(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeU.)
Pat Gillick was an accomplished baseball executive for well over 40 years, including 27 seasons as a general manager for four different franchises. Although he isn’t a blight on the Hall of Fame, his election this afternoon by the new Expansion Era committee process is an absurdity when juxtaposed against the exclusion of two much more worthy candidates.
The mission of the Hall of Fame is (or at least should be) to honor excellence and preserve history, but unfortunately, the new era-based committee process seems just as prone to the cronyism that corrupted past iterations. One could not write the story of baseball’s expansion era, which the Hall of Fame defines as 1973 to the present, without devoting massive chapters to the contributions of MLBPA executive director Marvin Miller (1966 to 1982) and Yankees’ principal owner George M. Steinbrenner III (1973-2010). By excluding each member, the Hall of Fame is presenting an incomplete history…one influenced more by personal relationships than impact on the game.
The argument against Miller seems to be from those who think free agency ruined the game. “Because of the fiery union leader, the wholesome sport of baseball was undermined by greedy players no longer interested in simply playing for the love of the game”, Miller’s detractors have usually argued in one way or another. Sadly, such sentiment is pervasive, even though Miller’s labor revolution ushered in an era of growth and competitive balance. If he was an NFL commissioner, he’d be widely lauded as a hero. In the baseball world, however, he is still viewed by many as an enemy, especially by former executives who failed time and time again when squaring off against him at the bargaining table. By collecting 11 of 12 votes needed, Miller just missed joining Gillick, but as long as the committee contains a strong element of his past adversaries, getting over the hump could be difficult.
Steinbrenner’s exclusion comes as a surprise because it seemed as if part of the reason for the Hall’s new voting process was so the recently deceased Yankee owner could be awarded with immediate posthumous enshrinement. Incredibly, however, he received less than eight votes. Even Dave Concepcion received eight! There is no legitimate argument for not electing Steinbrenner. The history of baseball without mention of Steinbrenner is simply incomplete, and that fact should override any other concern. The idea that his two suspensions should detract from his overall contribution to the game is ill conceived, especially because a careful look at each situation reveals that Steinbrenner was unfairly treated during both investigations. Putting that aside, the bottom line is George Steinbrenner was arguably the most gigantic figure during the expansion era, so having fewer than half the electors recognize his accomplishments doesn’t speak well for the process.
Getting back to Gillick, his three world championships and 2,276-1,388 record as a general manager are impressive, but are they Hall of Fame worthy? The only other men who have been elected purely as front office executives are all legendary figures in the game: Ed Barrow, who was the architect of the first Yankees’ dynasty; George Weiss, who carried the flag from Barrow by winning seven World Series in the Bronx; and Branch Rickey, who was a pioneer in so many regards, not the least of which was his role in breaking the color barrier. Two other men elected based largely on contributions as an executive were Larry and Lee McPhail. Again, both father and son left behind a legendary imprint on the game well beyond wins and losses. With all due respect to Gillick, he has not had the same impact as the front office executive he now joins in the Hall of Fame.
Most of the unworthy Hall of Fame selections in the past have emanated from the backroom politics of the veteran’s committee process. Instead of focusing on the historical integrity of enshrinement, committee members lobbied for friends and ex-teammates, resulting in more than a few curious selections. Sadly, it seems as if that process hasn’t changed. By having 16 contemporary voters preside over friend and enemy alike, the vote is almost certain to be impacted by personal bias.
Marvin Miller and George Steinbrenner were such towering figures that their legacies will grow regardless of whether they are elected to the Hall of Fame. It is a shame, however, that for at least the next three years, visitors to that institution will be witness to an incomplete history.