Miller's influence on game endures
Veterans Committee to consider his candidacy for Hall
One of the most influential individuals in the history of Major League Baseball never threw a pitch, got a hit, ran the bases or fielded a ball in a professional game. Yet every big leaguer over the past four decades owes a great debt to Marvin Miller, the first executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association.
Many of those players are in the Hall of Fame and therefore part of the voting electorate of the Veterans Committee, which could bring the union official into the Cooperstown shrine. Quite understandably, Miller, 89, does not expect to make the cut. He reasons that many of the former players he once represented are now part of management of various clubs, putting them on the other side of the labor relations corridor.
MLB and the PA seem at peace these days, following the reaching of a new collective bargaining agreement without a work stoppage, however, so perhaps Miller's legacy will be given a fair assessment by the voters. There is one undeniable truth: the history of the game could not be written without devoting a significant chapter to Miller.
Tom Seaver, the three-time Cy Young Award winner and holder of the largest plurality in a Baseball Writers' Association of America/Hall of Fame election, is one of Miller's most ardent supporters. Seaver recently told New York Times columnist Murray Chass, another Veterans Committee member as a onetime J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner for baseball writing, "Whether you agree or disagree, [Miller] was one individual who had as large a ramification as anybody on the history of the game. If the Hall of Fame is a historical repository, he deserves to be there."
Red Smith, the late Pulitzer Prize columnist, once wrote: "When you speak of Babe Ruth, he is one of the two men, in my opinion, who changed baseball the most. The second most influential man in the history of baseball is Marvin Miller."
He is among 10 candidates on the Veterans Committee ballot for Executives/Pioneers, made up of Hall of Famers Monte Irvin and Harmon Killebrew, three media members and seven executives/pioneers, some of whom Miller confronted. In previous elections when the voters were living Hall of Famers, Spink Award winners for writing and Ford Frick Award winners for broadcasting, Miller had some allies.
Still, he did not do better than to gain mention on 51 of 81 ballots cast, or 63 percent. In the first such election in 2003, Miller received 35 votes from 79 ballots cast, or 44.4 percent. As in the BBWAA elections, a 75-percent majority is required.
Among the Veterans Committee voters are several members of a players committee that hired Miller to represent the union in 1966, including Robin Roberts, Jim Bunning, Bob Gibson and Brooks Robinson. It marked the beginning of a campaign to improve working conditions and pension benefits but expanded to work toward the annihilation of the Reserve Clause that tied players to clubs for life and the creation of an open market, which did not come easily but did come eventually.
During Miller's term from 1966-84, the players' average salary rose from $6,000 to more than $500,000. In addition, there were increases in pension funds and per-diem allowances, vast improvements in travel conditions and ballpark facilities and the right to arbitration to solve grievances. The cost was often dear, such as the loss in court in Curt Flood's challenge of the reserve clause and players' strikes in 1972 and 1981. There was no greater victory, however, than in the 1975 Andy Messersmith-Dave McNally case, in which arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled that they were not chained by the reserve cause, opening the door to free agency.
Miller, a native New Yorker, was born in the Bronx and grew up in Brooklyn where as a youth he walked union picket lines with his father, a clothing retail salesman. Miller was also a die-hard Dodgers fan whose favorite player was Hall of Fame pitcher Dazzy Vance. But labor relations -- first as an economist for the War Labor Board and later with the International Association of Machinists, the United Automobile Workers and, most notably, the United Steelworkers of America -- formed Miller's adult life.
His legacy was creating a strong association with remarkable solidarity out of a constituency that at first had next to no history of union activism with a sizeable portion of players to whom such activity was considered subversive. To appease that element, the players thought of offering Richard Nixon, then a private citizen, the job of general counsel. Miller preferred New York attorney Richard Moss. The players wanted Miller and changed their mind about Nixon. Miller and Moss went on to succeed as the M&M boys of labor negotiations.
Miller initially was not in favor of the strike during Spring Training in 1972 but was surprised to hear the players demand such action. Similarly, he was moved by the players' action in 1981 because the issues then did not affect active players as much as those who would come in the future. Miller's pride in what the Players Association has accomplished in 40 years extends beyond what it has meant to the players, but to the entire sport.
"There has been an improvement that affected everybody," Miller told the Times. "Now there are more players, scouts, concessions workers, managers, general managers, club presidents and so on. I look at that with great satisfaction. That wasn't my job as I viewed it. My job was to right some wrongs, improve conditions of players, and that was done. I confess: that's a great source of satisfaction to me. I didn't do it all, but I played a part. I helped build a structure that has held together."
Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.