Three of the five elected individuals should meet with unanimous approval of the baseball public. Billy Southworth and Dick Williams were managers of indisputable distinction. Barney Dreyfuss, as owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first half of the last century, had a highly successful franchise, and was considered one of the fathers of the modern World Series.
The election of Bowie Kuhn, the commissioner of baseball from 1969-84, will cause more than an occasional raised eyebrow. Under Kuhn's leadership, baseball undoubtedly enjoyed a major growth spurt. And he was known as a principled man who cared deeply about the game's integrity. On the other hand, he was on the losing end of numerous labor disputes. And this is where the real difficulty rests with this election.
By the end of Kuhn's reign, the single largest force in the game was not the commissioner, but the players' union. This is one of the reasons why Marvin Miller, who transformed that union from a mere concept to a full-fledged powerhouse, ought to be enshrined in Cooperstown as an individual who changed the nature of baseball as much as anyone outside of Jackie Robinson.
The players, when previously bound by the reserve clause, entered into the athletic equivalent of indentured servitude when they reached the professional level. Under Miller's leadership, the union completely changed the nature of baseball's labor/management relationship. An argument could be made that the pendulum has swung too far in the union's direction, but that merely underscores how successful Miller was in building a cohesive labor organization.
And yet, Miller gets only 25 percent of the vote in this election, while Kuhn gets 83 percent. But this is what will happen when the voting committee is heavily stocked with management, but not represented by labor.
Electing Kuhn and not Miller is basically the equivalent of looking at the 2007 World Series and determining that the Colorado Rockies, not the Boston Red Sox, were the champions. If you look at the 15 years of history in question from a labor/management standpoint, Marvin Miller won and Bowie Kuhn lost, hands down, time after time, beyond a shadow of a doubt. But in this election, that result was reversed.
The election of Walter O'Malley will be understood in many locales, but it will be denounced in New York. O'Malley, of course, as owner of the Dodgers, took the team out of Brooklyn and moved it to Los Angeles.
There is no question that leading the westward charge changed baseball, opening an untapped market, making the Major League game truly national in scope, and basically getting in tune with a national demographic shift toward the west.
But the bitterness over this move is undying. And the appearance of this election in New York will be that O'Malley was rewarded for abandoning a devoted fan base in favor of a financial windfall on the other side of the country.
The results of this election indicate that the Hall of Fame, by tinkering with the makeup of the Veterans Committees in question, has found a vehicle that will deliver inductions. In the majority of the 2008 winners, this was an acceptable result.
But electing Kuhn and not Miller indicates clearly that the process requires more work.