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Marvin Miller sets the record straight on Jim Palmer and the union

Nov 29, 2010, 10:08 AM EDT

Marvin Miller

A couple of weeks ago Maury Chass and some others wrote about Marvin Miller’s Hall of Fame candidacy which, regrettably, has yet to be successful.  Chass made mention of Miller’s recent pessimism regarding his chances, and quoted Miller dismissing the makeup of the Veteran’s Committee in whose hands his Hall of Fame case currently rests. Specifically, Chass quoted Miller talking about Jim Palmer. You can read the details of that here and here.

Yesterday I received an email from Marvin Miller’s son, Peter Miller.  Peter explained that his father doesn’t use a computer, and that he’s just now reading printouts of some of the things that were written regarding the Palmer comments.  He passed along a statement from Marvin Miller, which he asked to be published (see below). He also gave me Marvin Miller’s phone number so that I could confirm it all.  Anyone who has any journalism training knows that you have to make that call. I have no journalism training. But I made the call anyway because Marvin Miller is a personal hero, and there was no way I wasn’t going to talk to him when given the chance.

I am happy to report that most of our conversation was off the record. Happy because that meant that Miller was candid and fun and still sharp at age 93, and the 20 minutes I spent on the phone with him is easily one of the highlights of my adult life.  No, he didn’t dish dirt — that wasn’t the point — but he shared a lot. Among the topics: the makeup of the Hall of Fame and his candidacy. His family. His legacy. The difficulty of writing a book, due to all of the time alone it requires. Curt Flood. Lawyer stuff. Bowie Kuhn. Some other things.

The biggest overall takeaway from the conversation: the the extent Miller is ever portrayed as bitter or angry or crotchety about not having been elected to the Hall of Fame, it is an inaccurate portrayal. He is conflicted, yes, and understandably so, but he struck me as someone quite comfortable with his legacy as it is, thank you, and views the matter with wry amusement more than anything else. At least he did this morning.

The biggest factual takeaway was an observation he made relating to union dynamics. Unlike most unions, where the real push for formation and early activism comes from the have-nots in the ranks, the baseball union was always strongly supported by players at the top. This kind of surprised me because you often hear anecdotes about so-and-so star player didn’t see the point because he was already making six figures and getting endorsements. Those, however, were the exceptions, not the rule.

Which brings us back to Palmer.  Miller said that his conversation with Chass that led to the anti-Palmer quote was premised on a misunderstanding and maybe a misstatement or two that came in the course of a wide-ranging conversation.  Here is his official statement on the matter:

“From the beginning of the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1966, and continuing throughout his entire outstanding pitching career, Jim Palmer was a voluntary, supportive, dues-paying member of the union, during a period which included the strikes of 1972 and 1981.

“My references to Jim Palmer were confused with my descriptions of the substitutions made this year in the management section of the Hall of Fame’s voting committee. I doubt if anyone would quarrel with the description of Jerry Reinsdorf, who is new to the committee this year, as anti-union. He wears that badge proudly.

“The clue to the inaccuracy is in the reference to Jim Palmer’s role in 1969. I am well aware there was no strike in 1969, so there could have been no reference to crossing a picket line in that year. I am also well aware that Jim was on the disabled list when the 1969 season started and had been on that list for more than two years. So he could not have been talking about going past a non-existent picket line.”

Thanks to Peter Miller for passing it along. And thanks to Marvin Miller for sharing a bit of his Monday morning with me. I appreciate that he’s conflicted about it all, and I assume that, once again, the Veteran’s Committee will pass him over. But personally speaking, I hope Marvin Miller is elected to the Hall of Fame this year. Without him, Cooperstown’s status as the keeper of baseball history is laughable.

  1. BC - Nov 29, 2010 at 10:14 AM

    Hey, I’m half of Marvin Miller’s age and I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast two days ago. I’ll give him a pass on this thing…. and I hope he gets voted in.

  2. BC - Nov 29, 2010 at 10:15 AM

    Geez, actually he’s older than I thought. He’s got me by 50 years.

  3. Utley's Hair - Nov 29, 2010 at 10:52 AM

    Hey, Craig, are you going to send him a hard copy of this?

  4. Jonny 5 - Nov 29, 2010 at 11:17 AM

    He “changed the face” of baseball much more than most of the executives who are members of the HOF already. Cooperstown really annoys the living sh!t out of me.

    One thing that will keep Miller out imo, is the strange fact that there are more executives in the HOF than managers, negro leaguers, catchers, first basemen, second basemen, third basemen, short stops, Left fielders, Center fielders, right fielders. That’s every position player and then some, and i find it extremely hard to believe the executives should rightfully outweigh the managers. The position players maybe, since they have to be divided up by position and all. Does anyone else think the fact that executives carry more weight in the HOF than any other “position” excluding pitchers is strange? Or am I under rating their impact?

  5. apbaguy - Nov 29, 2010 at 11:30 AM

    Amazing he isn’t in the Hall, considering his impact on the game. I come from a family with lots of longevity, the males often make it to the early 90′s and the women 3-4 years past that. Still, none of them have Miller’s accomplishments to their credit. And to be able to remember so much of it, truly amazing.

  6. Mark Armour - Nov 29, 2010 at 11:33 AM

    Thanks for posting this, Craig. I interviewed Miller twice in 2007, and it was also one of the highlights of my life. The conversations were great because Miller took my questions seriously–he questioned me about what I was doing and why, and he gave better answers than most of my subjects. I was asking about a management guy (Joe Cronin) yet Miller painted a fair portrait of Cronin’s strengths and weaknesses in his role and it was clear that it was not personal. His memories of particular stories, including where people were sitting in the room, was absolutely amazing.

  7. leez34 - Nov 30, 2010 at 1:28 AM

    Jealous.

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