Hall of Fame trio could have been doubled
Controversies surrounding Steinbrenner, Miller, Martin fed into their legacies
Without question, the Expansion Era Committee got much of it right Monday when it emphatically declared Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre worthy of the Baseball Hall of Fame. The three were unanimous picks, to the surprise of nobody who knows the difference between third base and left field. You can't keep three of the greatest managers in the history of the game away from Cooperstown beyond their first year of eligibility.
It is a no-brainer.
With that out of the way, here is something less obvious, to me at least: The Expansion Committee needed to make this Hall of Fame class a group of six instead by adding the names of Marvin Miller, George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin. I hear the snickering from critics, but they need to understand a few things. Unlike Cox, La Russa and Torre, you can make a case against Miller, Steinbrenner and Martin with ease. Yet the case in favor of the latter three individuals is more compelling.
If nothing else, we can agree on this: Decades from now, when baseball historians review the game's significant figures of the 20th and 21st centuries, they will spend much time dissecting both the contributions and the controversies of Miller, Steinbrenner and Martin. For that alone, those three baseball notables deserve to creep within Cooperstown's city limits.
I mentioned controversies for a reason. Controversies have a negative connotation, and controversies more than anything else are keeping Miller, Steinbrenner and Martin out of the Hall of Fame. But those controversies are part of the contributions that make each of them worthy candidates.
Consider Miller. During his reign as the first head of the MLB Players Association from the late 1960s into the early 1980s, he was baseball's bogeyman in the minds of many. I was among them.
I thought like other fans during that make-believe era of tooth fairies and no labor strife, which means I was perturbed by Miller, because he never met a strike he didn't like to lead or threaten. We did not wish to hear anything about what the players wanted financially or what the owners would not give them. We just wanted to watch baseball, and the bogeyman would not let us.
In addition grumbling fans, Miller had to endure the wrath of owners and other baseball officials who likely were not inviting him over to share a libation or three. He was their primary adversary in the players' relentless attempt to change the overall economic structure of the game after more than 100 years.
That said, those future baseball historians will discover in a hurry that only Kenesaw Mountain Landis had more of an impact on baseball than Miller. While Landis saved the game from destruction after the Black Sox Scandal, Miller yanked it away from the suffocating effects of the Reserve Clause that restricted the movement of players from team to team. In 1968, he negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement in professional sports en route to salary arbitration and free agency. He suddenly went from bogeyman to Santa Claus -- at least in the minds of players who were allowed to join the highest bidder for the first time.
Was that good or bad? Depends on whether your team got one of those high-priced free agents and actually won.
Which brings us to Steinbrenner, the king of signing those types of free agents in an attempt to buy championships for his Yankees. It worked for the longest time, starting with the man they called The Boss using his huge bank account to bring Reggie Jackson to the Bronx in the late 1970s. With Mr. October joining those other expensive players of Steinbrenner's, the Yankees won the World Series in consecutive seasons from 1977-78.
They were in the midst of mini-dynasty, but Steinbrenner's spending was great for the game in several ways. You can start with his Yankees forcing teams like the Red Sox and the Orioles to open their wallets to keep up. The Yankees also were must-see TV, and they were dandy when it came to the selling of their merchandise around the world.
It all went back to Steinbrenner, who became a universally known through his demanding ways that translated into 11 AL pennants, seven world championships and the firings of multiple managers, general managers and even PR persons. He was loved and hated, but he was rarely ignored. He was even portrayed through a character on the TV sitcom "Seinfeld."
But here is the bottom line: You mention Steinbrenner, and you think baseball. The same goes for Martin. Sort of.
Martin followed his career as a solid second baseman for the Yankees dynasties of the 1950s with a reputation as a wonderful strategist, motivator and miracle worker as manager. He displayed all three of those attributes after he took over a dreadful A's team in 1980. With help from something those in the San Francisco Bay Area called "Billyball," the A's rolled into the playoffs the next year.
Martin led four different teams to division titles. His time with the Yankees produced two pennants, a world championship, physical fights on and off the field, along with legendary clashes with Steinbrenner, Jackson and umpires.
Steinbrenner fired Martin five times, but the duo agreed to do a nationally acclaimed beer commercial together that made fun of the situation. If folks were not talking about George, they were talking about Billy, and they both had everybody talking about a game Marvin helped bring into the modern world.
Sound like Hall of Famers to me.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.