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Column: Why isn't Marvin Miller in Cooperstown?

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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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Wilson's return sparks Capitals to a 5-2 win at Minnesota

Wilson's return sparks Capitals to a 5-2 win at Minnesota

Tom Wilson stayed on brand in his return from a long suspension.

The Capitals’ big man scored a goal and took a penalty on the same play in his first game of the season, a 5-2 win against the Minnesota Wild Tuesday night. 

Wilson won’t get the 16 games back he missed for an illegal check to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist. But he tried to make up for it in his debut. 

Wilson scored Washington’s second goal at 19:32 of the first period when he drove the net hard and deflected a pass from teammate Dmitry Orlov past Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk. But this being Wilson, nothing is totally uncontroversial.  

The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder was moving fast. There was no stopping him. Wilson, with some help from Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, collided with Dubnyk. The puck was already in the net, but the referee decided Wilson needed to go think about what he’d done after Dubnyk got clocked in the head. It was a two-minute goalie interference call. 

That’s an odd play rarely called. Either the goal counts or it doesn’t, but maybe because Wilson had already scored before running into Dubnyk both calls could stand. 

“It was a first for me to score and get a penalty on the same play,” Wilson told reporters in St. Paul. “I was just going hard to the net and Snarls [Orlov] put it right on my tape. It was a great pass at full speed. I was trying to do everything I could to get out of the way. I’ll take the goal and the kill went out there and got it done. It was good to see.”

It was far from Wilson’s only contribution in his first game back. He also fought Marcus Foligno at 11:58 of the second period on the faceoff after Minnesota cut a Washington lead to 3-1. He didn’t back down when asked to go by Foligno. 

“He’s a key player for our team, brings so much energy both on the ice and off the ice,” forward Andre Burakovsky said. “Huge lift for the team to get him back earlier. Didn’t expect that and I think he had a really strong game today. Obviously, he got the goal in his first game back and then some dirty works. Obviously, I think he’s a huge guy for us in PK and it showed today.”

Wilson didn’t get the assist on the goal that put the game away. Alex Ovechkin found Orlov for a one-timer on a pass from the left faceoff circle to the right. But it was Wilson driving hard toward the goal that kept a Wild defenseman with him and allowed Orlov the space to finish Ovechkin’s pass. Those little things have been missed in the 16 games Wilson was suspended. He was relentless. 

One big issue for the Capitals: The penalty kill. Wilson has been a big part of that group in recent years and without him – and, to be fair the departed Jay Beagle and the injured Brooks Orpik – Washington entered the game 29thin the NHL in penalty kill percentage (71.7 percent). Wilson wasn’t eased into anything. He played 5:23 on the penalty kill and the Capitals killed five of six Wild power plays. 

[Wilson] does a lot not just on the ice, but in our room. Adds a ton of energy. Well respected player for how he trains,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden. “Going through a tough time and obviously kind of a surprise for us to get him back today. We were hoping to at any point here and we were able to take advantage of a fortunate bounce for our team before even the game started. But I didn’t expect him to have as strong a game as he did." 

"Obviously able to convert on a great play on a line rush, but just the other things he did. Our penalty kill, the opposition scores a goal and, you talk about shifts after goals, not giving the team any more momentum than they’ve already gotten and he gets in a fight there. There’s a lot to like about Tom Wilson and I thought he had a strong game. It was great to have him back.”

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4 reasons the Caps beat the Wild

4 reasons the Caps beat the Wild

Think the Caps missed Tom Wilson? It sure looked like it.

Washington looked like a completely different team with Wilson back in the lineup Tuesday in a dominant 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild.

Here are four reasons the Caps won:

Tom Wilson

Wilson made his season debut Tuesday after his suspension was reduced by a neutral arbitrator earlier in the day. Wilson’s addition to the lineup had two effects. One, it made the lineup a lot deeper. Without Wilson, Todd Reirden was having trouble putting together the right lineup. Several players cycled on the top line and every line behind the top had to shuffle. Wilson came back onto the top line and immediately the rest of the lineup fell into place.

The top line looked better, the second line looked better and the third line looked better with their regular lineups back intact.

Wilson’s return also brought a lot of energy to the team and that was evident from the very start of the game. The Caps outshot Minnesota 12-6 and took the 2-0 lead in the first period of the game. Compare that to the rather lethargic game we saw on Sunday, clearly, Wilson brought a spark.

Oh, yeah, Wilson has also had a pretty darn good game too. He scored in the first period of the game in a typical Wilson play. He completely blew past Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter and tipped in a pass from Dmitry Orlov as he crashed the net on goalie Devan Dubnyk.

Somehow Wilson was also given a goalie interference penalty… but the goal still counted? Regardless of what was an obvious reputation penalty, it was a good return for Wilson, who also had a fight with Marcus Foligno and helped set up Orlov’s second goal by crashing again and drawing the defense over to him.

Dmitry Orlov

Orlov broke a 19-game goal drought with a goal just 7:23 into the game.

Lars Eller had the puck and cut to the blue line in the offensive zone turning to the middle. Minnesota got caught puck watching as the defense shifted with Eller, leaving Orlov open on the left. Eller found him and Orlov took advantage of the extra space to score his first goal of the season.

Orlov would add an assist on Wilson’s goal and a second goal in the third period off a beautiful pass from Alex Ovechkin.

The typically reliable defensive pairing of Orlov and Matt Niskanen struggled at the start of the season prompting Todd Reirden to switch up the pairs and place Orlov with John Carlson. Clearly, the move had the desired effect in Tuesday’s game.

The schedule

Tuesday’s game was the Wild’s first at home since Oct. 27. Minnesota was coming off a seven-game road swing and they looked a bit weary at the start of the game. As mentioned above, the Wild were outshot 12-6 in the first period and then 15-8 in the second.

Really, this game was a perfect storm. Not only were the Wild tired from a lengthy road trip, but they also were dealing with a Caps team that was pumped up by the return of Wilson.

Part of what made Sunday’s loss to Arizona so disappointing was the fact that the Coyotes were on the second leg of a back-to-back with their starting goalie on IR. The Caps were not able to take advantage, but they certainly took it to a vulnerable, road-weary team on Tuesday.

The penalty kill

Washington’s porous penalty kill was the reason the Caps lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets Friday and a major reason they fell to Arizona. The PK finally stood tall on Tuesday as the Caps were able to kill off four out of five penalties on the night. The lone power play goal the team gave up came in the third period when the Caps were already up 5-1 and the game was no longer in doubt.

You can add the penalty kill to the long list of things that Wilson instantly improved in his return. Wilson logged 16:47 of total ice time on Tuesday and 5:23 of that came on the penalty kill.

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