Nov 27, 2012, 10:30 AM EST
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.
Dec 22, 2014, 8:09 PM EST
All three players received invites to major league spring training.
Dec 22, 2014, 6:40 PM EST
Dan Haren was traded from the Dodgers to the Marlins in the Dee Gordon deal during this month’s Winter Meetings despite his previous comments that he would rather retire than pitch for a team away from his family in Southern California.
Dec 22, 2014, 5:07 PM EST
“It’s too soon to know if Scutaro will ever take the field again.”
Dec 22, 2014, 4:49 PM EST
I got, like, 17 guys I’d put in. But I’ll pretend I can only pick ten.
Dec 22, 2014, 2:49 PM EST
Another comeback attempt in San Diego.
Dec 22, 2014, 2:37 PM EST
And it looks weird. But then again, everything looks weird there, doesn’t it?
Dec 22, 2014, 2:08 PM EST
We could probably all write one of these. But ours would be a lot less useful to our younger selves than Doc Gooden’s is to his younger self.
Dec 22, 2014, 12:44 PM EST
The Pirates have 30 days to reach an agreement with Kang or else he goes back to his KBO team.
Dec 22, 2014, 12:16 PM EST
Bell was an All-Star as recently as 2011.
Dec 22, 2014, 11:54 AM EST
The ultimate minor league “where are they now?”
Dec 22, 2014, 10:47 AM EST
“You see what’s going on, but …”
Dec 22, 2014, 10:34 AM EST
Who will tell us that they’re “takin’ it one game at a time” now?!
Dec 22, 2014, 10:15 AM EST
Dec 22, 2014, 9:04 AM EST
He’ll be under team control through 2019.
Dec 22, 2014, 8:41 AM EST
Taped baseballs and Yankees fans.
Dec 22, 2014, 7:49 AM EST
Understated, it is not.
Dec 21, 2014, 11:10 PM EST
Wil Myers was rumored to be a potential target for the Phillies in a trade involving Cole Hamels, but it turns out the Padres plan to hang on to him.
Dec 21, 2014, 10:21 PM EST
Wil Ledezma will attempt to return to the major leagues with the Twins after signing a minor league deal.
Dec 21, 2014, 9:55 PM EST
Marco Scutaro’s 2014 season was tarnished by a chronic back ailment. The Giants’ training staff is preparing an update on the 39-year-old and it may not be good news.
Dec 21, 2014, 8:50 PM EST
If spring training were to start today, Yankees GM Brian Cashman would have Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela compete for the starting job at second base.
- My Imaginary Hall of Fame Ballot 60
- Phil Hughes signs a three-year extension with the Twins 22
- The Padres have talked to the Phillies about Cole Hamels 23
- Why is John Smoltz a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame? 63
- Phillies GM told Ryan Howard they’d be better off “not with him but without him” 85
- Trea Turner’s agent is unhappy his client is in limbo after trade to Nationals 48
- Nexen Heroes accept Jung-Ho Kang posting fee from unidentified MLB team 37
- Giants acquire Casey McGehee from the Marlins 16
- Bud Selig will get a $6 million a year pension. Which is obscene. (145)
- The United States will seek to normalize relations with Cuba (144)
- Rays, Padres, Nationals agree to 11-player trade (97)
- St. Petersburg City Council votes down deal to allow Rays to look for new stadium site (90)
- Phillies GM told Ryan Howard they’d be better off “not with him but without him” (85)