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It’s happening decades after it should have, but Marvin Miller will finally be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on September 8, 2021. Honestly, I’m torn about the whole thing, and have been since before he was even elected back in late-2019 — if you’ll recall, inductions for the 2020 class were delayed until 2021, thanks to that whole coronavirus pandemic thing; so, Miller is being inducted alongside the 2021 class, as well.
Marvin Miller deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, of course: he’s easily one of the most influential and towering figures in the history of the sport, and you could certainly make an argument that he’s at the very top of that list, too. Look no further than the current state of the seemingly powerless, union-less Minor League Baseball for evidence of what a modern-day MLB without the influence of one Marvin Miller might look like. And yet, the man himself did not want to be enshrined in Cooperstown. And it feels like we’ve all kind of just glossed over that part more than we should have, amid the celebrations for his election and induction.
Back in 2019, when Miller was on the ballot for what would prove to be the final time, Murray Chass wrote about Miller sharing his desire to be removed from the ballot, as well as for his son’s desire that his father’s wish to no longer be on the ballot or elected be honored. Here’s what Miller shared with Chass all the way back in 2008:
“Paradoxically, I’m writing to thank you and your associates for your part in nominating me for Hall of Fame consideration, and, at the same time, to ask that you not do this again,” Miller wrote to Jack O’Connell, secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Miller added: “The antiunion bias of the powers who control the Hall has consistently prevented recognition of the historic significance of the changes to baseball brought about by collective bargaining. As former executive director (retired since 1983) of the players’ union that negotiated these changes, I find myself unwilling to contemplate one more rigged veterans committee whose members are handpicked to reach a particular outcome while offering the pretense of a democratic vote. It is an insult to baseball fans, historians, sports writers and especially to those baseball players who sacrificed and brought the game into the 21st century. At the age of 91, I can do without farce.”
And here’s Miller’s son, Peter, writing to Chass in 2019 to reaffirm that he would not be participating in any Hall of Fame-centered celebration of his father:
“As previously mentioned, my father did not wish his name to be placed in nomination for the HOF. And he repeatedly reaffirmed that wish, as well as his desire that I not participate in any HOF activities related to him. So the HOF results this year change nothing. He would of course wish the players elected to the Hall all the best for this recognition of their accomplishments.
I will just add that my father never sought personal fame. And while the case for electing Major League players to the Hall can be based on statistics, the salary numbers that my father is most famous for meant less to him than the simple freedom to choose employers to the extent one’s professional ability would allow.
For those like your reader(s) who believe they understand my father’s motives, I assure them that personal resentment had nothing to do with his decision not to take part in HOF procedures. The only ‘grievances’ that meant anything to him were those that could be taken up in independent arbitration between Major League Baseball players and club management.
Free agency in Baseball, made possible by independent arbitration, is an integral part of the story of American freedom. As such, Marvin Miller’s portrait in a public national institution, the National Portrait Gallery, presents this achievement in the most appropriate historical context.”
Here’s what Peter Miller was referring to regarding the National Portrait Gallery, by the way, courtesy a story by Emma Baccelieri.
I understand the excitement around a long overdue enshrinement of Marvin Miller, but it’s not what the man wanted, and his own family wants to respect those wishes about Cooperstown as well. So, as I did prior to his election, and in the immediate aftermath as well, I’m having a hard time getting excited about his induction.
If the Hall of Fame and its various voters wanted to honor Miller, then he should have been put in much sooner, not ignored to the point that he felt he was being used as a punching bag by anti-labor forces. If they wanted to honor Miller in the years where he wasn’t inducted even though he should have been, then an entire section of Cooperstown should have been devoted to him and the early MLBPA, dedicated to telling the story of Major League Baseball prior to unionization and Miller’s influence, and what he and the players who entrusted him with the role of executive director of the MLBPA accomplished during his time in the game. Miller’s face being bronzed and put on the same wall as a bunch of non-playing Hall of Fame assholes who had nothing but contempt for what Miller stood for and accomplished won’t teach fans nearly as much as actually teaching about his history and influence and beliefs would.
There is, of course, still time to permanently dedicate an entire section of Cooperstown to Miller and the early MLBPA, to the degree that I just advocated for. I have feared, though, and continue to fear, that Miller’s induction at this late stage is mostly a way to get everyone to quit writing pieces about how influential and important he was every time he’s on the ballot. That it’s at least in part an effort to sanitize him and make him seem less dangerous and vital. And I’m laughing now because I remember Craig Calcaterra tweeted similar things about Miller’s induction a couple of years back, and he used the same words I just did, and also shared Chass on the subject. There are dozens of us!
As I wrote for The Nation back before the votes were counted up for the 2019 election, the greatest honor to be bestowed on Miller is for the MLBPA to remember what he did, and why he did it, and then attempt to follow in his footsteps. I still believe that. With collective bargaining ongoing, and the potential for a work stoppage by way of lockout in 2022 still very much on the table, we’ll get a chance soon enough to see if the present-day PA agrees.
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