Column: Why isn't Marvin Miller in Cooperstown?


Column: Why isn't Marvin Miller in Cooperstown?

There are times when baseball is so grand, so worthy of awe.

Then there are times when it is so small, so petty.

Like the way it treated the legacy of Marvin Miller.

He died Tuesday at the age of 95, having lived not only a long life, but one filled with great purpose and accomplishment. He should be remembered as one of the three most influential figures in baseball history.

Yet Miller is not in the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown.

Why? Because the union chief was too good at his job, and at least some of the men who run the sport still resent the way he dragged them into a truly modern era, kickin' and screamin' all the way.

``RIP Marvin Miller,'' tweeted former Atlanta Braves outfielder Dale Murphy, a two-time National League MVP in the 1980s. ``Never did thank him personally for what he did for me and the Murphy family and for all baseball players. Should have.''

While many have contributed to baseball's long, impressive legacy, three really stand out:

- Babe Ruth, the boisterous slugger who essentially forged the game that is played today. Of course, he's in the Hall of Fame.

- Jackie Robinson, the brave man who crashed through the color barrier to make our pastime truly national. Naturally, he's in the Hall of Fame.

- Then there's Miller, who unshackled the players from a career of servitude to the owners.

He's NOT in the Hall of Fame.

What an injustice.

Before Miller came along, a player was expected to perform at whatever salary the owner deemed was fair. As you can imagine, the figure tended to be one that guaranteed the owner had a steady supply of Benjamins to light his cigars, while the player had just enough money to get by on until the season was over. Then, of course, he could find another job - maybe selling Benjamin Moore paint - to keep food on the table until spring training.

If the players didn't like this arrangement, well, tough. The owners had a most un-American ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in their hip pocket, the 1922 decision upholding the ``reserve clause,'' which essentially bound employee to employer for the length of his career, unless he was traded or released. There was no real power of negotiation, unless you were one of the biggest stars and could threaten a holdout. Even then, the owners essentially held all the cards.

Miller changed that.

After taking over as executive director of the Major League Players Association in 1966, he made it his mission to get rid of the reserve clause, to ensure that players had the freedom to sell their services to the highest bidder when their contract was up - essentially, like any employee who gets a better offer from another company.

That, of course, led to a remarkable boon in player salaries. In 1967, the average was $19,000 a year. By the time Miller retired in 1982, it had climbed to $241,497. This past season, it was around $3.4 million, and anyone who made a big league roster was guaranteed a minimum of $480,000. Also, largely because of the course he set, baseball remains the only major American sport without a salary cap, though players in every league have benefited from the hefty salaries he unleashed.

Anyone who fights powerful interests on behalf of a just cause is bound to cause resentment and anger.

Miller was no different.

The owners despised him for supposedly cutting into their profits (though that's not really the case, as we'll explain later). The fans grew increasingly impatient with his willingness to take the ultimate step - shutting down their beloved ballparks - to get what he wanted. During his 16 1/2 years on the job, there were three strikes and two lockouts, most notably a seven-week stoppage in the middle of the 1981 season.

``What will resonate was his strong and continued determination to fight for what was right,'' said former big leaguer Tony Clark, now a union executive. ``He was very principled.''

Of course, there will always be critics who choose to portray Miller as the guy who turned a leisurely sport into a cutthroat business, who transformed its players from loyal employees with deep ties in their communities to soulless mercenaries whose only refrain is ``show me the money.'' But those are the same sort of folks who talk longingly of returning to the good ol' days of rotary phones and Atari instead of iPhones and Xbox.

While not glossing over the long vitriol between players and owners, culminating in the loss of the 1994 World Series, both sides have benefited greatly from the largesse that Miller was instrumental in creating. Revenues have skyrocketed from $50 million in 1967 to $7.5 billion this year. So, while the players' slice of the pie is larger than it was before, the owners' chunk of change is off the charts.

As Miller himself said in April in one of his last public appearances, ``I never before saw such a win-win situation in my life, where everybody involved in Major League Baseball, both sides of the equation, still continue to set records in terms of revenue and profits and salaries and benefits.''

What about the fans? Sure, they've had to bear the brunt of increased ticket prices, and the cost of attending a game can be tough on a family of four. But baseball, with the benefit of far more games, remains a better deal than other sports. And there's no denying that it's far more popular than it was when Miller took over the union. Just look at attendance. The average per team in 1967 was just over 1.2 million. This season, it was nearly 2.5 million.

Finally, Miller's most significant legacy might be an era of unparalleled competitiveness - which is the exact opposite of what everyone expected at the beginning of free agency. Supposedly, the richest teams would gobble up all the best players, leaving only a handful of franchises with a legitimate shot at the World Series title.

Not even close.

Over the last three decades, 19 teams have won World Series titles. Only four out of 30 franchises have not made at least one Series appearance during that span (and one of those is the Chicago Cubs, whose demons run far deeper than even Miller's golden touch).

In other words, even the fans owe a debt to Miller.

``We are all grateful for his contributions,'' Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander wrote on Twitter. ``His legacy will live on for generations.''

It's long past time for that legacy to live on at the Hall of Fame.

Only now, it's too late for Miller himself to savor it.

This is one of those times when baseball seems so small, so petty.


Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.or or www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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American League All-Star Game Roster Projection: AL will be loaded once again

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American League All-Star Game Roster Projection: AL will be loaded once again

The 2018 Major League All-Star Game is less than a month away. Fan votes are well underway and early frontrunners are close to locking their position in the Midsummer Classic.

Yesterday, we projected how the National League roster will play out. Today it is time to look at the American League roster projection.

For five straight seasons, the AL has had the upper hand in the MLB All-Star Game. In 2018, it does not appear that will change as the American League roster will be loaded from top to bottom.

As a reminder, here is how the process shakes out, first with the fan vote, players’ ballots, and the MLB Commissioner’s Office:

  • Fan vote: nine position players in AL (DH)/ eight in NL; plus final vote for each league
  • Player’s ballots: next 17 players in AL/ 16 players in NL; (five starting pitchers, three relievers must be chosen)
  • MLB Commissioner’s Office: five AL players (four pitchers, one position player) and seven NL players (four pitchers, three position players)

One player from each team must make the initial roster (before injury withdraws, etc.). Below is how it looks the American League roster will play out, considering the latest fan vote returns:

American League All-Star Roster Projection:

C – Wilson Ramos, Rays (Fan Vote), Gary Sánchez, Yankees (Player Ballot)
1B – José Abreu, White Sox (Fan Vote), Joey Gallo, Rangers (Player Ballot)
2B – Jose Altuve, Astros (Fan Vote), Jed Lowrie, Athletics (Player Ballot)
3B – José Ramírez, Indians (Fan Vote), Yangervis Solarte, Blue Jays (Player Ballot), Mike Moustakas, Royals (Commissioner’s Office)
SS – Manny Machado, Orioles (Fan Vote), Jean Segura, Mariners (Player Ballot),
OF – Mookie Betts, Red Sox (Fan Vote), Mike Trout, Angels (Fan Vote), Aaron Judge, Yankees (Fan Vote), Michael Brantley, Indians (Player Ballot), Eddie Rosario, Twins (Player Ballot), Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees (Player Ballot),
DH – J.D. Martinez, Red Sox (Fan Vote), Shohei Ohtani, Angels (Player Ballot)

SP – Justin Verlander, Astros (Player Ballot), Luis Severino, Yankees (Player Ballot), Corey Kluber, Indians (Player Ballot), Chris Sale, Red Sox (Player Ballot), Gerrit Cole, Astros (Player Ballot), Blake Snell, Tampa Bay (Commissioner’s Office)

RP – Edwin Díaz, Mariners (Player Ballot), Craig Kimbrel, Red Sox (Player Ballot), Aroldis Chapman, Yankees (Player Ballot), Joe Jiménez, Tigers (Commissioner’s Office), Delin Betances, Yankees (Commissioner’s Office), Chris Devenski, Astros (Commissioner’s Office)

Manager: Jeff Luhnow, Astros

Based on this projection, the New York Yankees will have the most representatives with six. The Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox will both have four.

Ensuring no snubs, there will be five players selected for the final fan vote to get one more All-Star into the game for a total of 32 for the American League. As you can see, no matter how the AL roster plays out, it will be a dominant team once again as they look for six straight All-Star wins.

Four of those five wins were inside a National League stadium and that will not change as the Washington Nationals will host this season.


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Capitals don't get Penguins for home opener, but Penguins will host Capitals in theirs


Capitals don't get Penguins for home opener, but Penguins will host Capitals in theirs

The Capitals found out who their opponent will be for the home opener on Oct. 3 and it's not the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And you know what? That's OK. Winning the Stanley Cup was awesome and the banner raising will be an incredible scene regardless. 

Plus, the Penguins need that night off because they have to get ready for their own home opener on Oct. 4 against...the Caps?

Wait, what?

In 2016, the Capitals were in attendance as the Penguins raised their Stanley Cup banner. That had to sting considering Pittsburgh eliminated Washington in the playoffs.

It has not become a tradition to make rivals watch as teams raise banners and there's nothing that said the NHL had to schedule the Penguins for Washington's home opener. But it does seem odd that the NHL is going to make the defending Stanley Cup champions play a back-to-back right out of the gate with the second end coming against their archrivals in Pittsburgh.

Hey Caps, it's the NHL here. Congrats again. Vegas is a hell of a city, am I right? So, listen...we thought about it and decided you won't get to raise your banner against your rivals. Sorry about that. We tried and we couldn't get them for your first game. Good news though, we moved it all the way up to the second game, we just couldn't get it any sooner than that. You'll be playing them the second game of the season...the night after your home opener...in Pittsburgh...for their home opener. Anyway, good luck on the repeat.

Makes sense.

Look, if Washington can't have Pittsburgh for the home opener fine. It would have been nice, but it's really not a big deal. Raising the banner will be special regardless of who the opponent will be. But don't turn around and make the Caps play in the Penguins' home opener the very next day.

The schedule makers did the Caps no favors with this one.