Great column by Bill Rhoden of The New York Times on what could be perceived as the interlocking Hall of Fame candidacies of George Steinbrenner and Curt Flood.
A few months before his thirty-second birthday, with twelve wonderful seasons behind him as the brilliant center fielder of the St. Louis Cardinals, Curt Flood was traded to the doormats of the National League, the Phillies. And he said no. He said you don’t have the right to ship my butt anywhere you please – not after I’ve given you a dozen years of my life. And he stood up against the establishment – and whatever you think the players have done to the game in the last twenty-five years, what the owners had done to the players for the 100 years previous was a million times worse. And Curt Flood refused to go, and he sued, and it cost him his career. This wasn’t some fringe guy; through 1969 he had 1,854 hits — all he needed was seven more average seasons to get to 3,000 — he’d batted .293 (only six guys outdid him and five of them are in the Hall), he’d slugged .390 (that was ninth best in the era), he’d had six .300 seasons, two seasons with 200 or more hits, he’d won seven straight Gold Gloves, and he’d been on three pennant winners and two World Champs. And he gave it all up. The man got exactly thirty-five more at-bats in his life. No million-dollar contract, no free agency, not even a job as a first base coach somewhere. He even lost the lawsuit – but he paved the way for the freedoms and salaries and rewards that those who followed enjoy to this day. He was thirty-two – and he gave it all up for a principle. The least he deserves in a plaque in Cooperstown.
In point of fact, as I once suggested on ESPN while Curt Flood was still alive, every player should have given him 1% of their salary.
Bulletin news from the esteemed author and DL’d pitcher of the Toronto Blue Jays, Dirk Hayhurst. The Bullpen Gospels is no longer a cult classic. It is not only going to stay on the best-sellers’ list of The New York Times, it is going to move up on it. It is now considered the 15th best selling non-fiction paperback in the country.
MARVIN MILLER AND THE HALL OF FAME
The venerable organizer of the first successful players’ association in sports turned 93 today and if there was justice, he would be starting to prepare his speech for the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies over the summer.
As Joe Morgan so aptly noted on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, it is not just the players who should thank Miller for increasing rookie salaries from $8,000 to $400,000, and the top end of the equation from $100,000 to Eleventy Billion. The owners, despite doing everything possible to stop Miller before he started, then stop him while he was dismantling their plantations, then roll back his accomplishments, saw similar income explosions, and the growth of franchise values from a high then of around $12 million, to the fact that a couple of clubs are now worth a $1.6 billion.
That’s what the owners were fighting.
It is literally true that when Miller came to the MLBPA in 1966, the most expensive seat in any big league stadium was $3.50 or $4. The seat that now goes for a couple of grand in a luxury box, or for $1250 in the front row in the Bronx, was $4 – or less – before Marvin Miller almost single-handedly changed the nature of the business of the equation, and thus of the sport.
It can be rightly argued that fans don’t get to see players playing as long for one team as they used to (although I suspect a thorough study would indicate the change is a lot less than people think). They also don’t see many players spend their careers on the outside looking in, enslaved to one club literally forever, and never even getting to the post-season (Ernie Banks). The free agency that Miller rightfully won has not contributed to the small market/big market dilemma, it has only redefined it, and more importantly it has provided for the first time in the history of the game, the opportunity for less robust clubs to climb out of their holes through shrewd spending of the dollar (Cleveland in the ’90s, Tampa Bay today).
I don’t know what parallel there is to Marvin Miller among the players. I guess you’d have to start with Babe Ruth and double his longevity. Miller’s influence has been that strong. Was it painless? No. Was Ruth’s? The new game he created turned bunting, running, sacrificing, and hitting-and-running – and the men who excelled in them – into afterthoughts. It killed off John McGraw and “Inside Baseball” and for all we know led to the New York Giants moving out and the Dodgers going to LA, too.
But ask the players of today, and the fans of today, and the owners of today, if they’d really like to go back to, say, the ’60s, before free agency. It cost less to get in. And each team and each player lived on the margins of financial collapse. Is it just a coincidence that the geographical chaos of the time ended four years before free agency began? Between 1953 and 1972, Boston became Milwaukee, St. Louis became Baltimore, Philadelphia became Kansas City, Brooklyn became Los Angeles, New York became San Francisco, Washington became Minnesota, Milwaukee became Atlanta, Kansas City became Oakland, Seattle became Milwaukee, and Washington became Texas. Cleveland nearly moved. Oakland. San Francisco. Cincinnati. The Cardinals were going to Dallas.
In the 38 years since, for all the other turmoil, one franchise has moved.
Marvin Miller is a Hall of Famer, and with the special elections afforded Lou Gehrig and Roberto Clemente as precedent, he should be sent to Cooperstown now, not later – now while he can still enjoy it, and now while we can still honor him.