The man who changed the game of baseball, and sports in general, died Tuesday morning. Former leader of the Major League Baseball Player’s Association Marvin Miller died at his home in Manhattan. He was 95 years old.
The MLBPA was formed in 1954, but before Miller took control in 1966, it had little or no rights. MLB owners held all of the cards, as they could sell and trade players without their consent. Players were literally the property of their teams.
Then Miller came along. By 1968, he had gotten the players their first collective bargaining agreement. It was Miller who backed Curt Flood in his battle for free agency when the star St. Louis Cardinals outfielder refused to accept a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1969. The case went all of the way to the Supreme Court before Flood lost, but helped open the door to free agency, which began in 1975.
In 1972, Miller led the first of eight work stoppages by players in hopes of getting free agency and improved benefits. This was followed by a spring training walkout in 1976. In 1981, the players went on strike again and shut the game down for 50 days. Miller was a consultant during the strike of 1994 which caused the remainder of that season to be canceled.
All of this has helped lead to the power that the MLBPA has today. It is, arguably, the most powerful union in all of sports. Whereas NFL, NBA and NHL players still battle over revenue sharing and benefits, pro baseball players have the freedom to make as much money as they want and have a retirement plan second to none. The minimum baseball salary in 1966 was $7,000. Today it is $480,000. The average salary of baseball players in 2012 is $3 million.
Miller is the reason for all of this. What he did for the game in his 16 years as head of the MLBPA and after as a consultant can not be overstated. In 1967, baseball revenues totaled $50 million. This season MLB raked in $7.5 billion. There is no question that free agency and the interest that it created have made baseball a more profitable game.
When Miller took over, everyone from players to owners knew that the rules of baseball were about to change. As with most people satisfied with the status quo, many resisted it. However, Miller was steadfast in getting the players to unite and he backed down from none of the owners, whether their names were Walter O’Malley or Charley Finley.
Players and owners were not the only ones against Miller. Fans and media felt that free agency would ruin baseball, because the rich teams would be able to buy the best talent. They, also, felt that baseball was a game and players should be happy getting paid to play it. There was no sympathy for Flood in his battle nor the players who fought for free agency afterward.
Almost 50 years later, Miller’s determination has proved to be warranted. He has made the game better for the players, which was his job. The tactics that he used may have harmed baseball at times, but the sport has not had another strike since 1995 and is enjoying unprecedented financial growth.
On the day of his death, Marvin Miller will be remembered for a lot of things.
All of these thoughts should begin with the fact that he changed the game of baseball and the entire sports landscape.