Skip to content

Marvin Miller: 1917-2012

Nov 27, 2012, 10:30 AM EDT

Marvin Miller

Marvin Miller, the legendary leader of the Major League Baseball Player’s Association, has died at age 95.  No word on the exact cause of death, but he had been ill for some time.

It is impossible to overstate Miller’s impact on Major League Baseball. While some — including Hall of Fame voters — have long given Miller short shrift (or piled on utter disdain), baseball today cannot be understood without understanding Marvin Miller’s contributions. He was a truly transformative figure who, after Jackie Robinson, did more to correct the excesses and injustices delivered onto players by baseball’s ruling class than anyone.

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.

Miller, however, paid a cost for these victories, being snubbed repeatedly in Hall of Fame voting.  Baseball’s executives — who played a part in his voting — resented him. Some players on the Veteran’s Committee who came before the era of free agency did as well.  Miller never helped his own case, of course — he was at terms feisty, abrasive and mostly dismissive of the Hall of Fame and his own candidacy for it — but the fact remains that his exclusion is a travesty. This is especially true given that so many executives and owners who did so much to harm players’ well-being through greed, racism and other vile impulses have been welcomed in to Cooperstown with open arms.

But whether he ever makes the Hall of Fame or not, baseball would not be what it is today, both as a business and a game, without Marvin Miller. Indeed, you can count the people who have made as great or greater a contribution than Miller to the context in which the game is played on one hand. In this regard his legacy is inviolate.

RIP Marvin Miller. The game will never see his like again.

Latest Posts
  1. So, the Rockies are headhunters now?

    Jul 31, 2015, 3:22 AM EDT

    wong

    It’s fortunate this one didn’t get ugly.

  2. Giants to acquire Mike Leake from Reds

    Jul 31, 2015, 12:24 AM EDT

    cD05ODdlNmNhY2MwMjRlZWQzNTJhM2ViYTQ1Y2VlY2YzOCZnPWVkMWIyYmQzZjIyZDc1ZDBlM2Q5ZGUwM2I0NGRhODNj Getty Images

    Leake has a 3.56 ERA and 90/34 K/BB ratio in 136 2/3 innings over 21 starts this season.

  3. Video: Jason Castro powers Astros past Angels with walk-off three-run homer

    Jul 31, 2015, 12:00 AM EDT

    HOUSTON, TX - JUNE 03:  Jason Castro #15 of the Houston Astros swings at a pitch in the second inning during their game against the Baltimore Orioles at Minute Maid Park on June 3, 2015 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images) Getty Images

    The Astros completed a three-game sweep of the Angels and now hold a two-game lead in the American League West.

  4. Cubs, Blue Jays, and Dodgers among teams interested in Yovani Gallardo

    Jul 30, 2015, 11:29 PM EDT

    Yovani Gallardo Getty Images

    Gallardo isn’t going into the trade deadline on a high note, as he has allowed five runs in three straight starts.

  5. Report: The Diamondbacks have made an offer for Aroldis Chapman

    Jul 30, 2015, 10:55 PM EDT

    Aroldis Chapman AP

    The Diamondbacks are trying to make a play for All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman.

  6. Video: Ryan Rua hits inside-the-park home run against Yankees

    Jul 30, 2015, 10:20 PM EDT

    ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 30:  Ryan Rua #16 of the Texas Rangers celebrates his in the park homerun against the New York Yankees in the fourth inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington on July 30, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

    It was made possible due to a misplay by Jacoby Ellsbury in center field.

  7. Orioles talking to Brewers about Gerardo Parra

    Jul 30, 2015, 9:33 PM EDT

    against the Milwaukee Brewers at Chase Field on July 23, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. Getty Images

    The Brewers traded center fielder Carlos Gomez to the Astros earlier tonight along with right-hander Mike Fiers and they could be close to another deal.

  8. Report: Reds willing to trade Jay Bruce to Mets for Zack Wheeler

    Jul 30, 2015, 9:08 PM EDT

    CINCINNATI, OH - JULY 18:  Jay Bruce #32 of the Cincinnati Reds takes an at bat during the game against the Cleveland Indians at Great American Ball Park on July 18, 2015 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images) Getty Images

    As the Mets try to pick up the pieces after their deal for Carlos Gomez fell apart, they reportedly have an interesting proposal to consider from the Reds.

  9. The Dodgers have already designated Michael Morse for assignment

    Jul 30, 2015, 8:40 PM EDT

    Michael Morse Marlins Getty Images

    Morse is owed $8 million next season, but the Dodgers covered it in order to complete Thursday’s 13-player trade with the Marlins and Braves.

  10. Astros acquire Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers from Brewers

    Jul 30, 2015, 7:33 PM EDT

    gomez Getty Images

    Carlos Gomez was nearly dealt to the Mets last night before the deal fell apart, but it didn’t take long for the Brewers to find a new suitor.

  11. Report: White Sox interested in Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton

    Jul 30, 2015, 7:10 PM EDT

    CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 21: Chicago White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn (front) and Robin Ventura #23 of the Chicago White Sox watch batting practice before the game between the Chicago White Sox and the Cleveland Indians on April 21, 2015 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images) Getty Images

    It wasn’t too long ago that we were talking about the White Sox as sellers, but now they are trying to buy a big bat.

  12. Mike Trout back in Angels’ lineup Thursday

    Jul 30, 2015, 6:32 PM EDT

    ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 26:  Mike Trout #27 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim rounds third base after hitting a home run in the first inning during a game against the Texas Rangers at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on July 26, 2015 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Angels slugger Mike Trout is back in tonight’s lineup against the Astros after missing two games with left wrist inflammation.

  13. Pirates bolster bullpen, pick up Joakim Soria from Tigers

    Jul 30, 2015, 6:09 PM EDT

    cD05ODdlNmNhY2MwMjRlZWQzNTJhM2ViYTQ1Y2VlY2YzOCZnPWUxMWY3Njc0ZTU3N2M3NzRjMDUyODFiNWJhYWE1Mjg3 Getty Images

    After dealing ace David Price to the Blue Jays earlier today, the Tigers have traded closer Joakim Soria to the Pirates.

  14. Marlins president Mike Hill hopes Marlins fans are “educated enough” to see the team’s plan

    Jul 30, 2015, 5:05 PM EDT

    marlins logo

    Of course, experience is education too, and based on that I’m quite sure that even the most intelligent Marlins fan would be justified in being confused and thinking the organization has no clue whatsoever.

  15. Yankees acquire Dustin Ackley from Mariners

    Jul 30, 2015, 4:44 PM EDT

    Dustin Ackley Getty Images

    No. 2 overall pick in the 2009 draft behind Stephen Strasburg.

  16. The Mets have had an extremely Metsy 24 hours

    Jul 30, 2015, 4:07 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 3.57.11 PM

    Defeat from the jaws of victory and then they got all wet.

  17. Daniel Nava designated for assignment by the Red Sox

    Jul 30, 2015, 3:50 PM EDT

    ALCS - Detroit Tigers v Boston Red Sox - Game One Getty Images

    Nava hit .303 in 134 games for the Red Sox in 2013, playing a key role in the team’s World Series title.

  18. Pirates DFA Vance Worley to make room for Joe Blanton

    Jul 30, 2015, 3:46 PM EDT

    Vance Worley AP

    It’s like we’re in Philly all over again.

Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. C. Hamels (5499)
  2. C. Gomez (4258)
  3. T. Tulowitzki (4192)
  4. M. Trout (3806)
  5. J. Cueto (3750)
  1. C. Gonzalez (3512)
  2. A. Rodriguez (3512)
  3. D. Price (3273)
  4. T. Clippard (3070)
  5. J. Reyes (2750)