It’s April, and the 2012 baseball season has begun. Time to remember something disconnected from batting averages and a pitcher’s ERA: the continuous failure — actually refusal — of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame to recognize the contributions of the late St. Louis Cardinals outfielder, Curt Flood and the retired Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Player Association, Marvin Miller. This refusal has taken the explicit form of rejecting their nominations to the Hall of Fame itself.
Flood and Miller, both together and separately, were involved in ending the indentured servant-like system of the “reserve clause” in baseball, a system that tied an individual player to a specific team for as long as the team owner wanted him. At a tremendous sacrifice, Flood (with the support of Miller and the Major League Baseball Players Association) sued Major League baseball over the matter, with the case going the U.S. Supreme Court. Although Flood lost at the highest level, the publicity of the case and the arrogance of the team owners set in motion a process that resulted in unraveling of the system. The Major League Baseball Players Association, under Miller’s leadership, brought an end to the reserve clause through their struggle with the owners of the teams. Their victory resulted in the introduction of free agency, a system from which players have benefitted immensely.
Despite the fact that Major League Baseball grew and thrived under free agency — contrary to the dire predictions of the team owners — the team owners and many sympathetic sports writers have never forgiven either Flood or Miller. The fact that Flood and Miller dared to challenge the absolute domination of the sport by the owners was a crime for the owners, and one for which Flood and Miller would never be forgiven.
There are tremendous ironies in the refusal of the Hall of Fame to admit Flood and Miller. One such irony is summarized by the name Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first commissioner of Major League Baseball. He was widely known for his role in addressing the 1919 Chicago White Sox scandal in which eight players were banned from baseball for life (including the famous player “Shoeless” Joe Jackson) for their alleged participation in throwing the 1919 World Series. Landis was applauded by many for supposedly cleaning up baseball, but this was also the same Landis who tolerated the exclusion of Black players from Major League Baseball and, according to many observers of the period, undermined efforts at desegregation. Yet, Landis, who never played baseball, was admitted into the Hall of Fame a year after his death.
Curt Flood died in 1997 and Marvin Miller — God bless him — is very much alive at the age of 95. Both of them contributed, in very fundamental ways, to reshaping the sport of baseball. Yet, the fact that they challenged the employer class and suggested that the players should have the freedom to bargain — a right for which all workers should be guaranteed — has resulted in a systematic attempt to cast them into oblivion.
We should not let that happen. Maybe this baseball season we need a few million T-shirts proclaiming that Flood and Miller must get into the Hall of Fame. What do you think?