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Monday, December 03, 2007

Hall of Fame

New inductees into the "Executives and Pioneers" branch of the baseball Hall of Fame were announced today. (How there got to be an executives and pioneers branch is a bizarre tale in and of itself.)

Marvin Miller, who we wrote about yesterday, was on the ballot, but was not elected. Now, Marvin Miller is, in my mind, one of the two most important "pioneers" that baseball has seen since the end of the Second World War. (Branch Rickey being the other) His contribution cannot be measured simply in terms of the dollar amounts (obscene though they may be) that MLB players earn these days. Before Miller, all baseball players were bound by a contractual agreement known as the reserve clause, which had been held up as legal by the Supreme Court as part of baseball's anti-trust exemption. The reserve clause was a standard part of every player's contract, and basically said that upon the expiration of the contract, the player's right to play for another team was held by the previous team. If you signed a two year contract with the Dodgers, at the end of the two years, you were not free to sign a contract with another team without the Dodgers' permission.

Miller, a labor organizer with roots in the steelworker's union, was the first man to successfully organize any professional athletes' assocation. The reserve clause was overturned by an arbitrator through a process that emerged as a result of collective bargaining. While it's easy for today's athletes to forget that barely a generation ago their predecessors were pretty much working stiffs, and for today's fans to be alienated from the multi-millionaires who play the games we pay so much money to watch, Miller remains the pivotal figure who made this possible.

Bowie Kuhn, who was Commissioner of baseball during much of the time that Miller was organizing players, was elected into the Hall of Fame. Kuhn is probably most famous for sitting in the stands during the 76 World Series without a coat while temperatures dropped into the low 40s in Cincinnati.

There's a story, perhaps apocryphal, and told about any number of different writers. The story is that they sit down to make separate lists of the most evil men of the 20th century. Then they compare the lists. And lo and behold, they're always the same: Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Walter O'Malley.

O'Malley's going to the Hall of Fame.

Marvin Miller should too.



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