Leaders, influence, and the Hall of Fame

This is about two leaders who saw a situation, envisioned  a better way,  and through hard work and incredible determination made that better way a reality. I didn’t always approve of how they did it, but I have to respect and admire the results they achieved.

In a few days the Baseball Hall of Fame will announce whether any new members are to be added from a group known as “expansion era veterans.” These are players who weren’t elected within 20 years after retiring, along with executives and managers who’ve been deemed worthy of consideration.

One advantage of my (somewhat) advanced age is that I can remember the entire career of each candidate on the list. As such, I can render an opinion as to whether he’s famous enough to be in the Hall of Fame. For me, the bar is high: Hall of Fame membership should be bestowed only on those who achieved an extraordinary level of greatness, or who exerted a great influence on the game.

I’ll cut to the chase. All of the players on the list, though they were very good, fall short of the mark. There’s a reason they weren’t elected when they were eligible before.

But the two men listed under the executives category — they’re another story.

George Steinbrenner

George SteinbrennerI’ll admit, he’s the reason I quit rooting for the Yankees. My first baseball memories are of rooting for the Yankees during the tail end of the Maris/Mantle era, then suffering through several bleak years of losing. After Steinbrenner bought the Yankees in 1973, everything changed. His dictatorial style, along with his extravagant spending and his insistence on nothing short of the best, alienated some fans — including me. But the Yanks started winning again, returning to the World Series in 1976 and winning it with the “Bronx Zoo” teams of 1977 and ’78.

Steinbrenner paid about $8.8 million to buy the Yankees — less than 1 percent of what the team is worth today. The Yankees helped lift the dollar value of every pro baseball team — and became the yardstick by which the other teams are measured (sorry, Red Sox). The Yankee brand, which in 1973 was synonymous with faded glory, is today the most renowned in American sports (sorry, Jerry Jones). Steinbrenner did all of that.

You bet he should be a Hall of Famer.

Marvin Miller

Marvin MillerWhen Miller became Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1966, players earned about the same money as the average white-collar worker. They had no choice about where they could play: after a player signed his first contract he could be traded or sold to any other team, no questions asked.

Today, the lowest-paid major leaguer earns $400,000 — and most players earn 7 figures. (Check out this eye-opening chart from Baseball Almanac.) Like me and millions of other workers, they can now choose where they want to earn their living.

Miller shook things up, to say the least. As with Steinbrenner, there were times when I wished he’d just go away. As a young fan I wanted my sports pages filled with news about balls and strikes, wins and losses — not salary disputes and threatened walkouts.

Are today’s baseball players are paid too much? Yes, when you compare them to teachers and police officers. But no, not when you consider the value they bring to the owners of their teams. They’re only getting their just desserts. Marvin Miller is the man to thank for that.

The legendary broadcaster Red Barber grouped Miller with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson as the “most important men in baseball history.” Barber understood, and so do I: Miller should be a Hall of Famer.

Will they clear the bar?

Both Steinbrenner and Miler made a lot of enemies. So they might not be elected to the Hall of Fame. But although there was a time I didn’t like either of them, today I admire their leadership and respect the profound influence they had on the game. If there’s any justice in the Hall of Fame voting, they’ll clear the bar with plenty to spare.

Note: The ballot includes 4 other men I haven’t mentioned: managers Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, and Billy Martin. I won’t express an opinion about whether they deserve to be Hall of Famers — at least not today. I’ll just say this: Wouldn’t it be a hoot if Steinbrenner and Martin were elected together?

Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments below.

Photo source (both): Wikipedia Commons

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