AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Let's take a few minutes now to recognize one of the newest members of the Baseball Hall of Fame; former players union leader Marvin Miller. He's a polarizing figure in baseball history. Miller fought for and won the right for players to become free agents. For many of his supporters, his inclusion in the hall is long overdue. But for Miller, who died in 2012, and his family, it's an honor they hoped would never happen. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Marvin Miller's history in baseball is a contentious one. So it's fitting his election to the Hall of Fame follows one last battle, not with baseball's owners, who he tangled with during his union leadership from 1966 to 1982, but rather with the Hall of Fame voters who rejected his nomination six times before his election this past weekend. In 2008, after his third rejection, Miller asked that he not be considered anymore. He called the process rigged and motivated by anti-union bias. I can do without farce, he said - strong, principled words, the kind Steve Rogers heard many times.
STEVE ROGERS: I've worked with the Major League Baseball Players Association for 31 years.
GOLDMAN: Rogers says he has loved those three-plus decades with the union almost as much as his 12 years pitching in the major leagues. Rogers worked closely with Marvin Miller, who he calls potentially the greatest teacher and mentor that ever existed.
ROGERS: He taught the players to understand what they meant to the game in an individual and collective manner.
GOLDMAN: Miller taught the players about their worth after learning they actually had little or none. In a 2004 interview, he talked about his reaction when he first heard about baseball's reserve clause, which literally allowed owners to own players their whole careers.
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MARVIN MILLER: My strongest memory about that time is a feeling of, why didn't I know all this? It's really - indignation is justified here. This was immoral behavior.
GOLDMAN: But instead of publicly railing against it, Miller worked calmly, building the strength of the players' union, listening endlessly to players' concerns. Before leading the union, he'd been a union negotiator at U.S. Steel. And he used that experience to convey this to the players. Their fight against the reserve clause was not a baseball story.
JEFF KATZ: He was saying, you don't have to be treated this way.
GOLDMAN: Jeff Katz has written a couple of books about major league baseball.
KATZ: You can have the mobility that every worker in every industry in this country has that you are deprived of. And that - you know, that becomes free agency, right?
GOLDMAN: It did in the mid-1970s, and it changed the game and, really, all of professional sports. It gave players choices where to play, how much they'd earn. It didn't kill the game, as owners and Miller's many critics warned. It made it stronger and, in fact, more competitive. And now, Katz says, Miller's role in that will be an important part of the Hall of Fame.
KATZ: People are going to have to be confronted with his story, whether they like to or not. And the story, I think, has been a great one for baseball.
GOLDMAN: Of course, next July's induction ceremony could be awkward, considering Miller's wishes not to be included. His children are honoring his wish. In an email to NPR, Miller's son Peter noted his father's portrait currently is on view at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. As a public institution, Peter Miller writes, it's the best place to honor my father's memory.
Tom Goldman, NPR News.
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