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Disappointments in Hall voting
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03/18/2003  1:49 PM ET 
Disappointments in Hall voting
 

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 Jerome Holtzman

The players profited greatly under union leader Marvin Miller (left), with Joe Torre in 1972. (AP)
I, too, was disappointed and surprised by the vote of the enlarged Hall of Fame Veterans Committee. There were a total of 41 candidates on two separate ballots: 26 former players, and a second, "composite" grouping of 15 other eligibles that included managers, umpires and executives.

Nobody received the 75 percent of votes necessary for induction.

Fact is, only four drew 50 percent. Gil Hodges led the player vote with 61.7, followed by Tony Oliva with 59.3 and Ron Santo with 56.8. Umpire Doug Harvey, who worked in the National League for 31 years, led the non-player group with 60.8 percent.

The biggest surprise, though, was more than a surprise. As New York Times linguist William Safire would say, it was "astonishing."

Marvin Miller wasn't elected. Miller was the most prominent and successful baseball executive of his time, which wasn't that long ago, and had a remarkable 18-year run as the executive director of the players' association.

Many newspaper accounts have referred to him as the founder of the players' union. That isn't true. But it's an understandable mistake. He inherited an inept union. The players didn't win much of anything at the bargaining table until he arrived in 1966.

The average salary was $19,000. Today, it's $2.4 million. Much of this gain has been won since Miller retired 22 years ago. Nonetheless, he is responsible for the escalation. Nobody else. He set the table.

Everything seemed made to order for his election. The Veterans Committee, expanded from an electorate of 15 to 85, included 58 players -- all the living Hall of Famers who were on the jury for the first time. The timing seemed perfect. Almost all of these players were in uniform and on the field during Miller's reign and benefited from his wizardy at the bargaining table.

He made them millionaires. I thought he would be a shoo-in. If they rallied behind him there was no way he could lose. But he didn't come close. He drew only 35 of the necessary 61 votes for canonization, a dismal 44.3 percent, third in his group.

I had assumed the players would give him unanimous or certainly near-unanimous approval. He changed the game. He was responsible for the revision of the reserve clause, which gave the players free agency after six years of Major League service, and initiation of salary arbitration, the twin engines that sent salaries beyond imagination.

Also sweetheart pensions.

I don't know why the Hall of Fame players didn't give Miller his due. I won't say they are ingrates, but something went wrong. It could be that many of them forgot or never understood what he did in their behalf. I'm certain the owners haven't forgotten. They have been paying through the nose ever since.

Another surprise, and this is minor in comparison, was that owner Walter O'Malley received four times as many votes as Philip K. Wrigley. The score was 38-9. O'Malley changed the Major League map. He uprooted the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1958 and transplanted them in Los Angeles, a move that resulted in the simultaneous transfer of the New York Giants to San Francisco.

Many younger fans probably are not aware that Wrigley was a big player in the move west. There is no question the owners, in time, would have expanded beyond the Mississippi, but Wrigley could have delayed the inevitable if he had not readily agreed to give O'Malley his Los Angeles franchise, then in the Pacific Coast League, to O'Malley in exchange for the Fort Worth grounds in the Texas League.

Apparently, it was a straight swap, one minor league franchise for another. I don't recall any financial comparisons but the Los Angeles territory was worth two or three times more than Fort Worth. But I do recall Bob Scheffing, then the Cubs manager, saying that if O'Malley and Wrigley were in the same room together for more than a half-hour, O'Malley would walk out with the Wrigley gum empire.

O'Malley was a lawyer. Wrigley was a sportsman. Long before O'Malley wrangled control of the Dodgers, Wrigley was advocating Major League status for the Pacific Coast League. Wrigley was the pioneer. O'Malley was the bag man. Bill Veeck once said O'Malley made more money in baseball than any owner. If so, he deserved it. He was a visionary.

So was Wrigley. Fifty years ago, in the mid-'50s, testifying before a Congressional Committee that was probing "monopoly power," Wrigley said baseball didn't need its anti-trust immunity and urged that the reserve clause be modified. It was unfair to the players to be bound to one team in perpetuity. When their contracts expire, he said, they should be free to move to another team.

He was also the author of the memorable quote: "Baseball is too much of a sport to be a business and too much of a business to be a sport."

Wrigley was among the first owners who championed radio broadcasts with the belief they increased fan interest and didn't diminish attendance. Seven stations, at one time simultaneously, aired the Cubs' games.

The late Gabe Paul, who operated four big league clubs, said 30 years ago: "Phil was the most visionary owner we ever had. He was the only owner who would vote against his best interests if he thought it would help the league."

I don't contend that Wrigley should be given more space than O'Malley in the baseball history books but he is entitled to more than nine votes.

Jerome Holtzman is the official historian of Major League Baseball. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.