Marvin Miller Dies at Age 95

Marvin Miller Dies, but His Labor Legacy Lives On

11/28/12 in MLB   |   Eric_   |   7716 respect

Blog Photo - Marvin Miller Dies at Age 951966 isn't that long ago in the grand scheme of things, certainly not in baseball, where the last 46 years only constitute one third of the history of Major League Baseball. The game itself, however, operates much differently today than it did in 1966. A lot of that was due to the work of Marvin Miller, the former head of the Players Association who died yesterday at age 95.

When Miller took the job in 1966, almost all the power in baseball was the sole purview of the owners. The minimum salary was a mere $6000, and the average salary wasn't much higher. That was decent money back then, but players still had offseason jobs. Negotiating for a raise was made incredibly difficult. Anyone who has read Ball Four saw examples of such hardball negotiations.

Even worse though was the Reserve Clause, located in every single player's contract. The Reserve Clause allowed teams to renew a player's contract every year without the players consent. The player was stuck under contract with one team in perpetuity until that player was traded or released. There was no freedom whatsoever. Many fans don't equate playing baseball with a job, but it is their job, and I can't imagine anyone would like not having the freedom to shop your services around to other employers.

Marvin Miller, who had extensive experience negotiating for steelworkers, knew this labor arrangement was heavily one sided. Before he could tackle the big things though, he first had to convince the players that acting as one was a good idea, as they had been brainwashed for decades that the Reserve Clause was good for baseball and getting rid of it would ruin the game. Miller started small, first negotiating pension plan improvements, an increase in the minimum salary, working condition improvements, and the use of independent arbiters to decide grievances.

In the 1970s though, Miller has gained enough clout through collective bargaining wins (and even getting the owners to bargain in the first place) to start going after the Reverse Clause. Miller first assisted Curt Flood's challenge of the Clause in 1970, which failed in the Supreme Court. In 1975 though, Miller, through pitchers Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith and arbiter Peter Seitz, succeeded. The Reserve Clause was dead, and the players were free. Miller then negotiated the six years of service a player must accrue to earn free agency, the standard that exists to this day.

With the ability to change teams and have their salaries dictated by the market, player salary exploded, as we all know. Many don't think this has helped the game, but that's not really the case. Yes, players are making more money than ever, but so are the teams. Free agency didn't ruin baseball. In fact, it's thrived since. Attendance and revenues are up. Most importantly, despite a contentious past, baseball is the only one of the major sports that has had long term labor peace. The newest CBA was negotiated out of the public eye and agreed to without any of the acrimony seen everywhere else. In an era where management all over try to steamroll labor, in baseball labor and management work together as well as they ever have. Miller did the hard and necessary work to make that happen.

Even so, the complaints are numerous against Miller. Player salaries are blamed for ticket prices, which conveniently forgets that even if salaries dropped, there would be no incentive for teams to lower prices. There are claims that free agency has ended loyalty, which forgets that we can never be sure if players were truly loyal, since they had no way of leaving.

Marvin Miller was far from perfect (he was never for drug testing for one), but his contributions to the game were important and long lasting. Whatever ills in sports now that could be traced back to Miller, real or alleged, the Reserve Clause was far, far worse. Marvin Miller gave the players a voice and a much more equitable say in things, something that to some extent has spread to other sports. His legacy is shown both in every big dollar contract signed by a player and by every new TV deal that puts more money in baseball's coffers. It wasn't easy, and he was demonized for it, but Marvin Miller brought the game of baseball, and sports as whole, into a new era. That is how he should be remembered.
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12/14/12   |   NittanyJon   |   243 respect

Shane Victorino should visit Miller's gravesite and pay his respects. "The Flyin Hawaiian" received $39 million for 3 years is due to Miller's work for the union.

11/29/12   |   ML31   |   3615 respect

Free agency didn't really ruin the game nearly as much as arbitration.  The owners in the 70's feared free agency so much they neglected to consider arbitration.  Which Miller knew would drive up salaries more than anything.  He played against the owners worst fears to get the players everything.  The result today is...  ALL the power in MLB resides in the MLBPA.  EVERYTHING the owners do must be approved by the players or it dies.  And the players, who have all the power, take NONE of the responsibility for anything.  That is what Miller's legacy is. 
Yes, players were indeed screwed by the owners for decades in regards to pay and pension.  However the reserve clause was not all that bad a thing.  It was great for fans which translated to more of them.  The idea that players weren't free to shop their skills around is hogwash.  If they didn't like the rules MLB forced on them they were free to play in some other baseball league.  Just like if a worker doesn't like rules working for IBM is free to go work for someone else. 

Anyway, Miller did indeed leave a legacy.  Sadly, it was more negative than positive.