Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Giant Of A Labor Leader

They don't make them any bigger or better than Marvin Miller:

Marvin Miller, an economist and labor leader who became one of the most important figures in baseball history by building the major league players union into a force that revolutionized the game, died on Tuesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 95. 

His death was announced by the Major League Baseball Players Association. 

When Mr. Miller was named executive director of the association in 1966, club owners ruled much as they had since the 19th century. The reserve clause bound players to their teams for as long as the owners wanted them, leaving them with little bargaining power. Come contract time, a player could expect an ultimatum but not much more. The minimum salary was $6,000 and had barely budged for two decades. The average salary was $19,000. The pension plan was feeble, and player grievances could be heard only by the commissioner, who worked for the owners. 

By the time Mr. Miller retired at the end of 1982, he had secured his place on baseball’s Mount Rushmore by forging one of the strongest unions in America, creating a model for those in basketball, football and hockey. 

Never had the dugout been so professionalized. The average player salary had reached $241,000, the pension plan had become generous, and players had won free agency and were hiring agents to issue their own demands. If they had a grievance, they could turn to an arbitrator. Peter Seitz, the impartial arbitrator who invalidated the reserve clause and created free agency in 1975, called Mr. Miller “the Moses who had led Baseball’s Children of Israel out of the land of bondage.” 

But not only them. If Mr. Miller had one overarching achievement, it was to persuade professional athletes to cast aside the paternalism of the owners and to emerge as economic forces in their own right, armed with often immense bargaining power. The transformations he wrought in baseball rippled through all of professional sports, and it could be said that he, more than anyone else, was responsible for the professional athlete of today, a kind of pop culture star able to command astronomical salaries and move from one team of choice to another.

I wish that my teachers union had a labor leader with the intelligence, foresight, strategic mind, tenacity and integrity of Marvin Miller:

 Mr. Miller advised the union as a consultant through his 80s. He spoke out against contractual givebacks and changes in baseball’s economic structure that might weaken the union. While in his 90s, he criticized the union’s acceptance of mandatory drug testing, saying that it could hurt union solidarity and that “it was clear that the government was going to get involved, and when the government gets involved they will pick out targets and the media just goes along with it.”


In his mid-90s, Mr. Miller expressed satisfaction over more than the huge salary gains and freedom of movement his members enjoy, and he ultimately came to believe that the players finally appreciated what unionism meant. 

“Succeeding generations of players know so much more about trade unionism, solidarity and what it can produce than their predecessors did,” he told Sports Illustrated in 2011. “I’m proudest of the fact that I’ve been retired for almost 29 years at this point and there are knowledgeable observers who say that this might still be the strongest union in the country. I think that’s a great legacy.”

 Rest in Peace, Mr. Miller.

You were a great man and it is to the shame of the Baseball Hall of Fame that you have not been inducted into that institution.


  1. Marvin Miller truly was a giant, who will (one can dream, right?) one day be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

    There's a wonderful quote I remember from one of the early founders of the player's association, though I can't recall who it was. To closely paraphrase, he said, "When we first started working with Miller, we were children, but he treated us like adults, and eventually we became adults."

    As a high school teacher, I try, insofar as it's possible, to treat my students like adults. They notice this, and respond positively to it, and most of the time they rise to that standard.

    If only our union leaders would do likewise.

  2. Our union leaders treat us like idiots. Since most of the membership doesn't seem to realize that we could throw these sell-outs into the trash and bring in new leadership, I suppose I can't blame them much for that. But they had better watch out - the resentment is ratcheting up, and even young teachers who used to be apolitical about a lot of stuff are talking aloud about how much the UFT sucks and how they wish they had a union that protected us from the predators at Tweed. Maybe, just maybe, if things get bad enough after the APPR sell-out, the February elections will be a little closer than the usual 90%-10%.