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Marvin Miller: Hall of Famer
You may hate the strikes and free agency he brought to baseball, but union chief helped the game.
July 29, 2005: 5:54 PM EDT
A weekly column by Chris Isidore, CNN/Money senior writer
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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Marvin Miller is the man who brought labor work stoppages, millionaire players and free agency to the world of professional sports, three things for which many fans will never forgive him.

But it's long past time for fans to realize that sports, especially baseball, are better for the changes that Miller brought.

The time is even longer past for baseball itself to acknowlege his contributions as the first executive director of the Major League Baseball Players' Association. It's time to include him in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Miller says he's not overly concerned with getting into the Hall, because he doesn't see it ever happening.

"Any trade union leader worth his salt knows how to count votes in advance," Miller told me this week. "Would I like to be inducted? Sure. Do I think I will? No."

Miller won't be in Cooperstown this weekend for induction weekend with the baseball's other elder statesmen. He said he's only been to the 1996 ceremony, as a guest of pitcher Jim Bunning the year he was inducted.

Bunning -- who's now a Republican senator from Kentucky -- was on the union's search committee that hired Miller, an accomplishment Bunning has said equalled his perfect game as his greatest accomplishments in the game.

But while Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan and Carlton Fisk also both took time in their induction speeches to thank Miller, some who profited handsomely from his work have questioned whether he should join them in the Hall.

Reggie Jackson, one of the first players to cash in on free agency, said he didn't believe any non-player should be inducted. It may be others felt the same way he did.

In the last vote in 2005 to consider executives, managers and other non-players, Miller was selected by 44 percent of those voting. But a candidate needs to be on 75 percent of ballots cast for induction into hall. None of those on ballot along with Miller were inducted.

Part of the problem for Miller is that just over one-quarter of 62 living Hall of Famers, who vote on whether he should be join them, either played before Miller took over the union or are in the hall as an executive or manager.

Another 20 percent played after Miller took over but before he could bring about free agency, although some of that latter group includes his strongest advocates, such as Bunning.

In addition, broadcasters and writers who have been honored by a separate wing of the Hall are also eligible to vote, and none of them obviously had any direct benefit from Miller's accomplishments. In fact, the baseball press has generally been hostile to Miller and the union over the years.

Perhaps Miller should have more hope for induction than he does. Some Hall of Famers, including Joe Morgan and Tom Seaver, expressed shock that he wasn't inducted in 2003. Some effective lobbying may go on before the next vote in 2007.

Free agency improved the game

What helps Miller's chances the most is that the idea of free agency isn't considered quite as shocking or controversial any more.

Even a Miller adversary such Bowie Kuhn, commissioner during much of his tenure, told me this week that free agency has been good for the game, although he woudn't comment on his views on whether Miller or any other candidate should be enshrined in Cooperstown.

"It (free agency) has drawbacks, it has changed the traditional fidelity of player and club. That's a loss," said Kuhn. "On the other hand, it creates a more interesting game, because there's more talent in play."

Free agency led the owners to start treating the game like a business that needed to be developed and marketed, which in turn increased interest.

It is not a coincidence that average per game attendance increased 56 percent from 1965, the year before Miller came on the scene, to 1983, his last year with the union.

The attendance grew in spite of professed fan anger over five work stoppages during Miller's tenure.

The potential riches of free agency also helped attract a generation of young athletes to the sport who might have gone elsewhere without it. And it indirectly led teams to make more concerted investments in player development as a way of finding lower-cost alternatives to top-dollar free agents.

That effort is part of the reason that baseball started tapping into foreign countries for a new generation of exciting stars.

Miller's accomplishments also gave the players the incentive and wherewithal to spend time honing their craft, spending the offseason training and practicing rather than working other jobs to pay their bills.

The quality of play, not just pay, are better today because of Miller.

"It's ludicrous that he's not in the Hall," said Andrew Zimbalist, a professor at Smith College and an expert on the economics of baseball. "He's one of the most important executives in the history of the game. He transformed the sport. If the Hall is going include both players and executives, it hurts its integrity for him to not be there."

For a look at whether Yankee owner George Steinbrenner should be in the Hall of Fame, click here.

For more stories on the business of sports, click here.  Top of page

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