There are some great former players up for consideration, but none had a bigger impact on the game than Miller. Indeed, the Hall of Fame broadcaster Red Barber once said that he would rank Miller with Jackie Robinson and Babe Ruth for his importance in baseball history. Yet if the past is any guide, the committee will keep Miller out of the hall: He has been on the ballot seven times without success.
Many baseball observers, including Miller himself, believed that the Hall of Fame board stacked the committees with people who opposed his inclusion in the hall: team owners and front-office types especially, who wrangled with Miller and didn’t enjoy the experience. When the Modern Era committee last voted, in 2017, the group, in addition to sportswriters and former players, included six owners and executives — in other words, more than enough to keep Miller from gaining the 12 of 16 votes needed for induction. The hall doesn’t reveal how individual committee members vote, but it’s not hard to guess why Miller never gets in.
It is time to right this wrong. As the repository of the game’s history and those who have contributed to its greatness, the Hall of Fame is diminished by Miller’s absence.
Before Miller’s arrival as the MLBPA’s executive director, professional baseball players had periodically sought unsuccessfully to unionize since the late 19th century. Players formed the association in 1953, but it was not a formal union, had no full-time staff and had no power. Miller, a former United Steelworkers union official, changed all that.
Previously, players had been tethered to their teams because contracts were limited to one season and “reserved” the team's right to “retain” players for the next season. Each year, the team owners told players: Take it or leave it. The players had no leverage to negotiate better deals. Even superstars went hat-in-hand to owners at the end of the season, begging for a raise.
Two years after Miller took over, the union negotiated the first-ever collective bargaining agreement in professional sports. Minimum salaries increased from $6,000 to $10,000. Two years later, the MLBPA established players’ rights to binding arbitration over salaries and grievances. In 1976, they overturned the reserve clause and won the right to become free agents: Players could choose for themselves which team they wanted to work for, veto proposed trades and bargain for the best contract — all cornerstones of an economic free market. Players’ pay, pensions and working conditions have improved dramatically.
Many team owners of course detested these advances — even as major league baseball went on a decades-long run marked by sharply increasing attendance and television revenue. League revenue reached a record-breaking $10.3 billion in 2018.
Over the years, many baseball luminaries have urged Miller’s recognition in Cooperstown. These include Hall of Famers themselves, such as Hank Aaron, Joe Morgan, Brooks Robinson, Nolan Ryan and Dave Winfield. Former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent said in 2009: “It’s preposterous that Marvin Miller isn’t in the Hall of Fame. It’s an embarrassment.” Bud Selig, while he was baseball commissioner, repeatedly argued for Miller’s admission to the hall.
Even Ray Grebey, who went toe-to-toe with Miller as the team owners’ chief negotiator during the 1981 players strike, publicly supported his former nemesis in a letter to the Hall of Fame board of directors in 2009.
No amount of public pressure, though, seems capable of shaming baseball’s owners and executives into relenting. But there is still a way for the Hall of Fame to redeem itself.
At last count, there were 71 living Hall of Fame players, most of whom benefited dramatically from Miller’s efforts. (Six of the players sit on the Hall of Fame board: Morgan, Robinson, Roberto Alomar, Phil Niekro, Cal Ripken Jr. and Ozzie Smith.) We urge all of these Hall of Famers to join with former and active players and collectively speak out to demand that the Modern Era committee vote Dec. 8 to put Miller in the Hall of Fame. They should also demand that, in the future, players should make up a larger proportion of the Modern Era committee and that, for transparency’s sake, the hall disclose the names of committee members and how they voted.
Miller died in 2012 at age 95. There could be no more fitting tribute to this baseball pioneer than baseball players banding together to get him into the Hall of Fame despite the resistance of baseball ownership.