The Finalists: Miller and Steinbrenner
Our continuing series on the 12 men on the Baseball Hall of Fame Expansion Era ballot.
Summary: Served as Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director from 1966 to 1982 and was a powerful voice in the union for three decades afterward.
The quick case: When he became Executive Director, baseball players did not have free agency. They did not have salary arbitration. The minimum salary was $7,000. There was no mechanism for players to file grievances against owners. Teams had rights to players in perpetuity through a legally dubious proviso called the reserve clause. In short, Marvin Miller led baseball into an new era — and he led the game kicking and screaming.
The history: Miller was on the veteran’s committee ballot in 2003 and 2007 when the committee was made up of all living Hall of Famers, including those in the writers and broadcasters wing of the Hall. He did not come close to induction but no one did. There was no way to get 75% of the living Hall of Famers to agree on ANYTHING … except maybe to vote out some of the other living Hall of Famers. In 2008, there was a 12-person committee voting on an executive ballot. Nine votes were needed for induction. Miller got three. Yes. Three. Astonishingly, Bowie Kuhn got 10. Miller was back on the ballot in 2009. Same deal, nine votes needed. This time Miller got seven. Back on the ballot in 2011 — now there were 16 members on what they called the “Historical Overview Committee.” Twelve votes were needed. Miller got 11.
Marvin Miller died November 27 last year.
Comparable Hall of Famer: Bowie Kuhn, if by “comparable” you actually mean, “person who the candidate destroyed every single time they competed for anything.” As has been written before, putting Bowie Kuhn in the Hall of Fame but not Marvin Miller is like putting in Wile E. Coyote but not the Road Runner.
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Summary: Principal owner of the New York Yankees from 1973 until about 2010, he was the hands own managing partner until about 2006 when he retired and handed over day-to-day operation to his sons. During The Boss’ ownership, the Yankees won seven World Series championships. He was also suspended from the game twice — once for making illegal contributions to the the Richard Nixon reelection campaign and once for hiring Howard Spira to find dirt on Dave Winfield after Winfield sued the team to fulfill its responsibilities to his charitable foundation.
The quick case: Steinbrenner was one of the game’s most colorful figures and under his ownership the Yankees again became America’s preeminent sports team. It would be impossible to tell the story of expansion era baseball without reliving Steinbrenner’s firing and hiring of managers, the enormous contracts he dished out or the countless controversies he launched by just being King George.
The history: Steinbrenner appeared on the 2011 Expansion Era ballot — twelve votes were needed for election. Final totals were not given out, it is known that Steinbrenner got fewer than eight.
Comparable Hall of Famer: Best I can tell, there are eight men in the Hall of Fame primarily for being baseball owners — and they’re not an especially accomplished group. Bill Veeck certainly advanced the game in his own way. Barney Dreyfuss, in addition to owning the Pittsburgh Pirates, helped bring together the American and National Leagues. J.L. Wilkinson, owner of the Kansas City Monarchs, was a pioneer in many ways, including his near-obsession with introducing night baseball. Anyway, none of them are really like Steinbrenner. The closest might be Cumberland Posey, who owned the Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues and would go to pretty severe extremes to build great baseball teams.
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Hall of Fame executives are a mixed bag. People often ask: Who would you kick out of the Hall of Fame? I know they are talking about players and, sure, there are a bunch of players I could name. But there is absolutely no doubt that if I could boot people out of the Hall, I would start with Tom Yawkey and Bowie Kuhn and work my way down. It is an embarrassment that Tom Yawkey is in the Hall of Fame. Yawkey owned the Boston Red Sox for 44 years, and the Red Sox won exactly zero World Series championships under his leadership. They were the last team in baseball to have a black player. Jackie Robinson called him “one of the most bigoted guys in baseball,” and that was a pretty wide-ranging group in the 1940s and 1950s. If there was something like a Bizarro Baseball Hall of Fame, Tom Yawkey should be a charter member.
And Kuhn? His election is not as insulting as Yawkey but … why? What did Bowie Kuhn accomplish as baseball commissioner that would make him worthy of the Hall of Fame? He basically lost every battle he and the owners had with Marvin Miller. He clumsily handled just about every big decision that came along, including his famous wearing of a short sleeve shirt to prove it doesn’t get cold during night World series games, the thoughtless way he handled Henry Aaron’s chase of Babe Ruth (he was not in attendance with Aaron broke the record), the inept way he dealt with bulldozer owners like Ted Turner and Charlie Finley.
Steinbrenner and Miller have very different Hall of Fame cases, of course, and it leads to a basic question: Should owners or executives be inducted into the Hall of Fame at all? I have heard good arguments from people that they should not. They say: Put up exhibits detailing their contributions. But keep the Hall of Fame plaque room itself for people on the field. They say it muddies things up to have Tom Yawkey’s plaque next to Al Kaline’s. I can see that argument.
But there’s also the reality: The Hall of Fame DOES elect owners and executives and pioneers. Candy Cummings is in the Hall of Fame for maybe inventing the curveball, which he probably did not do. The Hall of Fame is in Cooperstown because of the myth that Abner Doubleday invented baseball there. Shoeless Joe Jackson hits right-handed in “Field of Dreams.” Maybe these things shouldn’t be. But they are.
and with that in mind, with the Hall of Fame filled with executives who influenced the game, there is a strong argument for Steinbrenner, and there is simply no viable argument against Marvin Miller. Steinbrenner certainly hurt the game at times in his long career, but if we are talking about owners who influenced Major League Baseball, he’s in the front row of the photograph. Should someone who was suspended from baseball for any period of time get inducted into the Hall of Fame? I say yes, if the balance of his career is Hall of Fame worthy. That’s why I’m very much pro Pete Rose for the Hall of Fame too.
As for Marvin Miller, it’s all been said before: It’s an embarrassment that Miller was not inducted while he was alive. It was, I believe, a leftover scar from the labor wars. He still inspires strong feelings from both sides now. I know this for sure; If you have a Hall of Fame with Tom Yawkey and Bowie Kuhn inside and Marvin Miller out … it’s better to be out.