The legacy of a grand American hero is dying a painful death because of some small-minded men.
Marvin Miller -- again -- was snubbed for the baseball Hall of Fame. It remains one of the great disappointments in the history of baseball. It remains almost scandalous.
Hero is a word that's lost its potency being tossed around sports recklessly, but the word fits Miller. If you don't believe it these were the voices of some baseball greats to the Village Voice in 2007:
|Marvin Miller, pictured in 1976, belongs in the Hall, but some bitter elements are keeping him out. (AP)|
Tom Seaver: "Marvin's exclusion from the Hall of Fame is a national disgrace."
Joe Morgan: "They should vote him in and then apologize for making him wait so long."
Bob Costas: "There is no non-player more deserving of the Hall of Fame."
Broadcaster Red Barber: "Marvin Miller, along with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson, is one of the two or three most important men in baseball history."
Bill James: "If baseball ever buys itself a mountain and starts carving faces in it, one of the first men to go up is sure to be Marvin Miller."
Studs Terkel: "Marvin Miller, I suspect, is the most effective union organizer since John L. Lewis."
The late Arthur Ashe: "Marvin Miller has done more for the welfare of black athletes than anyone else."
So why, all these years and decades later, is he still not in? And why was he snubbed yet again this week?
The problem is some of the electorate. Three years ago these were the voters, according to the Voice: former players Monte Irvin and Harmon Killebrew; former Yankee player and American League president Bobby Brown; John Harringon, formerly of the Red Sox; current executives Jerry Bell (Twins), Bill DeWitt (Cardinals), Bill Giles (Phillies), David Glass (Royals), and Andy MacPhail (Orioles); and media members Paul Hagen (Philadelphia Daily News), Rick Hummel (St. Louis Post-Dispatch), and Hal McCoy (Dayton Daily News).
That list contains several executives who fought the union Miller built and lost in subsequent battles against him. To some, keeping Miller out has been a highly political case of payback.
The new electorate that voted on Miller this year has more players on it, and it's shocking Miller still didn't get through. In fact, it's possible at least one of the players voted against Miller (the vote isn't made public), which would be a level of almost unprecedented sports Uncle Tom-ism.
But there are also still executives voting, and they might be carrying on what seems like a generational task of punishing Miller for snatching power from them over the decades.
Some of these voters represent an older baseball guard. They should be home sitting on a couch, drinking Gimlets and Harvey Wallbangers and remembering the good ol' times when Happy Days dominated television, and kept away from the voting process.
Miller is the greatest labor figure in sports history. Miller didn't just usher in an era of free agency. He was responsible for leveling the playing field between owners who saw players as cattle and players who saw themselves as helpless.
Free agency led to offseason interest, and offseason interest led to more overall interest in the sport. Television ratings increased, players made more money and fans went to more games. The league-wide attendance figures were 30 million in the early 1970s when Miller started his rise to power. They're many times that now.
Ironically though, as baseball tried to gut Miller, he's made wealthy owners richer.
Free agency and the power of baseball's union have indeed gotten out of control. That's also part of Miller's legacy. But it's not Miller's fault owners hand out stupid deals like the $252 million to Alex Rodriguez or the $65 million to Chan Ho Park. The Washington Nationals paid Jayson Werth $126 million. Might as well take a stack of twenties and toss them in a furnace, Nationals.
Miller wasn't perfect. He could be nasty and egotistical. He sometimes made arguments personal.
Yet as long as Miller's legacy remains neutered the credibility of the Hall of Fame suffers. Indeed, there should be no Hall of Fame without him.