BASEBALL'S MOST SHAMEFUL SNUB

Frank Fitzpatrick

Marvin Miller died yesterday at 95. Baseball owners ought to hang their heads in shame.

 The Baseball Hall of Fame's rejection of 93-year-old Marvin Miller, a snub that had the owners' greedy fingerprints all over it, was petty at best, unconscionable at worst.

By any measure, Miller, the founder and longtime executive director of the players' association, was among the most significant figures in the game's history. Longtime Dodgers broadcaster Red Barber once suggested that only Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson had a greater impact.

"If baseball ever buys itself a mountain and starts carving faces on it, one of the first men to go up is sure to be Marvin Miller," stats guru Bill James wrote in his introduction to Miller's book, A Whole Different Ball Game.

For all its pretentious reverence, the Hall is home to scoundrels of every stripe - racists, drunks, misanthropes, wife-beaters, gamblers, syphilitics - and more than a few whose baseball resumés don't warrant their inclusion.

Morgan Bulkeley, whose career in the game spanned two years as a team owner and one as National League president, is in the Hall. Miller is not.

Bowie Kuhn, a bumbling commissioner who was KO'd by Miller every time they shared the same ring, is in the Hall. Miller is not.

Phil Rizzuto, who had 1,588 hits, 38 homers, and 563 RBIs in a so-so 13-year career, is in the Hall. Miller is not.

Holy cow!

All Miller did was forever change the game - all of sports, really. Until he came along, baseball was a plantation. Players had no rights and no opportunity to change the status quo.

He looked at baseball, stripped away its sentimental veneer, and saw it for what it was: a moneymaking enterprise. He convinced the cowed players they had the same rights as any other American worker. And that included the right to organize.

It was Phillies Hall of Famer Robin Roberts who, with the aid of Penn professor George Taylor, found Miller and in 1966 gave the labor economist the job of molding the powerless players into a bargaining force.

That was quite a challenge. Historically, the owners had ruthlessly crushed any organizing effort. The average major-league salary in 1965 was $19,000. The minimum was $6,000, $900 below what a typical American family earned that year. The reserve clause, as odious a judicial construct as the Dred Scott decision, bound them to one team for perpetuity.

The nation's pastime was past time for a change.

Eventually, with the aid of stars such as Roberts and Jim Bunning, Miller persuaded the players of their worth. Through a decades-long series of negotiations, strikes, lockouts, and court actions, he transformed the 90-pound-weakling players' association into sports' heaviest hitter.

And what about all the whining and doomsaying that accompanied the union's rise?

Well, all those teams that swore they'd be forced out of business if players had to be paid anything close to what they deserved are still around. Even the worst of them are worth hundreds of millions.

Fans - many of whom took it on the chin economically precisely because they, too, had no clout - still carp about players' salaries yet continue to shell out big bucks for tickets and merchandise.

Despite rapidly rising prices, almost 808 million fans have paid to watch major-league baseball since 2000.

The Veterans Committee that rejected Miller, by the way, was made up of Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog; Hall of Fame players Johnny Bench, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Tony Perez, Frank Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, and Ozzie Smith; White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf; Orioles president Andy MacPhail; former Phillies president Bill Giles; Royals owner David Glass; and writers Bob Elliott, Tim Kurkjian, Tom Verducci, and Ross Newhan.

You have to believe all four management representatives snubbed Miller. Reinsdorf, after all, headed the coup that ousted independent commissioner Faye Vincent and replaced him with fellow owner Bud Selig. His antipathy for Miller is well-known.

As for the seven players, all of whom were enriched by Miller's efforts, I can't imagine any would vote no. And I'm equally sure those four top-shelf writers fully understood the man's contributions.

But only 11 of the 16 voted for him, one shy of the necessary 12. If you assume the four management representatives rejected Miller, that still means either Herzog or one of the players or writers joined them.

So Bowie Kuhn - Sgt. Garcia to Miller's Zorro - made it to Cooperstown before Miller.

That's not only a mistake. It's an embarrassment.

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