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

7 Comments

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.

Yoenis Cespedes should be ready for Tuesday’s game

Getty Images
1 Comment

The Mets are off today, and that day off may be just enough to get outfielder Yoenis Cespedes ready to start their next game, on Tuesday, against the Braves. At least that’s what he’s telling Mets manager Terry Collins.

Cespedes did not play in the weekend series against the Nationals, but was available as a pinch hitter yesterday. He was even on the on-deck circle at the end of last night’s game.

Cespedes, who tweaked his hammy running to second base on Thursday, is hitting .255/.364/.636 with six homers and 10 RBI in 15 games on the young season.

Marcus Stroman was called for an illegal quick pitch for some reason

Getty Images
5 Comments

A “quick pitch” is an illegal action in which the pitcher pitches the ball before the batter is prepared. What makes a quick pitch a quick pitch? According to Rule 6.02(a)(5), it’s this:

 . . . Umpires will judge a quick pitch as one delivered before the batter is reasonably set in the batter’s box. With runners on base the penalty is a balk; with no runners on base, it is a ball. The quick pitch is dangerous and should not be permitted.

There are a couple of reasons why you don’t want quick pitches in baseball. In one respect, it’s about safety, as mentioned specifically in the rule. You don’t want a pitcher throwing a 90 m.p.h. fastball in the batter’s general direction if he’s not ready for it, because if it goes off course the batter will have no ability to defend himself and bail. But there’s also a spirit-of-the-game reason for it. The essence of baseball is the face-off between batter and pitcher. While everyone wants the game to move along promptly, the game isn’t really the game if the batter isn’t ready.

There is more art than science to all of this, of course, as all batters and pitchers have different pre-pitch routines, but when you watch a game, there’s a rhythm to all of that. You know the batter is gonna take a couple of practice swings and settle in. The pitcher tends to respect that. The quick pitch rule is rarely invoked for this reason.

It was used in yesterday’s Angels-Blue Jays game, however. And used badly in my view. Watch Marcus Stroman pitch to Kole Calhoun. The ump is Ramon DeJesus. The count was 3-1, so the automatic ball resulted in Calhoun being awarded first base:

Calhoun was obviously upset about something, calling time after Stroman is into his motion (which is not allowed) throwing his hands up and stuff after the pitch. But tell me, in what way was he not “reasonably ready” for that pitch, to use the language of the rule? He’s facing Stroman, looking at him. He’s done with his warmup swings, his bat is up and cocked and he’s standing in hitting position. I understand that it’s a judgment call by the umpire, but it seems to me like the umpire just called time too late because Calhoun didn’t feel ideally comfortable or something.

Either way, it set off Stroman and manager John Gibbons. Gibbons was ejected arguing the call. Stroman, who was otherwise excellent yesterday, was rattled for a bit, giving up a couple of hits and a run afterward. It was Calhoun who scored, natch.

It didn’t affect the outcome, but it certainly seemed like a bad call. And possibly a bad precedent, as batters may now try to lobby harder for quick pitch calls, given its success yesterday. Or, if umpires tend to think that was a bad call too, maybe they’ll overcompensate for it and be less likely to call quick pitches? You never know how this stuff will play out.

Whatever happens, I’ve been against Major League Baseball’s habit of increasingly taking judgment calls away from umpires, trying to make the subjective objective and making a flawed instant replay system the Supreme Court of Baseball Calls. But jeez, it’s hard to argue for allowing umps to hold on to judgment calls when they blow ’em like this.