A Shutout at Cooperstown

By Sherrod Brown
Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Usually it's the pinstripes that push open the doors of Cooperstown. If the ballplayer comes from Philadelphia or Cleveland, rather than from the Bronx, he has to be better to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame. A lot better.

So how do you explain Bowie Kuhn and not Marvin Miller?

For more than 15 years, Kuhn and Miller -- the commissioner of Major League Baseball and the head of the baseball players' association, respectively -- went head-to-head over the direction of America's pastime. And as they say in baseball, Miller owned him. Players went from being chattel to being celebrities, salaries followed, and interest in the game blossomed.

During the worst of the labor strife in the early 1980s, Kuhn seemed too detached, too ineffectual. After the game was brought to a standstill, the great sportswriter Red Smith joked, "This strike would never have happened if Bowie Kuhn were alive."

Last month, the late commissioner was inducted posthumously into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Marvin Miller is still waiting.

Kuhn's supporters on the Veterans Committee that votes on nominees argued for his induction by saying how much he loved the game. But so do I, and my suffering season after season rooting for the Cleveland Indians doesn't earn me a place in Cooperstown next to Cobb, Speaker, Mathewson, Aaron and Mays. (Notice I mentioned no Yankees in this litany of baseball greats.)

My late father, who saw Bill Wambsganss pull off the only World Series unassisted triple play in Cleveland's League Park in 1920, loved the game maybe even more than I do. He isn't in the Hall of Fame either. (His legacy lives on, though, through his three sons. Like all good Ohio fathers, he raised us to hate the Yankees. And we are raising our daughters to do the same.)

Kuhn, who was born in Takoma Park and grew up in Washington, became the fifth commissioner of baseball, the youngest in history, in 1969. He was 42.

As commissioner, he did much that was noteworthy -- disciplining players for drugs and gambling, suspending Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle and George Steinbrenner to "protect the integrity of the game," even demanding that pitcher Jim Bouton retract or disavow his best-selling book "Ball Four."

Kuhn, who served as commissioner until 1984, was harshly and rightly criticized for missing the game at which Henry Aaron broke Babe Ruth's long-standing career home run record.

But there's no surprise about Kuhn's induction into the Hall of Fame. Baseball as a business is no different from oil companies or the pharmaceutical industry. Management -- hold your breath here -- is known for taking care of itself.

Unlike the standard route to Hall of Fame immortality, which requires the votes of more than 400 sportswriters, Kuhn needed only nine votes from a special committee of executives -- made up of seven representatives of team management, three sportswriters and two retired players.


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