Marvin Miller had four shots at the Hall of Fame before he passed away at 95, but never quite made it. So who can we blame for this obvious injustice?
If there's one thing I know about Twitter, it's that when somebody dies,
a. Almost everybody's going to say the same thing
b. that thing will be terribly predictable.
Today, that thing was "Marvin Miller should be in the Hall of Fame already and the people who have kept Marvin Miller out of the Hall of Fame should be drawn, quartered, and fed to the Korowai."
I'm fine with the drawing. Before we quarter anyone, though, let's run through a brief history of Marvin Miller and the Hall of Fame.
About 10 years ago, the Hall completely revamped the old Veterans Committee, which had committed a number of crimes against the institution over the previous decades. If you were to make a list of the 20 worst players in the Hall of Fame, probably 18 or 19 would have been elected by the Veterans Committee. It took far too long, but the Hall of Fame finally made a change.
The change didn't work out so well, though. The problem with the old committee was that too few committee members were choosing between too few nominees, which essentially guaranteed poor results. The problem with the new committee was too many committee members were choosing between too many nominees, which essentially guaranteed poor results. Actually, the problem wasn't too many committee members; it was too many nominees.
The new Veterans Commitee consisted of every living Hall of Famer (mostly players, of course), along with every living Spink Award (writers) and Frick Award (broadcasters) winner. This was a large group of men, and they were asked to choose candidates from two ballots: one with 26 players, and one with 15 others -- executives, managers, and one umpire.
One of those executives was a labor leader: Marvin Miller.
Not a single player was elected. Gil Hodges came the closest, with 50 votes; 61 were necessary for election. Not a single other was elected. Umpire Doug Harvey came the closest, with 48 votes; 60 were necessary for election. Longtime Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley got 38 votes. Marvin Miller came in third on that ballot, with 35 votes. There were 79 ballots cast, and Miller drew support from fewer than half of those voters. Most of whom were players.
I'm emphasizing that most of them were players because one of the things I read on Twitter this morning was that the owners have kept Marvin Miller out of the Hall of Fame. Which isn't, you know, true. The players did that, at least the first time around. Well, some of the players, along with some of the writers and broadcasters. But not the owners.
There was an outcry.
Two years later, the Veterans Committee again failed to elect anyone, although this time they merely failed to elect any new players to the Hall, as the others ballot was scheduled for every four years.
In 2007, it happened again. No players elected, and no others. On the latter ballot, 61 votes were required for election. Doug Harvey led the way with 52 votes, with Miller moving into second place with 51 votes.
After three straight elections in which the Veterans Committee had elected not a single candidate, the Hall of Fame threw its hands up and revamped the process. That very year, the Hall scheduled another election for the others, but this time to be conducted by yet another small committee, of just 12 electors.
Here's what CNN.com's Chris Isidore wrote about this new committee:
Imagine a runner rounding third and heading for home, only to have a last minute rule change move the location of the plate. That's roughly what happened to Marvin Miller's chances of getting his long overdue recognition in baseball's Hall of Fame.
Miller is one of 10 executives being considered for election in baseball's Hall of Fame on Monday. But to win that much deserved honor, he's got to get the support of 75 percent of a committee made up primarily of current and former team owners and executives. Only two players are on the committee, along with three writers.
This is unfair. Until February, Miller's candidacy for the Hall had been in the hands of a committee of all living Hall of Famers, primarily players. And while he came up just short in a vote in February, it appeared he was well on his way to eventual election. He got 63 percent of the vote, a level of support that has translated into eventual induction in subsequent votes in almost every case.
Perhaps. But the operative words here are "eventual induction". Under the old system, Miller would have been considered again in 2011. There was absolutely no guarantee that Miller (or the exceptionally deserving Doug Harvey) would have been elected in 2011, either. Sure, maybe 2015. Or 2019. Or 2023. But under the existing system, nobody was being elected.
So the system was changed. A number of people believe the new system and the new committee were designed specifically to keep Marvin Miller out of the Hall of Fame. I believe those people are flat wrong. Further, I believe that some of those people believe the committee should have been designed specifically to get Marvin Miller into the Hall of Fame. Which would have been terrible policy.
I think the Hall of Fame wanted a committee that would, in fact, elect well-qualified candidates from the list of owners and executives. The feeling, I think, was that the ex-players in the Hall of Fame weren't qualified to do that. Does anyone really expect George Brett and Rollie Fingers to take an active interest in researching the contributions of Jacob Ruppert?
The Hall of Fame had the right idea, I think. They just went about it the wrong way. The committee was too small, composed of two Hall of Fame players, two retired executives, three old baseball writers, and five active baseball executives. With nine votes needed for election, Miller somehow received only three.
In the committee's defense, I will point out that by the historical standards of the Hall of Fame, the ballot was loaded. Longtime owners Barney Dreyfus (Pirates) and Walter O'Malley (Dodgers) were both elected, and deserved to be elected. Bowie Kuhn, who had drawn little support in earlier elections, also made it. Many observers thought it preposterous that Kuhn, the Commissioner who spent the 1980s losing battle after battle with Marvin Miller, would now be elected to the Hall of Fame instead of Miller. Again, though, by the historical standards of the Hall of Fame, Kuhn belongs there.
There was an outcry. The system was changed, again.
Next time around, it was complicated. But the executives were lumped back in with the players, and everyone would be considered on different ballots for different "eras". Miller's era was called the Expansion Era, and included figures who made the majority of their contributions from 1972 on. The new committee included eight Hall of Famers, four executives, and four writers. A dozen votes were needed for election. Pat Gillick, highly deserving, got 13 votes and was elected. Miller got 11. So bloody close.
It really was a shame that Marvin Miller didn't get a chance to enjoy being a Hall of Famer when he was alive. The same thing, of course, happened to Ron Santo. But there was never some terrible conspiracy to keep Santo out of Cooperstown, nor has there been one to keep Marvin Miller out. It just happened. Well-intentioned people make decisions for what seem like good reasons to them, and even to us, but even well-intentioned and -reasoned decisions can lead to imperfect outcomes. In fact, they almost always do.
But Ron Santo is now in the Hall of Fame. And the long arc of history is bending toward justice for Marvin Miller, too.