One of the great figures not only in baseball but American labor history passed away this week. Marvin Miller, who bequethed us the game as we enjoy it today, died at 95. His influence and impact on the game can hardly be overstated. Coming out of the United Steelworkers Union of the AFL-CIO, Miller became the Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players' Association in 1966. At that time there was no free agency, no salary arbitration, MLB was essentially run as a "plantation" by the 20 owners with the infamous "reserve clause" creating a condition of involuntary servitude as MLB hid safely behind its anti-trust exemption.
Mr. Miller immediately began to work changes in the labor-management relations between players and owners. Entry-level salaries when he took over were $6,000 per year; today, they are $465,000. The average big-leaguer made $19,000 in 1967; 45 years later it was $3.44 million. These seem far above what the typical "working person" may command in her job, but baseball players at this level have exceptional skill-sets, there are only 750 jobs available, and careers are generally short, under five years in most cases. It is true that the big money accrues to few, but a good living can be secured by those who can hold down a job on a big-league team.
I'm not going to recap such landmarks as the Curt Flood case that led to the end of the reserve clause, the first arbitration awards, or the first free-agency cases won by Mr. Miller. He was a brilliant and capable courtroom strategist who always looked out for the interests of his clients, the players. In addition to the rights most workers enjoy, ball players also gained pensions and other benefits. In labor terms, Mr. Miller earns a place in the firmament and it would not be hyperbolic to compare him to other charismatic and highly effective leaders such as Walter Reuther of the UAW, Sidney Hillman of the ACWA, or Cesar Chavez of the UFW. His influence in politics might not compare to those giants, but his influence on the American Pastime and its current state of health is undeniable.
Of course, there was strife and struggle along the way, there always is. Yet it is worth noting that since MLB's last work stoppage in 1994-95 (under his successor Donald Fehr), harmony, peace and prosperity have been the bywords. Let us not forget that Mr. Miller's fight resulted in the 20 teams of 1967 making a total of $50 million to the 30 teams of 2012 making $7.5 BILLION. Even adjusting for inflation, that is a 2100% increase in revenues.
A single vote kept Mr. Miller out of the Hall of Fame the last time he was eligible, denying him entry during his lifetime. This is a scandal that must be addressed. He is simply too important a figure in the game's history to be denied a rightful place in the game's holiest shrine.