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Miller belongs in Cooperstown


As a general rule, I try to take a wide berth of Hall of Fame arguments -- especially in baseball, where what is always called the "shrine" matters more passionately to the cognoscenti. The fans who champion some old hero are ardent and unrelenting in their support of their guy. They're armed with arcane statistics. They won't take so much as "maybe" for an answer. I've even had admirers of Pete Browning, the so-called "Old Gladiator" -- whose major-league career ended in ... 1894 -- hound me. And I don't even have a vote.

But I must suspend that policy today, to plead with the 16 former players and officials and journalists who are on the special old-timers committee that is considering the candidacy of Marvin Miller, the original players' association chief. Surely, there must be, amongst the committee, the necessary dozen men, tried and true, who can vote this week to escort Miller out of the vestibule and into the hallowed rooms where the plaques of the other immortals stare out from the walls.

It is a travesty that Miller has already been denied admission in four previous elections. We are not talking here about some fringe candidate, like The Old Gladiator or Tommy John or Billy Martin. Miller is arguably the most significant figure in twentieth century baseball -- certainly no less important to the National Pastime than was Jackie Robinson or Branch Rickey or Babe Ruth. For that matter, because Miller outsmarted the entire establishment, giving to baseball players free agency, abolishing the illegal reserve clause -- a contract provision which bound them to the same team in perpetuity -- he not only turned the business of baseball on its ear, but, effectively, overhauled all professional sport in the United States. Who has done more? Who?

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Had there been no Marvin Miller, Derek Jeter, who is now in emotional disarray because the Yankees only offered him a measly $15 million a year until he is a diamond fossil, would probably be looking at an, oh, $400,000 take-it-or-leave it one-season offer.

Miller changed everything. To be sure, later, he made one gigantic mistake, arguing that his union minions should not have their bodies invaded by steroid testing, but all that he accomplished before that for good puts that one gross misjudgment in shadow.

It is all the more insulting that Bowie Kuhn, the commissioner whom Miller undressed at every turn, has already been safely domiciled for all eternity in Cooperstown. This is like voting Goliath into the Biblical Hall of Fame and keeping out David. This is like putting Jefferson Davis in the Presidents' Hall of Fame and voting down Abe Lincoln four times.

Marvin Miller is a widower, ninety-three years old. To deny him election is implausible. Not to elect him while yet he lives is cruel. To twist the old Groucho Marx line: for those already in the Hall of Fame, I would not want to be in any shrine that wouldn't let Marvin Miller in.