With Marvin Miller’s election to the Hall of Fame on Sunday, baseball righted one of the great oversights in its history. Miller has come up a lot in my reporting, with my two latest books both being set during prime moments during his tenure. “Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic” not only dealt with the 1972 players’ strike, but with the advent of arbitration and free agency—Miller’s most lasting legacies. “They Bled Blue” covered the 1981 mid-season strike, which Miller expertly directed.
I’ve spoken to many players about the influence that the head of the Players Union had on their livelihoods, and will let Ken Holtzman’s comments serve as representative:
“To me, Marvin was the smartest man in the world. He foretold everything that’s going on in sports. To exclude Marvin Miller from the Hall of Fame … Can you tell me another contemporaneous person that had even a fraction of the impact that Marvin had on baseball? I can only think of three: Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth—back in the ’20s, he saved baseball’s reputation from gamblers—and Walter O’Malley, for hiring Jackie Robinson. I can’t understand why the owners are so resentful of Marvin. Hell, the value of their franchises has absolutely skyrocketed. I remember when Bowie Kuhn testified before Congress when free agency came in. He said, ‘Free agency is so bad for the game, don’t be surprised if one of the two leagues goes under. I think we’re going to have a league fold.’ Marvin sat in disbelief. Fold. And now we have teams sold for $2 billion.”
One litmus test for Hall of Fame candidacy is whether the story of baseball during a given timeframe can be told without citing the person in question. And baseball during the 1970s is impossible to explain without extensive details about the system that Miller was instrumental in building. “Marvin Miller changed the face of sports,” Steve Garvey told me.
He was right. Miller’s enshrinement in Cooperstown is long overdue.