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Marvin Miller, Ted Simmons elected to the Hall of Fame

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SAN DIEGO — The Modern Baseball Era Committee has met and it has voted and we now have two new men in the Hall of Fame: Legendary Players Association Executive Director Marvin Miller and eight time All-Star Ted Simmons are heading to Cooperstown.

Twelve votes were needed for election. The vote totals broke down like so: Simmons (13) Miller (12); Dwight Evans (8); Dave Parker (7); Steve Garvey (6); and Lou Whitaker (6). Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Thurman Munson and Dale Murphy each received three or fewer votes.

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Miller was up for election by various incarnations of the Veterans Committee multiple times only to be rebuffed until now. For his part, the late Miller said that making the Hall of Fame was never a thing he cared about, but there were many — including thousands of players who benefitted from his leadership — who thought he deserved the honor. And now he has it, even if it came posthumously.

When Miller took over as the head of the MLBPA in 1966 there was no free agency. Players were told by ownership what they would make the following year and if they didn’t like it, tough. They couldn’t switch teams. They couldn’t do what any other worker can do and shop their services elsewhere. They were stuck thanks to baseball’s reserve clause and the ridiculous Supreme Court decision which exempted baseball and its owners from the antitrust laws.

Miller took all of that on and he won. He started small, negotiating the union’s first collective bargaining agreement with the team owners in 1968, which raised the game’s minimum salary from $6,000 to $10,000. In 1970 he got the owners to agree to arbitration for the first time. In 1970 Curt Flood, with Miller’s support and guidance, challenged baseball’s antitrust exemption — and the dreaded reserve clause, which kept players tied to one team against their wishes — in the courts. Flood ultimately lost that case in the landmark 1972 Supreme Court decision. The decision did not, however, blunt Miller’s resolve, and he took his fight to other forums.

In 1974 he exploited a loophole — and an oversight by Oakland Athletics owner Charlie O. Finley — to get Catfish Hunter free agency and baseball’s first $1 million contract.  Up next: the whole enchilada. In 1974, he got Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally to play out the season without contracts, placing them in cross-hairs of the reserve clause and giving them standing to fight the provision in arbitration. In 1975 they won, with the Seitz Decision ushering in the age of free agency. Baseball players’ indentured servitude was over.

In all Miller led the union through three work stoppages: two short ones — 1972 and in spring training 1980 — and then the long, season-altering strike in 1981.  In all three stoppages the union prevailed. Overall during his tenure the average players’ salary rose from $19,000 to $241,000 a year and their working conditions improved dramatically. It is no understatement to say that Miller turned the MLBPA into the most effective and successful labor union in the United States. Not just in sports: in the entire United States.

The sum total of all of that may not have driven in a single run or struck out a single batter, but neither did any of the many executives, owners, or commissioners who have already been inducted into the Hall of Fame. But Miller’s impact on the game was gigantic, affecting the decisions teams and players make about who plays where, how teams are built and nearly every off-the-field thing we as fans talk about in the game.

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Ted Simmons’ being overlooked by the Baseball Writers Association of America voters — receiving only 3.7% of the vote on his one and only time on the writers ballot — was largely a function of his career value coming in statistical categories that weren’t appreciated nearly as much during his career, or in the years shortly thereafter, as they would be later.

On-base percentage was a big one. Simmons notched a .348 OBP in his career and a .367 OBP during his best seasons, 1971-1980. Durability was another factor that was not as admired as much during Simmons’ time as it is today. Catching is the toughest position physically speaking but he racked up 150+ games behind the plate an astounding eight times. If that were to happen today we’d be calling the guy a freak of nature. At the time it was noted, but perhaps not as much as it should’ve been.

Not that everything he did flew under the radar. Simmons finished with more than 100 RBI in three seasons and 90+ RBI eight times. He complied 2,472 hits. He was an All-Star eight times. He won a Silver Slugger award and got at least a few MVP votes in seven different seasons. He was not just a good hitter for a catcher. He was a legitimately good hitter for most any position, finishing with a career batting line of .285/.348/.437, giving him an OPS+ of 118 for his career, which is excellent for a catcher.

Simmons’ offensive production and his durability made him one of nine catchers with 50 or more WAR in their careers. The other eight — Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Pudge Rodríguez, Carlton Fisk, Gabby Hartnett, Yogi Berra, Mike Piazza and Bill Dickey — were already in the Hall of Fame. Now Simmons joins them.

Two new inductees, both of whom are deserving. They will, with 100% certainty, be joining Derek Jeter in the Hall of Fame next summer. We will find out in January if anyone besides those three will be so honored.

Ex-Angels employee charged in overdose death of Tyler Skaggs

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FORT WORTH, Texas — A former Angels employee has been charged with conspiracy to distribute fentanyl in connection with last year’s overdose death of Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, prosecutors in Texas announced Friday.

Eric Prescott Kay was arrested in Fort Worth, Texas, and made his first appearance Friday in federal court, according to Erin Nealy Cox, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas. Kay was communications director for the Angels.

Skaggs was found dead in his hotel room in the Dallas area July 1, 2019, before the start of what was supposed to be a four-game series against the Texas Rangers. The first game was postponed before the teams played the final three games.

Skaggs died after choking on his vomit with a toxic mix of alcohol and the powerful painkillers fentanyl and oxycodone in his system, a coroner’s report said. Prosecutors accused Kay of providing the fentanyl to Skaggs and others, who were not named.

“Tyler Skaggs’s overdose – coming, as it did, in the midst of an ascendant baseball career – should be a wake-up call: No one is immune from this deadly drug, whether sold as a powder or hidden inside an innocuous-looking tablet,” Nealy Cox said.

If convicted, Kay faces up to 20 years in prison. Federal court records do not list an attorney representing him, and an attorney who previously spoke on his behalf did not immediately return a message seeking comment.