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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Marvin Miller and the Hall of Fame (Updated)

Marvin Miller--the first executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association and the creative force behind the modern economics of baseball and all professional sports--was elected to the Hall of Fame yesterday. The election comes seven years after Miller's death. And, although I did not know this, against his express wishes.

Miller was passed over several times by various committees between 2003 and 2010, likely because the powers-that-be wanted to deny Miller the honor, at least while he was alive. In 2008, Miller, askedtthe Baseball Writers Association of America, the main selection body, not to nominate him again; he declared himself "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." Miller was no doubt especially angry that in 2007, former commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Miller's chief antagonist, was elected just before his death. Despite the request, Miller was nominated in 2010, then posthumously in 2014, 2018, and this year.

There is an interesting debate about how the Hall should handle those wishes. On one hand, it is a museum designed to tell the history of baseball and to recognize those who made the game--that history cannot be told without Miller. On the other hand, the Hall of plaques does more than tell a story; it singles people for a unique honor, an honor that should be bestowed only if both parties wish. Miller's children have made clear they will not attend and accept induction in their father's place. And it is hard not see the election as one final power play against Miller--selecting him against his wishes, but when he could no longer decline appear and make his own case.

Speaking of Miller and Kuhn, Slate's Hang Up and Listen uses Miller's election as an excuse to parse Flood v. Kuhn, especially the bizarre Part I in which Justice Blackmun rattles off a laundry list of historic players from a bygone era. Several tidbits on this.

That part of the opinion was written for only three of the five Justices who formed the majority (Blackmun, Stewart, and Rehnquist). Chief Justice Burger and Justice White refused to join that part of the opinion, White expressly because an paean to baseball and a recitation of players had nothing to do with the case and no place in a judicial opinion.

The list includes only two African-American players--Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella. And they are from a different baseball era. The white players all played in the 1900s-1930s. Based on a quick glance, it appears no one on the list began his career beyond the early '30s. The latest player is Hank Greenberg, who retired in 1948, but debuted in 1930. Robinson and Campanella played from the late-'40s to mid-'50s. Blackmun's original draft did not include any African-Americans; he added Robinson, Campanella, and Satchel Paige at the insistence/request of Justice Marshall. But Blackmun could not (or did not bother to) match anyone to the era that is the focus of the rest of the list, although several historically great Negro League players (e.g., Josh Gibson) were contemporaries of Ruth, Gehrig, etc.  Marshall then dissented in the case, so he did not join the list at all.

Finally, there was some horse-trading among the Justices about who to include. That still does not explain how Moe Berg made the list.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 10, 2019 at 03:01 PM in Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Sports | Permalink

Comments

I am not suggesting the Hall is somehow barred (legally or ethically) from inducting someone who does not want it--obviously it can "honor" whoever it wants however it wants.

But the pageant that surrounds induction calls for mutuality. It will, I think, be embarrassing for the Hall if no one shows on Miller's behalf. Or at least it should be embarrassing. I cannot imagine anyone from his inner circle would show up, out of respect for Miller clearly expressed wishes to his dying day. And for the Hall, the BBWAA, or MLB to choose someone to speak on his behalf would highlight the very problems in the relationship between Miller and The Game that caused him to withdraw in the first place. Just as I imagine was true for basketball and Russell--nice example.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Dec 11, 2019 9:44:51 AM

"an honor that should be bestowed only if both parties wish."

because that's so counter to my intuition about how a HoF should proceed, i was wondering if you could say a bit more. a HoF acknowledges the best in that sport and i don't see where mutual consent is required. (btw, Bill Russell's refusal to participate in his HoF enshrinement might provide some food for thought.)

Posted by: anon | Dec 10, 2019 8:06:36 PM

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