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Baseball’s former union boss up for Hall

- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 19, 2009

There are few topics in sports that generate more debate than the selections for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. And this year, the debate is centering on one man who never put on a uniform or swung a bat.

A special voting panel will be presented next month with a ballot of 10 executives and pioneers, including Marvin Miller, the former union head who is credited with challenging baseball's reserve clause and thus ushering in the era of free agency in baseball.

Miller is a divisive figure in the game, with many former players singing his praises and executives decrying his hard-line style that led to three strikes and two lockouts from 1972 to 1981.

Miller's worthiness for the Hall had been up for review by a committee made up entirely of former players. He managed to receive more than 60 percent of the vote in 2007. But then his candidacy was placed in the hands of a 12-member panel that included two former players, three writers and seven executives, and Miller did not earn enough votes for entry.

Miller will be on the ballot along with a group that includes former Royals owner Ewing Kauffman, ex-Tigers owner John Fetzer and former National League President Bill White.

The makeup of this latest voting panel is nearly identical to the group that rejected Miller's candidacy in 2007. However, the two former players from the 2007 panel - Harmon Killebrew and Monte Irvin - have been replaced by Robin Roberts and Tom Seaver, who once called Miller's exclusion from the Hall a "national disgrace."

At the very least, Miller has the support of baseball commissioner Bud Selig. In an interview on MLB Network last week, Selig said he favored Miller getting into the Hall while acknowledging that it was not a popular opinion in baseball circles.

"Marvin Miller belongs in the Hall of Fame, if the criteria is what impact you had on the sport, whatever way one wants to value that impact," Selig said. "Yes, Marvin Miller should be in the Hall."

The Hall of Fame offers little specific guidance on how to consider executives, asking voters only to review the candidate's "record, ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the game."

It is the issue of contribution that appears to favor Miller. He is credited with helping to boost players' salaries more than tenfold during his tenure, and his work helped set up an economic system that has been enormously beneficial to players without causing too much hardship to teams. But many past executives still hold personal grudges or are simply loath to give credit to a man against whom they battled for nearly a decade.

Miller's exclusion is particularly striking when cast against the inclusion of a host of top baseball executives, including four of the sport's nine commissioners. Last year, the Hall's veteran committee voted in Bowie Kuhn, who was commissioner of baseball when Miller was head of the union.

Miller, for his part, seems uninterested in being inducted, railing against the manner in which veteran players have been elected.

"I find myself unwilling to contemplate one more rigged Veterans Committee whose members are handpicked to reach a particular outcome while offering a pretense of a democratic vote," he told the Boston Globe last year. "It is an insult to baseball fans, historians, sports writers, and especially to those baseball players who sacrificed and brought the game into the 21st century. At the age of 91, I can do without farce."