Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Marvin Miller for the Hall of Fame?

I was watching a Yankee broadcast the other night. Ken Singleton was talking about this year's Hall of Fame inductees and he lamented that Marvin Miller was not in the Hall. Though a former labour (on behalf of teachers and principals) negotiator myself, I was taken aback by his statement. 

I think inductees should be there because of their on field contributions. But then I got to thinking that men at the other end of the spectrum, i.e. men who worked to keep players as serfs are in the Hall. Maybe Miller should be too. I am just as much against the ungodly salaries that professional athletes get as anyone. But before Miller came along things used to be ridiculous in the other direction.

The White Sox were called Black Sox before a bunch of them threw the 1919 World Series. Charles Comiskey was so cheap he refused to pay to wash the uniforms and several players refused to have them washed themselves. (Note: It is not true that Comiskey had Kid Gleason bench Eddie Cicotte to avoid paying him a bonus if he won 30 games. Cicotte got two more starts after winning his 29th.) 

Connie Mack, owner and manager of wonderful and awful Philadelphia Athletics teams for 50 years, said he preferred contending teams who wound up third or forth to pennant winners because the players wouldn't be expecting raises. He allowed the second of his great teams (the first had been the 1902 team that featured Eddie Plank and Rube Waddell) to be broken up in 1915. His infield of Harry Davis, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry, and Frank Home Run Baker had become famous as the $100,000 infield. But the $100,000 didn't refer to their salaries. It referred to what sportswriters felt Mack could get for them if he sold them. And he did sell Collins, Barry, and Baker.

He built his third great team (Foxx, Simmons, Cochrane, et al) in the late 1920's but again could not afford to keep his stars. In 1931 Lefty Grove won the MVP award (see photo) on the basis of a 31-4 record. Bu remarkably, he agreed to a cut in pay. "I'd play for free", said Grove, "but don't tell Connie that."

The next year - albeit with the depression on - Lou Gehrig, who'd had a pretty good year (.349, .623 Slugging Average, 155 RBI) accepted a salary cut from $25,000 to $23,000.

In 1935 Dizzy Dean, who'd won 30 games in 1934, had just 28 wins. Yikes! What an awful season. General Manager Branch Rickey asked him to take a pay cut.

In 1938 the Yankees cut Lou Gehrig's salary by $14,000 when he hit under .300 (.295) for the first time. He had 29 home runs and 114 RBI.

After the 1939 season, in which Hank Greenburg hit .312 with 31 homers and 112 RBI, he was asked to take a pay cut because his home run total was down from 1938 when he hit 58.

Ralph Kiner was famous for his home runs and also for his statement that home run hitters drive Cadillacs and singles hitters drive Fords. In 1950 Kiner, of the woeful Pittsburgh Pirates, led the National League in home runs. When he went to get a raise from Branch Rickey, the Pirates' General Manager, Rickey told him, "Mr. Kiner, we finished last with you this year, we can finish last without you." (Note that Kiner didn't just drive Cadillacs, he paralleled modern superstars by dating one of the hottest women of his era, the voluptuous Jane Russell.)

In 1953. Enos Slaughter, who'd hit an even .300 for Brooklyn the year before, slumped to .291. Predictably, he was asked to take a pay cut.

In 1959 Stan Musial asked for - and got - a salary reduction from $100,000 to $80,000 because he'd had a poor year, which he had, hitting a very uncharacteristic .255. Musial claimed that he had been overpaid in 1957 and '58. Well, he did hit 29 and then 17 home runs those two years, but his averages were okay - .351 and .337!

That same year Mickey Mantle's salary was cut from $70,000 to $60,000 when he dipped to .285 and 31 home runs.

In 1990 Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman was forced to take a whopping 20% salary cut. But even that is mitigated by the fact that Gedman had been awarded a hefty increase in 1989 (from $980,000 to $1.15 million) after an awe-inspiring 9, 39, .231 season in '88!

My point is that things were way too bad for the players before Marvin Miller and now the players have it too good. Starting with the huge arbitration awards that were handed out to mediocre players after they had one good season, agents now get the clients long term contracts and they can afford to have a bad year, or even two or three. Maybe, it'd be better to put a little more pressure on players to perform.

Miller, who has been on the ballot, doesn't think he will ever get into the Hall of Fame. Of course the voters who have been on the management side of baseball and some players who played before he came along will never vote for him. But you must admit that baseball has been a lot more popular since Miller got involved in it.

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