Marvin Julian Miller
April 14, 1917-November 27, 2012
Babe Ruth had just completed the greatest offensive season in the history of the game. He had demolished every record known to mankind, single handedly saved the game from the Black Sox scandal and made the owners of the game millionaires by drawing unheard of numbers into the stadiums. Thanks to those amazing feats Babe Ruth received a "generous raise" of $10,000. For the season of 1921 he would now earn $30,000. The greatest player to ever step on a baseball diamond (we can debate later) capped out his earnings at $75,000 in 1932. As unbelievable as the offensive numbers that Ruth put up, the owners of his generation found Ruth's salary demands even more unbelievable. During the great depression Ruth was asked if he felt odd that he made more money than Herbert Hoover. Ruth's answer: "Why shouldn't I make more than him? I had a better year than him didn't I?" Ruth had a habit of not quite remembering anyone by name (he called Benny Bengough, the Yankees backup catcher, "that googles guy") so it is quite possible that he really believed Hoover was a player in the league. Regardless, Babe Ruth made less in his prime than the average player makes in the league today.
On Tuesday, November 27, Marvin Miller, the man who organized the players union passed away. There is no one in the history of sports who had the impact that Miller had. He never threw a pitch, swung a bat, caught a fly ball, made an error, ran a team, hired or fired a manager, or had an affiliation with any specific organization. His impact was deeper than an agent fighting with a general manager over another incentive clause. Marvin Millers impact on the game may never be able to be calculated.
The players of his eras idolized him. The owners hated him. By organizing the players union, Marvin Miller, not an athlete, not a manager but an economist, changed the way players careers are formed and the way teams are created.
This past season Carlos Lee of the Astros was able to veto a trade to the Dodgers because he decided it was not right for his family. That was because of Marvin Miller. This off season, teams will be tripping over each other to throw money at Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke. That's because of Marvin Miller.
Prior to the union there was no contract negotiations for players. You were paid what you were told you would be paid. There was no choosing what team you wanted to play for. You signed with one team and you played for that team until you were told you were traded or told your services were no longer needed. You did not appeal suspensions. You served the suspension and paid your fine because the league told you that was your punishment.
Miller created the players union in 1966. Within ten years he had fought the owners to a frazzle and undone nearly 100 years of one sided agreements. He helped Curt Flood fight a trade to Philadelphia that he didn't approve and took his case to the Supreme Court. He helped Catfish Hunter get out of a bad contract that was not being fulfilled by the A's making him the first ever free agent. He convinced Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally to play an entire season for their teams without a contract and used their status to topple the "reserve clause" that had stood since the beginning of the league.
Most people would be satisfied with those achievements but Miller kept fighting for the players. In the 1980's the owners had a "gentleman's agreement" not to bid on each other's free agents. This wold stop star players from jumping from team to team and would keep the owner in Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Montreal from trying to outspend owners from New York and Los Angeles. Miller found out and sued the owners for restricting the free market on players.
The entire structure of sports was changed all because one man convinced the players that they were stronger together than as individuals. The players had tried it before but not until the powerful mind of Marvin Miller did the players make a move that allowed us to experience the game that we know today.
When Angels fans cheer Ryan Madson or Braves fans cheer B.J. Upton in their new uniforms this year, they can thank Marvin Miller.
Sadly, few people recognize his name and even fewer recognize his wide reaching and long lasting contributions to the game of baseball and sports in general.