King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Bowie Kuhn in, Marvin Miller snubbed. The baseball Hall of Fame embarrasses itself. Plus: Evel Knievel.


King Kaufman
December 4, 2007 4:15PM (UTC)

The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., is a great museum and research institution. The least interesting room in the joint is the actual hall containing the plaques of the enshrined, of the greats, the near greats and, starting next summer, the late Bowie Kuhn.

That room keeps getting less and less interesting. It's missing Pete Rose and Buck O'Neil, and in a few years it'll start being notably absent some deserving players who happened to be among the few who either got caught taking or were widely assumed to have taken steroids, thus depriving them of the chance to join the various and sundry users already honored, not to mention scoundrels like Tom Yawkey and Ty Cobb.

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The hall also continues to ignore the two nonparticipants who have had the greatest impact on the game in the last half century, Marvin Miller, the first executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, and statistical analyst Bill James. James wasn't considered in the voting announced Monday. Miller, 90, was snubbed Monday, kept out in a classic stacked election.

Kuhn, who died in March, was elected along with former Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley, early 20th-century Pittsburgh Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss, and former managers Dick Williams and Billy Southworth. Of those elected, only Williams is alive. All but Kuhn had strong cases for enshrinement, though we'll leave them to others to discuss.

They were voted in by the latest iteration of the Veterans Committee. The last version, consisting of every living Hall of Famer, never let anyone else into the club, so it was revamped into 12-member panels that separately consider players, managers and umpires, and executives and pioneers.

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That was too bad for Miller, who had gone from being named on 44 percent of ballots in 2003 to being named on 63 percent in the last election earlier this year. The cutoff for election was 75 percent.

The new executive/pioneer panel was made up of seven people connected with management as owners or executives, along with three writers and two former players. Candidates needed nine votes. Miller, the greatest foe management ever had, never had a chance. He got three.

"Because he was the players' voice, and represented them vigorously, Marvin Miller was the owners' adversary," Donald Fehr, the players association chief since 1985, said in statement. "This time around, a majority of those voting were owner representatives, and results of the vote demonstrate the effect that had."

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Any institution that claims to honor baseball's greats that votes Bowie Kuhn in on the same day it leaves Marvin Miller out deserves to be ignored. At least it's still a hell of a museum.

Kuhn wasn't a scoundrel, merely a reactionary stuffed shirt who as commissioner from 1969 to 1984 presided over tectonic shifts in the structure of the game -- just about all of which he opposed, even long after history showed he'd been on the wrong side of the argument. When he spent years pronouncing that free agency would bankrupt baseball, for example, he was simply as wrong as a person can be.

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Miller, who headed the union from 1966 to 1983, spent more than a decade beating Kuhn at every step. Putting Kuhn into the Hall of Fame before Miller is like voting for the Washington Generals as the greatest basketball team of all time.

Even leaving Miller out of the argument, Kuhn did nothing as commissioner to deserve enshrinement. He stayed in the chair for 13 years, so there's that, but keeping the chair warm was probably his greatest accomplishment -- and I don't know that he even did that.

The Hall of Fame's stacked election is an embarrassment to a fine institution that's had its share of embarrassments lately. It's ridiculous that Miller, who had such a massive impact, should get fewer votes than Ewing Kauffman, who couldn't spell his name properly but was a very fine owner of the Kansas City Royals, and fewer than John Fetzer.

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You're probably a baseball fan if you've come this far. Do you know John Fetzer's role in baseball history? Unless you're of a certain age and from Detroit, I'm betting not. He owned the Tigers from the early '60s to the early '80s.

Miller will be up for election again in two years, when he'll be 92. He hinted to Murray Chass of the New York Times that he'll asked to be left off the ballot then, having been snubbed three times already this century.

He said he let his wife talk him out of that request this time around. "My feeling was I shouldn't be on the ballot," he said, "but I let myself be persuaded one more time."

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Miller, willing to gripe about his snubs, seems to take them harder than O'Neil took his, at least publicly. He shouldn't. His place in history is secure. All that's happening is that he's being left out of an increasingly irrelevant room in an otherwise fine museum.

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Evel Knievel, 1938-2007 [PERMALINK]

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When 1970s nostalgia started to kick in around 1990, it all seemed to be about disco and "The Brady Bunch," pet rocks and feathered hair. It struck me at the time that there was a major figure who'd been forgotten, a man whose impact on anyone roughly my age with access to a bicycle was almost unfathomably huge: Evel Knievel.

Knievel died over the weekend at age 69. He'd been in ill health for years, according to news reports. No wonder!

I was often not feeling so well myself after one of the many times my friends and I imitated Knievel by jumping our bikes over -- anything. Whatever we could find. It was usually bricks, sometimes just a certain number of squares in the sidewalk. New records were set all the time. You might have heard about some of them if you were around back then.

Whatever we were jumping over, the important material was plywood. Large chunks of my childhood were spent in search of plywood, the essential ingredient, after a bike, to becoming Evel. A hunk of plywood, propped up on a milk crate or something, became a take-off ramp.

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If you could find another one for a landing ramp, all the better for those smooth landings, though it strikes me now that the landing ramp probably increased the chance of injuries by giving us something unstable to hit the side of or bounce off.

Evel Knievel broke every bone in his body, we used to hear. We barely broke anything, but we kept trying.

If we couldn't find sufficient ramp-making materials, we'd improvise with natural formations. In our world, a stairway might be considered part of the natural environment. There were hills where I grew up, so even if we weren't engaged in Evel Knievel-inspired jumping, we could still live the Knievel ethic, as it were, by flying down a hill way faster than we had the ability to control.

And if we didn't have our bikes handy for some reason, that was OK too. We'd climb up to the roof of someone's house -- one-story ranch houses, these were -- and jump off, landing on the grass. I don't think anybody broke much of anything that way either.

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But we kept trying. We had a lot to live up to.

Previous column: Ohio State vs. LSU

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  • King Kaufman

    King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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