More than Shoeless Joe Jackson, more than even Pete Rose, the exclusion of Marvin Miller, a former executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, from the Hall of Fame is Cooperstown's ugliest, longest-running public relations sore.
The baseball establishment hasn't wanted Miller to be inducted since his retirement in 1983. For years, their instrument for keeping him out was the infamous Rule 6(b): According to the rule, "Baseball Executives and/or Managers and/or Umpires who have been retired from organized baseball as Baseball Executives and/or Managers and/or Umpires for at least five years prior to the election" are eligible. In 2000, I pursued this issue. One member of the Hall's Veterans Committee told me flat out that Miller did not qualify because of this Rule 6(b): "No, definitely not ... Marvin Miller was not a baseball executive."
My late friend, Leonard Koppett, another Veterans Committee member and usually the smartest guy in the house, told me, "The Board of Directors makes the rules, and we can't put Marvin on the ballot until the board interprets the rule and tells us it's okay."
Pressing the point as far as I could, I got Jeff Idelson, then the vice president for communications (and currently president) of the Hall of Fame, to admit that "there is nothing in Rule 6(b) to prohibit Marvin Miller's candidacy. If Leonard Koppett or anyone else put up his hand and said 'Let's rule on Marvin Miller,' they'd have to vote."
They should have taken that vote as soon as possible. Instead, Koppett and other writers who favored electing Miller to the Hall allowed the issue to be shuffled off to other committees.
Finally, a few weeks ago, Miller moved to end the agony by writing to Jack O'Connell of the Baseball Writers Association of America requesting that he not be considered again. This is Miller's entire letter:
"Paradoxically, I'm writing to thank you and your associates for your part in nominating me for Hall of Fame consideration, and, at the same time, to ask that you not do this again. The anti-union bias of the powers who control the Hall has consistently prevented recognition of the historic significance of the changes to baseball brought about by collective bargaining. As former Executive Director (retired since 1983) of the Players' Union that negotiated these changes, I find myself unwilling to contemplate one more rigged Veterans Committee whose members are hand picked to reach a particular outcome while offering the pretense of a democratic vote. 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."
Whether or not Miller can choose to keep himself out of the Hall is another question; as writer William Rhoden commented after interviewing Miller on the subject, the issue involved is larger than the individual. Of course, if this is true, one wants to ask why the issue hasn't been addressed before now.
Idelson, for one, thinks that it will be: "He's eligible in perpetuity. Just because he hasn't been elected doesn't mean he can't be in the future." But, as the rules now stand, the Veterans Committee can't vote on the next nonplaying candidates for another 17 months, when Miller will be almost 93.
The 2008 Hall of Fame election was the most insulting of all. In the 2007 election, Miller received 51 out of 84 votes, or 63% — 12 short of the threshold. In 2008, they changed the rules: Only 12 people were voting, with nine required for election. Miller received three votes. Vaulting over him into Cooperstown was the late commissioner Bowie Kuhn — yes, that Bowie Kuhn, the man Charlie Finley, a former owner of the Oakland A's, once called "the village idiot." Kuhn, incidentally, hadn't received a single vote in 2007.
"It's ridiculous," a former Yankees player representative, Jim Bouton, said. "Marvin kicked Bowie's butt in every confrontation. It's like having a cartoon Hall of Fame which admitted Wile E. Coyote and kept out the Roadrunner."
The important question, though, isn't whether or not the last Veterans Committee was "rigged," as Miller says (though I believe Miller is correct in saying that it was). The issue isn't Major League Baseball's power structure at all. The issue is the players.
Since Rule 6(b) was debunked in 2000, players who served as Miller's player representatives — most notably Reggie Jackson, Tom Seaver, Brooks Robinson, and Joe Morgan — have been saying that they were going to "do what it takes" to get Miller in. But each time the vote has come up, they've all found excuses not to serve on the Veterans Committee. Or, when they have, like Jackson in 2004, they've suddenly become addlebrained and decided that only players should be in the Hall of Fame. Jackson has since recanted on this stance — but Miller is still is not in the Hall, perhaps because it will take more than wind to get it done.
Idelson believes that the rules can be reworked quickly and that the Veterans Committee will again be reconstituted before the next voting period. "While [Miller's] request will be respected, we think there's still time to revise the rules and reconsider his candidacy," he said.
Hopefully, what Idelson is actually saying is, "We know that the Hall of Fame has screwed up on this, but if some of the most influential players will come forward and demand some rule changes, we can right this wrong before the year is out."
While the Hall of Fame may be sincere in its desire to right this wrong, I can assure anyone who thinks Miller is bluffing that they are sadly mistaken. (In the interests of full disclosure, I worked with Miller on his 1991 autobiography, "A Whole Different Ball Game.")
"In the words of William Tecumseh Sherman," he said, "If I am elected, I will not serve." Then he added with a smile, "Groucho Marx spoke for me when he said, 'I refuse to be part of any organization whose standards are low enough to have me as a member.'" Some of Miller's friends and supporters might say that he should refuse to be part of any organization whose standards are low enough to admit Bowie Kuhn.
Whether or Miller wants to be in the Hall of Fame, isn't it time the players stood up for the man who stood up for them? The Hall of Fame is their bats, their baseballs, their uniforms, and their appearances. If rules need to be changed, they can push for those changes.
If the players really want Miller in the Hall of Fame, they can stop asking permission from The Man. They are The Man.
Mr. Barra is the author of "The Last Coach: A Life of Paul 'Bear' Bryant."