John Steigerwald Column

Should Miller’s plague hang in Cooperstown?

Should Miller’s plaque be hanging in Cooperstown?

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Should Marvin Miller be in the Baseball Hall of Fame?


That question came up a lot this week because of Miller’s death Tuesday at 95. He’s the guy who ran the Major League Players Association and gave the Major League owners their well-deserved comeuppance after 80 or 90 years of taking their monopolistic advantage out on their players. He did that by achieving free agency.


Nobody could have imagined the pendulum swinging far enough to get $17 million guaranteed contracts for .211 hitting catchers, but that’s where we are 28 years after free agency arrived in 1976. (More on the Pirates signing Russell Martin in a minute.)


Since Miller’s death, people from every corner of the sports media have been saying what a travesty it is that his plaque isn’t hanging in Cooperstown. I’m wondering: If a Pirates fan were to visit Cooperstown and come across Miller’s plaque, what kind of warm and fuzzy feelings would come over him as he read about how Miller transformed baseball forever?


Marvin Miller did wonders for baseball players and pro athletes all over North America, but he didn’t do Pirates fans any favors.


If Miller had come along 10 years sooner, the statues of Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell would not be standing outside PNC Park, because both would have left for a larger TV market long before their careers were over.


What Miller did was the right thing to do, and there is no doubt that he is a legitimate transformational figure. Sports owners had way too much control and had taken advantage of athletes for way too long, but he’s also the reason for the high ticket prices and commercial-heavy, drawn out telecasts.


And World Series games played in 30-degree temperatures at 11:30 on a Tuesday night in November.


The money for all the high priced players had to come from somewhere.


Sports fans are looking to be entertained. Do they really care whether players are fairly compensated as long as they get to watch them play for their favorite team?


Maybe Marvin Miller belongs in the Organized Labor Hall of Fame, but I don’t see why fans who visit Cooperstown would need to be reminded of how he changed sports forever. The changes were great for the players, bad for the fans.


n The San Antonio Spurs got the Twittersphere and bloggers everywhere fired up when their coach Greg Popovich sent three of his 30-something stars home to rest instead of playing them in Miami Thursday night. It was a nationally televised game. NBA Commissioner David Stern was not pleased. He released a statement apologizing to NBA fans everywhere.


The Spurs were playing their sixth road game in nine nights. The Heat were playing their third game in 12 nights, and they were all at home. None of the commissioners of the major sports has any credibility when standing up for the fans.


What kind of performance could fans expect to get out of 30-something players playing their fourth game in 5 nights?


How much consideration is the NFL giving to its freight-paying fans when, with a few days notice, it changes a game from Sunday at 1 p.m. to Sunday night at 8:20?


Has anybody asked the freight-paying baseball fans if they liked watching World Series games played in 30 degree temperatures in November?


The ticket-buying fans should know, if they don’t already, that they have become the laugh track for the major pro sports’ sitcoms.


They’re props.


Scenery.


The big money comes from television, and that’s who decides who plays whom and when.


n If I were voting for the Organized Labor Hall of Fame, I’d have to ask how many times Miller’s powerful “union” used that power to support their union brethren by refusing to cross an ushers’ or vendors’ picket line. I’m pretty sure the answer would be never.


n So, the Pirates signed a catcher for $17 million over two years. He hit .211 last year with the Yankees and, based on his career stats, can probably be counted on to hit somewhere between .240 and .260 with 15 home runs. His name is Russell Martin, and he’s just a guy. That’s the going rate just to get a “guy.” It’s a perfectly legitimate move by the Pirates, but it also shows what an exercise in futility it is for them every year. Guys who do little more than show up are now making $8.5 million a year.


Rod Barajas threw out 6 per cent of the runners who tried to steal on him last year. Martin, again based on his stats, should throw out 25 to 30 percent. So, that’s an upgrade.


Maybe.


Pitchers have more to do with preventing a stolen base, so there is always the possibility that Martin’s percentage will go way down with the Pirates’ pitching staff.


Let’s just say that the signing of Martin hasn’t exactly sent ripples through the Major Leagues.


n Since 1978, when the Steelers lose the turnover battle in a game, they are 31-229. Keeping the total under eight against the Ravens would be a good idea.


n The Pirates will be getting $18 million a year for their TV rights until 2019. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ new deal gets them between $240 million and $280 million for the next 25 years.



John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter. His website is justwatchthegame.com.


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