Seven years after his death, the baseball labor leader who reshaped the landscape of modern sports has been summoned to take his place among Cooperstown’s immortals.
Under Miller’s guidance, the MLBPA went from a poorly organized group mostly concerned about players’ pensions to one of the nation’s strongest unions. More significantly for the broader sports world, Miller oversaw the birth of free agency as he helped overturn baseball’s notorious reserve clause, and he brought team owners to the table to hammer out professional sports’ first collective bargaining agreement.
Miller also helped establish independent arbitration for players’ salaries, and he led the MLBPA through work stoppages in 1972, 1973, 1976, 1980 and 1981. Miller died in 2012 at 95, and his Hall of Fame candidacy had repeatedly fallen short before Sunday.
This time, though, the 16-member modern era committee saw things differently. (The Baseball Writers’ Association of America, which oversees the process by which most inductees are invited to Cooperstown, votes only on former players.) Miller got the 12 votes needed to meet the 75 percent threshold (per the Athletic), while Simmons received 13 votes.
“Players are pleased that Marvin will now take his rightful and long overdue place in the Hall of Fame in recognition of the monumental and positive impact he had on our game and our industry," the MLBPA’s executive director, Tony Clark, said in a statement.
Apart from Miller, former players comprised the nine other candidates under consideration by the modern era committee, which focused on those whose greatest impact came between 1970 and 1987. According to the Athletic, others receiving votes included Dwight Evans (eight), Dave Parker (seven), Steve Garvey (six) and Lou Whitaker (five); results were not immediately disclosed for Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Thurman Munson and Dale Murphy.
Despite a 21-year career that included eight all-star nods, Simmons fell off the BBWAA ballot after garnering just 3.7 percent of the vote in 1994. That may be partly attributable to the fact that he was overshadowed by contemporaries such as Johnny Bench, Gary Carter and Carlton Fisk, who are considered among the greatest catchers of all time, but Simmons posted the ninth-highest wins above replacement for anyone at his position (per Yahoo Sports).
Simmons, 70, acknowledged the help his candidacy received from the sabermetrics community.
“If it weren’t for the analytics people, my career as a potential Hall of Famer probably would have been shut down and forgotten a long time ago," he said Sunday (via MLB.com).
For his part, Miller eventually decided that he did not want enshrinement at all.
“If they vote me in after I’m gone,” he reportedly said shortly before he died (via the Athletic), “please let everyone you know it is against my wishes and tell them if I was alive I would turn it down.”
Nevertheless, the former ace labor negotiator for United Steelworkers is set to have his contributions to the game formally celebrated next year. Within two years of being hired to run the MLBPA, Miller overcame skepticism within his own ranks and opposition from owners to forge a CBA that raised baseball’s minimum wage from $6,000 to $10,000. (It will be $563,500 in 2020.)
The players’ right to independent arbitration arrived two years later, in 1970, and Miller helped establish free agency after he convinced a pair of players, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Andy Messersmith and the Montreal Expos’ Dave McNally, to play the 1975 season without signing their contracts. That provided a legal argument to challenge the reserve clause, which for decades contractually bound players to their respective teams, and a CBA negotiated in 1976 gave all players the chance to reach free agency after six years in the majors.
“I think he’s the most important baseball figure of the last 50 years,” former MLB commissioner Fay Vincent once said of Miller. “He changed not just the sport but the business of the sport permanently, and he truly emancipated the baseball player — and in the process all professional athletes.”
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