Column: Miller will make Hall and have last laugh
Somehow, some way, Marvin Miller is going to have the last
One tribute to the pioneering labor leader at the time of his
death little more than a year ago noted that Miller was still
listed in the phone book at the time. What should have been
included, as someone who called the number more than once could
attest, is that you were bound to end up chuckling at something or
other he said; and in the moment after that, you could be just as
certain the laughter would come echoing back.
There was nothing funny about the decision Monday by the
baseball Hall of Fame’s expansion-era committee to leave Miller on
the ballot, where he’s languished since 2001, and out of the
Cooperstown shrine. Three very worthy retired managers went in
unanimously and there’s no quibbling with the selection of Joe
Torre, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox.
”Marvin Miller should be in because he made an impact on this
game, and I was part of that, too,” said Torre, a former player
who served as a union rep during Miller’s reign.
Yet crowded as the ballot was, of the dozen names the committee
had to choose from, the simple fact is that none may have been more
Yet Miller probably would have laughed at that outcome, too.
After coming close in 2007, he asked that his name not be included
on any future ballots, a position his son reiterated ahead of this
”No one in the family will participate,” Peter Miller said in
His father was never one to stand on ceremony, either. Miller
came over to the players union in 1966 after cutting his teeth as
an economist for the United Steelworkers of America. He wasn’t awed
or inexperienced at dealing with men of great means, and appeals
about the important place the national pastime occupied always
mattered less to him than getting a fair deal.
During his tenure, Miller secured for players the right to free
agency, collective bargaining, impartial arbitration,
representation by agents and even the chance to kill a trade after
collecting sufficient big-league service. When he departed in 1982,
he left behind the strongest labor union in the country.
A dozen years later, when baseball’s players and owners were
once again locked in the labor equivalent of a death spiral in late
July, Miller was working as a consultant to the MLBPA. He answered
the phone at his home and listened patiently while a reporter
argued why there wouldn’t be a stoppage this time around; namely
because owners stood to lose around $9 million every day games
weren’t played and the players roughly half that amount.
There was a brief silence on the other end of the line.
”I’ve seen the owners miscalculate before and so have you,”
Miller said finally. ”Sounds like they’re determined this time to
show they have hair on their chests.”
And then he started laughing.
What’s funny is that after that set-to, MLB’s management became
the most reasonable among the major North American pro sports. They
quit trying to balance their mistakes on the backs of their
players, and began seeking solutions to problems of competitive
imbalance by sharing more revenue.
What’s sad, though, is that other than the brief endorsement
from Torre, all of the testimonials to Miller in the wake of
Monday’s decision were offered by guys on his side. You don’t know
whether that was due to lingering resentment, just as we don’t know
whether Miller’s loud and oft-repeated opposition to the union’s
agreement to a drug-testing program cost him votes among the former
players on the expansion-era committee. Hall of Fame voters have
been unsparing in their opposition to the players tied to the use
of performance-enhancing drugs – see Bonds, Barry and Clemens,
Roger – so perhaps some of the taint rubbed off on Miller, too.
The distinction may still be too fresh for some number of former
players, managers and sports writers on the current committee. And
Miller’s is hardly the only deserving name on the ballot awaiting
the sweep of history to make things right. The late George
Steinbrenner, another outsized, outspoken figure who played a big
role in driving players’ salaries through the roof, was passed over
in the same election. The Boss won seven World Series titles, but
got suspended twice and some feathers, once ruffled, take longer to
settle than others.
Steinbrenner’s rejection likely would have amused Miller and
vice versa. And if nothing else, there’s cold comfort in imagining
the two sometimes-adversaries and giants of the game needling each
other about being locked out of a clubhouse they so lavishly
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated
Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at