Marvin Miller, Hall of Famer

The union founder made ballplayers unimaginably rich. Will they ever have the guts to demand that he be enshrined in Cooperstown?

Published January 3, 2001 8:00PM (EST)

Week after next the baseball Hall of Fame will announce its 2001 selections for players, and that will leave a considerable segment of the sports press to focus on one of its favorite winter topics: Will Marvin Miller finally make it into Cooperstown? Miller would appear to have every vote needed to make it into the Hall of Fame except one. Or maybe two or three.

Red Barber, who gets my vote as the greatest broadcaster of all time, called Miller, along with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson, "one of the two or three most important men in baseball history." Arthur Ashe felt Miller had done "more for the welfare of black athletes than anyone else." Bob Costas thinks that with the possible exception of Branch Rickey, "there is no nonplayer more deserving of the Hall of Fame." Even such former executives as Buzzy Bavasi endorse Miller's candidacy.

Miller, who founded the Major League Baseball Players Association, has no trouble lining up endorsements from players. Hank Aaron once wrote that "Marvin Miller should be in the Hall of Fame if the players have to break down the doors to get him in." Tom Seaver has called Miller's exclusion from the Hall "a national disgrace." Joe Morgan says, "They should vote him in and then apologize for making him wait so long."

Great. So now let's see what some of these people intend to do about Miller. Last year Brooks Robinson, former union rep for the Baltimore Orioles, said, "Too many of us who want this to happen have let it slide for a long time. This year, we're going to ask the right questions and find the right answers to get it done." This means, presumably, that Robinson and other former players on the Hall's Board of Directors and Veterans Committee now have the answer as to whether or not Miller qualifies under Rule 6(B) of the "Rules for Election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame Committee on Baseball Veterans."

6(B) has long been cited as the reason Miller is not in the Hall of Fame; HOF spokesmen have simply voiced the opinion for many years that "he's not eligible." What does 6(B) actually say? Here it is: "Baseball Executives and/or Managers and/or Umpires who have been retired from organized baseball as Baseball Executives and/or Managers and/or Umpires for at least five years prior to the election are eligible." 6(B) does not say, as some have said it does, that only "Executives" who worked for "Major League Baseball" are eligible, and as executive director of the Players Association Miller represented not merely one team but all teams.

Rule 6(B) is not a reason Miller is not in the Hall of Fame, it's the excuse. But it's an excuse many have bought into. For instance, Leonard Koppett, veteran sportswriter and Veterans Committee member, says, "It's the interpretation of the rule that matters. The Board of Directors makes the rules, and we can't put Marvin on the ballot until the board interprets the rule and tells us it's OK." And that, says Jeff Idelson, vice president for communications and education of the Hall of Fame, is baloney.

"There is nothing in Rule 6(B) to prohibit Marvin Miller's candidacy. If Leonard Koppett or anyone else wants to put up his hand and say, 'Let's rule on Marvin Miller,' they'd have to vote. So why hasn't someone put up his hand?"

Because, as a Veterans Committee member who asked not to be named put it, "Somebody on the Screening Committee always has a hang-up about Rule 6(B)."

Ah, yes, the Screening Committee. The Hall of Fame will tell you who is on every committee except the Screening Committee. Joe Morgan, for one, confesses that he "didn't even know about the Screening Committee." The Screening Committee is the committee that's supposed to bring the candidates before the Veterans Committee, and there is a very, very good chance that there are some people on it who used to work for the baseball owners whom Miller routed so convincingly in the 1970s and '80s when winning free agency for the players. And somehow, despite the fact that not a single person connected with baseball will go on the record as being against Miller's candidacy, the Screening Committee never seems to remember Marvin Miller's name when it comes time to go before the Veterans Committee. If Kafka had wanted to write a baseball novel, I'd have a great subject for him.

Jim Bunning, Hall of Fame pitcher, senator from Kentucky and perhaps the only Republican in the country to resoundingly endorse a labor leader, is the one who says it best: "The Hall of Fame is about players, and no one did more for the players than Marvin Miller."

Thank you for straightening this out, Jim. The Hall of Fame is a museum. Without the players donating them, there are no balls, bats, uniforms or anything else to display -- no Hall of Fame, period. The Players Association, working with the former players on the Veterans Committee, should present a united front to the owners' people who run the show at Cooperstown: "We want Marvin Miller in, period. Tell us what kind of rule we have to pass or vote we have to take. Do it or no more balls, bats, uniforms or anything else."

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Too many bowl games? For what?

I've never understood why so many sportswriters complain about the plethora of year-end college bowl games. "There's too many!" "Who can watch them all?"

"Too many" for what? When a bowl can't find teams good enough to sell tickets and attract viewers, it dies; the process of natural selection weeds out the weak. As far as watching them all, what idiot ever thought he was supposed to watch every college bowl game? Do you watch every basketball game in the NCAA Tournament? I thought the general idea was to choose the team that matters most to you and read a book or something the rest of the time.

I'm curious, though, as to how many people like the new "One Bowl For All the Marbles" system, with the big game played on Jan. 3? Myself, I used to enjoy having two or three major bowls on New Year's Day, then arguing about which one decided the national championship. Does anyone like it better the way it is now?

One thing the championship game has done is thinned out the top-flight teams in the other major bowls, a classic example being the Oregon State-Notre Dame mismatch in the Fiesta Bowl, which was only made because of Notre Dame's history, not for its 2000 season.

A lot of people thought I was picking on Notre Dame earlier in the year when I suggested the school should downscale its schedule, as Army has, to match its talent. I wasn't. I was being realistic. I like it when Notre Dame wins; it adds enormous interest to the football season. But Notre Dame can no longer win or even compete consistently with the major college powers, as Monday's 41-9 humiliation proved.

I'll say it again: If Notre Dame is going to continue to de-emphasize football in favor of strict academic standards, it would do us all a lot of good by setting an example and becoming a decent 1-AA program. But whatever the Notre Dame brass decides, it had better decide it can't recruit the way it has been recruiting and continue to play major college football.

By Allen Barra

Allen Barra is the author of "Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends."

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