Marvin Miller sets the record straight on Jim Palmer and the union


A couple of weeks ago Maury Chass and some others wrote about Marvin Miller’s Hall of Fame candidacy which, regrettably, has yet to be successful.  Chass made mention of Miller’s recent pessimism regarding his chances, and quoted Miller dismissing the makeup of the Veteran’s Committee in whose hands his Hall of Fame case currently rests. Specifically, Chass quoted Miller talking about Jim Palmer. You can read the details of that here and here.

Yesterday I received an email from Marvin Miller’s son, Peter Miller.  Peter explained that his father doesn’t use a computer, and that he’s just now reading printouts of some of the things that were written regarding the Palmer comments.  He passed along a statement from Marvin Miller, which he asked to be published (see below). He also gave me Marvin Miller’s phone number so that I could confirm it all.  Anyone who has any journalism training knows that you have to make that call. I have no journalism training. But I made the call anyway because Marvin Miller is a personal hero, and there was no way I wasn’t going to talk to him when given the chance.

I am happy to report that most of our conversation was off the record. Happy because that meant that Miller was candid and fun and still sharp at age 93, and the 20 minutes I spent on the phone with him is easily one of the highlights of my adult life.  No, he didn’t dish dirt — that wasn’t the point — but he shared a lot. Among the topics: the makeup of the Hall of Fame and his candidacy. His family. His legacy. The difficulty of writing a book, due to all of the time alone it requires. Curt Flood. Lawyer stuff. Bowie Kuhn. Some other things.

The biggest overall takeaway from the conversation: the the extent Miller is ever portrayed as bitter or angry or crotchety about not having been elected to the Hall of Fame, it is an inaccurate portrayal. He is conflicted, yes, and understandably so, but he struck me as someone quite comfortable with his legacy as it is, thank you, and views the matter with wry amusement more than anything else. At least he did this morning.

The biggest factual takeaway was an observation he made relating to union dynamics. Unlike most unions, where the real push for formation and early activism comes from the have-nots in the ranks, the baseball union was always strongly supported by players at the top. This kind of surprised me because you often hear anecdotes about so-and-so star player didn’t see the point because he was already making six figures and getting endorsements. Those, however, were the exceptions, not the rule.

Which brings us back to Palmer.  Miller said that his conversation with Chass that led to the anti-Palmer quote was premised on a misunderstanding and maybe a misstatement or two that came in the course of a wide-ranging conversation.  Here is his official statement on the matter:

“From the beginning of the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1966, and continuing throughout his entire outstanding pitching career, Jim Palmer was a voluntary, supportive, dues-paying member of the union, during a period which included the strikes of 1972 and 1981.

“My references to Jim Palmer were confused with my descriptions of the substitutions made this year in the management section of the Hall of Fame’s voting committee. I doubt if anyone would quarrel with the description of Jerry Reinsdorf, who is new to the committee this year, as anti-union. He wears that badge proudly.

“The clue to the inaccuracy is in the reference to Jim Palmer’s role in 1969. I am well aware there was no strike in 1969, so there could have been no reference to crossing a picket line in that year. I am also well aware that Jim was on the disabled list when the 1969 season started and had been on that list for more than two years. So he could not have been talking about going past a non-existent picket line.”

Thanks to Peter Miller for passing it along. And thanks to Marvin Miller for sharing a bit of his Monday morning with me. I appreciate that he’s conflicted about it all, and I assume that, once again, the Veteran’s Committee will pass him over. But personally speaking, I hope Marvin Miller is elected to the Hall of Fame this year. Without him, Cooperstown’s status as the keeper of baseball history is laughable.

2018 Preview: Detroit Tigers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The Tigers.

We can’t blame you if you chose to erase the Tigers’ 2017 season from memory. They plummeted to the bottom of the AL Central division for the second time in three years, hobbled by Michael Fulmer’s chronic shoulder and elbow issues, an untimely implosion from Francisco Rodriguez and the worst version of Miguel Cabrera anyone’s seen to date. Their rotation ranked 13th-best among major league teams; their bullpen, dead last. By mid-July, it was clear the team wasn’t going to touch the division-leading Indians or the surprisingly hot Twins or the streaky Royals. Rather than make a pointless push for the playoffs during the second half, they seized the opportunity to get a head start on a lengthy rebuilding process instead.

Prior to the July 31 trade deadline, the Tigers had already jettisoned some of their biggest contributors—and biggest contracts. J.D. Martinez packed his bags for Arizona as the club gained a trifecta of Diamondbacks shortstop prospects: Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara and Jose King. Justin Wilson and Alex Avila were swapped for Cubs infielders Jeimer Candelario and Isaac Paredes. In one of the most nerve-wracking deadline deals, Justin Verlander and the outstanding $56 million left on his contract (not including the $22 million vesting option for 2020) were shipped to the Astros for prospect right-hander Franklin Perez, catcher Jake Rogers and outfielder Daz Cameron—with just seconds to spare before the cutoff time.

Of course, the writing was on the wall well before Al Avila decided to host a fire sale. Francisco Rodriguez logged six blown saves in his first 25 appearances with the club and was released after he proved incapable of handling any high-leverage situation. His struggles might have been more easily overlooked had Bruce Rondon not tanked as well, depleting the Tigers of much of their bullpen depth as they dropped yet another closer candidate—Justin Wilson—off with the Cubs.

A dilapidated bullpen wasn’t the team’s only weakness. Perennial All-Star and future first-ballot Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera labored through the worst year of his career, slashing .249/.329/.399 with 16 home runs and a .728 OPS in 529 PA. His power and productivity was zapped by lingering back issues, and he finished the year with two herniated discs in his lower back and a career-worst -0.2 fWAR. Not helping matters was a series of explosive, bench-clearing brawls against the Yankees in August, during which Cabrera got slapped with a seven-game suspension after he incited the first fight against New York catcher Austin Romine.

The offseason yielded few returns. The Tigers declined a $16 million option for Anibal Sanchez and found a taker for Ian Kinsler in the Angels, who helped restock Detroit’s farm system with minor league outfielder Troy Montgomery and right-handed pitching prospect Wikel Hernandez. The team committed another $12 million to rotation and outfield depth with right-hander Mike Fiers, lefties Francisco Liriano and Ryan Carpenter, and outfielder Leonys Martin. Perhaps most notable was a change in management: Brad Ausmus capped a four-year run with the team as Ron Gardenhire stepped into the dugout.

Looking ahead, the Tigers still have a few items to check off their to-do list before they can stage a full-scale rebuild. That includes offloading the remaining $184 million on Cabrera’s contract, something that will be impossible to do unless and until the 35-year-old has a monster bounce-back year in 2018. It also means exploring trade options for Fulmer, who profiles as one of the biggest assets on the Tigers’ 2018 roster and, with four years of control remaining on his current contract, could net some serious talent as they continue to build for the future. Likewise, closer Shane Greene, shortstop Jose Iglesias and outfielder Nicholas Castellanos are all expected to be made available at some point this year.

Come Opening Day, the club will likely roll out a rotation featuring Michael Fulmer, Jordan Zimmerman, Francisco Liriano, Mike Fiers and Matt Boyd. Daniel Norris is also competing for a starting role, though he will likely get edged out by Liriano to start the season. Despite the serious health concerns that were raised last year, Fulmer remains the undisputed ace of the pack after putting up All-Star numbers in 2017, including a 3.83 ERA, 2.2 BB/9 and 6.2 SO/9 in 164 2/3 innings. No one else (save Verlander) managed an ERA under 5.00 last year; Zimmerman kept a 6.08 ERA, 2.5 BB/9 and 5.8 SO/9 in 160 innings and led all major-league starters with a league-worst 108 earned runs.

Mikie Mahtook, Leonys Martin and Nick Castellanos project as the Opening Day outfield trio, though JaCoby Jones has looked versatile enough to back up all three spots this spring. Both Mahtook and Castellanos had decent runs last year, while Martin will try to stage a comeback after slashing just .172/.232/.281 with three home runs in back-to-back gigs with the Mariners and Cubs.

Cabrera, naturally, is expected to resume his post at first base and fellow veteran Victor Martinez will continue to slot in at DH. Both Cabrera and Martinez have looked exceptional at the plate this spring, but take that with a grain (or several hundred) of salt. Dixon Machado is set for a full-time role at second base, with Jose Iglesias at shortstop and Jeimer Candelario at third. James McCann and John Hicks are scheduled to share time behind the dish again. Barring a lot of surprises and bounce-back efforts, that doesn’t make for a very intimidating lineup, and probably not one that can supersede the collective .258/.324/.424 batting line the offense managed last year.

In a nutshell: Rebuilds are no fun to watch. The Tigers were very bad last season, and they’re going to be very bad this season. Cross your fingers that Miguel Cabrera looks as sharp in the regular season as he has in camp, keep an eye on that no. 1 draft pick this June, enjoy the September call-ups, maybe attend a few minor league games, and keep reminding yourself that contention is only a few years away (probably).

Prediction: 5th place, AL Central