Ringolsby: Cooperstown Bound Ted Simmons, Marvin Miller Helped Shape Players’ Union

Image credit: Ted Simmons (Focus On Sport)

It was the spring of 1972. Ted Simmons, the 22-year-old catcher for the Cardinals took a stand. He refused to sign the team’s contract offer, waiting until midseason before agreeing to a $30,000 salary, which at the time was a sizable amount.

More than that, however, it underscored Simmons’ willingness to take a stand, and not back down. It opened the door for Simmons to become a key factor in the development of the Major League Baseball Players Association. It also created a bond between Simmons and Marvin Miller, the former negotiator for the United Steelworkers, who became the first legitimate head of the players’ union six years earlier.

So it seems fitting that Simmons and Miller will go into the Hall of Fame together. Both were elected by the Hall’s modern baseball era committee, which announced the results of its 16-member vote on Dec. 8 at the Winter Meetings.

Simmons and Miller will be enshrined in July, along with any players who receive 75 percent of the vote on the writers’ ballot in January.

“I couldn’t be prouder as a newly elected member to be going in with him,” Simmons said. “I can’t pick anyone I’d rather go in with.”

It makes it all worth the wait for Simmons, whose name was eliminated from the writers’ ballot after one election in 1994 because he failed to generate at least 5% of the vote. He last appeared on the era committee ballot in 2017, when he came up one vote short.
Simmons’ unexpected dream came true in 2019, when he was listed on 13 of the 16 ballots.

“Twenty-five years is a long time,” Simmons said. “I was one-and-done, so to speak, a long time ago. At that time I thought my candidacy was over.”

But it wasn’t.

“As far as my pursuit of Cooperstown . . . it has taken this long,” he said. “It may sound so trite because it is used so often, but it is a hard place to get into and it should be. There’s no reason to feel in any way shape or form that my journey was any more or any less than anybody else’s.

“It is hard. It is an excruciating wait, and until it happens, you can’t describe what it is like.”

Miller’s induction certainly underscored that. His induction came seven years after he died at the age of 95, and it came despite his proclamation in his later years that if he is elected after he dies, the Hall of Fame should understand that he would have refused the induction.

Just the same, Miller was on the ballot for the seventh time and the seventh time was the charm for his election, which may have been against Miller’s wishes, but was embraced by the players, who remain aware of the impact he had, which included negotiating the first collective bargaining agreement in professional sports history.

“The players are pleased that Marvin will now take his rightful and long overdue place in the Hall of Fame in recognition of the monumental and positive impact he had on our game and industry,” said Tony Clark, a former player and the current executive director of the MLBPA.

The battles were severe when Miller took control of the players’ union.

But look at the game now. A game that has seen the players’ salary rise from an average of $19,000 when he was hired in 1966 to $4.36 million per player in 2019, and also has seen the value and income of teams skyrocket to the point where franchises are now valued at $1 billion or more. No longer is there a Mariners franchise of the late 1970s and early ’80s that was facing bankruptcy year in and year out.

Was it all Miller’s doing? No. Nothing is ever a one-man show, but he was the leader of the band, fighting for the players, much to the chagrin of ownership, and in the long run creating a financial windfall for both sides. It wasn’t easy. But it also did not go unnoticed.
“Marvin Miller, along with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson, is one of the three most important men in baseball history,” said the late Red Barber, a Hall of Fame-recognized announcer.

The signs of a softening of management’s stand against Miller surfaced in 2007 when former Brewers owner and long-time commissioner Bud Selig said, “The criteria for non-playing personnel is the impact they made on the sport. Therefore, Marvin Miller should be in the Hall of Fame on that basis. Maybe there are not a lot of my predecessors who would agree with that, but if you’re looking for people who make an impact on the sport, yes, you would have to say that.”

Finally, in 2020, that moment will come. After being shut out in the voting in 2003, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2014, Miller, along with one of his strongest supporters, Simmons, is headed to Cooperstown.

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