reds, and Twins, all small-market teams.)

I have no hard evidence that it happened, but would make economic sense that the increased salaries and additional attention resulting from free agency drew more talented players into baseball than would otherwise have been the case.

Chaim, I think your attributing the strikes to the players is misguided. In each of the strikes during the free-agency era, the owners precipitated the strikes by demanding that the players give back freedoms that they already had under free agency, and it’s been documented elsewhere that the goal of many owners in each instance was to break the union. (I recommend John Helyar’s Lords of the Realm: Lords of the Realm : The Real History of Baseball as a good economic history of the game, from its origins up to the 1994 abyss. It’s a great read, btw.)

In 1994, as sabermetrician Bill James pointed out, the owners were essentially trying to resolve the widening gap between large- and small-market teams by making the players pay. The gap between the two classes of teams is the fundamental problem that baseball has failed to come to grips with, and that can in no way be laid at the players’ door.

The fact that a number of problems have resulted from the executive suite’s opposition to the changes that Miller brought about cannot be reasonably used to negate the tremendous positive effect he had on the game. If 22 MLB executives are in the Hall, then Marvin Miller belongs there too.


Umm…have you checked out who these “executives” were? Most of the folks in this category were not management, they were founders of the game as we know it, such as Alexander Cartwright, George and Harry Wright and Ban Johnson. The category appears to cover anyone whose notable accomplishments in baseball are off the field. I imagine that if Miller were to be inducted, he’d be listed on that page as an “executive” as well.

And who were the league champions immediately prior to the advent of free agency? The Orioles, Pirates, A’s, Cardinals, Reds and Tigers (with a slight interruption by the Mets and Red Sox). You seem to be remembering pre-free agency as the time of the Yankees-Dodgers-Giants juggernaut, but that had collapsed on its own without free agency as a push. In fact, you could easily make the case that free agency is what took away the A’s dominance in the mid-seventies and re-started the Yankee dynasty.

I am doing no such thing. It definitely takes two sides to come to a work stoppage, and the players had legitimate grievances. However, Miller’s creation of the player’s union is definitely a precondition for the strikes, which was definitely a minus from a fan’s perspective. And where is the corresponding plus? Well, you wrote…

As you said, there’s no hard evidence that it happened. It doesn’t seem to me, statistically speaking, like the all-stars of today are better than the all-stars of yesteryear. Except for the McGwire-Sosa-Griffey home run binges, and Rickey Henderson’s spectacular stolen base records, I can’t find any case where a major single-season or career record is held by a player who began his career after the advent of free agency.

Chaim Mattis Keller

RTFirefly wrote:

Yeah, but one of 'em is Candy Cummings. Sure, he was an Exec., but he also invented the Curve Ball.

Chaim, so are you on the payroll of the Kansas City Royals or something?

Prior to free agency, there was just as much economic disparity in baseball as there is today. Ask a fan of the 1940s Browns or Senators what their chances of winning the pennant were. They would reply that they were slim. (The Browns did win their only pennant during the war-stricken years of WWII).

It was year after year of watching the Yankees or the Dodgers or the Cardinals in the World Series.

Teams like the Philadelphia Athletics would go from extremes of being among the most powerful teams in all of baseball (1910-1914 and 1929-1931) to being among the worst soon after, not unlike today’s Marlins.

For nearly 100 years, baseball players had their salaries held at arbitrarily low levels, with few of the same benefits that the average worker in America had (like collective bargaining and binding arbitration). Miller got those rights for the players.

Prior to Miller, baseball was run almost like an antebellum Southern plantation. Freedom of movement was strictly controlled by the owners. Salaries were low. Conditions were poor.

Miller was able to change that and, helped immensely by the gross stupidity of the owners that he was bargaining with, was able to turn the tables on the owners.

Is the game better now that it was prior to the Messersmith decision? I would say that it is. The Yankees have been successful lately only in part because they have the most money. They are also one of the best run teams with an intelligent plan for development on the major league and minor league level. The Oakland A’s are also intelligently run and their payroll is a fraction of the Yankees.

And don’t let us forget the brilliant management of teams like the Dodgers and Orioles who are rolling in cash.

As for executives in the HOF, Morgan Bulkeley is in only because he was the first president of the NL. He didn’t do much other than just be the guy who agreed to hold on to that job for one year. Lee McPhail was one of the worst negotiators the owners ever tried. He got into the HOF as a lifetime achievement award and because his father was in also.

As I’ve posted before…
If you’re shopping for a new car, is it possible to spend $75,000 foolishly and come away with a lemon? Definitely.

So, is it possible to spend $7500 wisely and come away with a fine-tuned, luxury car? Uh… no.

The same is true with professional baseball. Is it possible to spend 100 million bucks foolishly and end up in last place? Sure- ask Peter Angelos. So, is it possible to run a bargain basement operation, wisely and efficiently, and win the World Series with a payroll of 25 million? Not a chance, and you’re either intoxicated or working for Don Fehr if you say otherwise.

The Oakland Athletics came pretty darn close to the World Series last year. The Cincinnati Reds also did a fairly decent job with a restricted payroll in 1999.

You could also be the Pittsburgh Pirates and have a small payroll and spend that money foolishly, compounding your folly. (Paging Derek Bell. Paging Derek Bell.)

Just how many teams in MLB have absolutely no shot at the playoffs? Is the percentage any different than it was prior to free agency? No, it’s probably lower since more teams make the playoffs.

However, getting back to the OP, would going back to a pre-free agency era make the game of baseball any better?

And does every labor problem have to be attributed to the players?

Let’s get away from the baseball economic war argument and back to the issue. Should Miller be in the Hall of Fame?

In my opinion, the fact that 22 other executives have been elected is irrelevant; some of those men were elected more or less just for the hell of it. You can’t put Miller in just because he’s more significant than Morgan Bulkeley, because Bulkeley’s election was a mistake, just as it would be dumb to elect Mark Grace just because they elected George Kelly.

IMO, the case for Miller’s candidacy is ultra-weak. He’s not an executive, he’s a “Builder” in Hall of Fame terms, and it’s difficult to demonstrate what he built. He was of great service to the players, but in terms of building baseball as an institution or as a sport, I don’t see a lot of objective evidence for him making a big contribution. Time may tell a different story, but if you’re going to elect somebody to the HALL OF FAME, a really solid argument would be nice.

My arguments for Miller’s induction:

  1. He changed the way the game is played. Not on the field, but off of it. His presence changed the nature of baseball.

  2. He provided great assistance to the players. They started to receive commensurate pay and more workplace protections.

  3. He brought the game of baseball into the 20th Century from an economic standpoint. The game was no longer run as an antebellum Southern plantation, but rather as a business (albeit one still saddled with many artificial constraints.)
    That it took a labor organizer to make baseball’s management realize this is quite ironic.

Why is someone who worked for the welfare of the players deemed less worthy to make the Hall of Fame than others in the “Builders” category?