Miller's contributions revolutionary
Leader of free-agent era deserves recognition for influence
A baseball reporter's winter was so different then. One could make a few calls during the day just to see if any deals were brewing and be in Providence, R.I., long before Ernie DiGregorio and Marvin Barnes began warmups, or have driven to Hanover, N.H., to see Billy Raynor and Dartmouth.
It was an offseason. No 93rd tweet from Ken Rosenthal, or Buster Olney's breakdown on Jason Bartlett's situation. The MLB Trade Rumors App for iPhone and iPad didn't pop every couple of minutes. Trades happened mainly at the Winter Meetings, after which the doors basically shut until Spring Training. The 24 teams in 1972 drew 27 million fans in a season shortened by a week, and to be honest, it wasn't growing fast; the industry-wide attendance was 29.2 million in '71, increased to 30 million in '73 and '74, then fell back to 29 million in '75.
Nationally televised games were shown once a week. Very few local networks televised home games. In fact, a few years ago, we were looking for video of the best fight in Yankees-Red Sox history -- Aug. 1, 1973, Thurman Munson vs. Carlton Fisk vs. Gene Michael, et al. We discovered the unimaginable, that there was no video because neither team televised the games and the three local Boston stations had dispatched their cameramen back to their studios around 4 p.m. ET, or the sixth inning.
It was a very different world for entertainment and baseball then -- a world Marvin Miller helped change. Of course, Miller and Dick Moss didn't see all this any more than, according to Moss, they appreciated what would happen to salaries when they got salary arbitration and free agency on two tracks running within a span of fewer than three years.
It's easy to understand why some owners cringe when so many of us seem outraged by Miller's exclusion from the Hall of Fame. Granted, he could be arrogant, condescending. He established a combative attitude that the MLB Players Association carried on for decades, boiling everything down to the plight of steelworkers, mineworkers and grape pickers. But when Jim Bunning and Robin Roberts brought Miller to the MLBPA, one had to understand the way Gussie Busch and so many other owners sneered down at players. Go back and listen to some of Busch's rants on Tampa television after the players first walked out at the end of Spring Training 1972, before you revisit why he dumped Steve Carlton for personal reasons.
Miller said things about Bowie Kuhn that were unfair and personal, but the fact is that Busch, Charles Oscar Finley and several other owners created Miller with their arrogance and 19th-century thinking. But what he, Moss and eventually Donald Fehr and Gene Orza did for the players was historic and has a rightful place in Cooperstown, N.Y., because Marvin was a giant figure in the game's history and evolution, which the museum so brilliantly details.
The barons who so hated Miller and all that he represented were so consumed with maintaining their control over players that they never envisioned what would happen when, finally, the Messersmith-McNally Decision was handed down in January 1976 and the business changed forever. Until a new collective bargaining agreement was negotiated at the All-Star break in Philadelphia during the summer of '76, most Major League players were going to be free agents at the end of the season; the newly created system allowed for the six-year waiting period before a player is free to play where and for whom he wants.
What happened was that the attention on baseball completely changed. It became a 12-month business. Free agency was on the front pages of sports sections from November until Spring Training, beginning with that first free-agent class, which included Reggie Jackson, Don Gullett, Bobby Grich, et al.
So what Miller did for baseball and owners was take it out of what players referred to as "the plantation cocoon" and make it a ton of money. Free agency made baseball a far different entertainment entity. Oh, it seemed as if management forever kept trying to turn back the clock, hiring Ray Grebey, Dick Ravitch and all kinds of hired guns to set the Players Association back on its heels.
Lee MacPhail saved them from themselves in 1985, when he negotiated an end to a midseason strike after what essentially was one day, they shut down Spring Training in 1990, trying to get the union to accept system of "pay for performance" that seemed a hybrid at the corner of rotisserie and Haight-Ashbury, then the sport was shut down for the long offseason of 1994-95 in one last attempt to break Miller's union and impose a salary cap.
It failed, Allan H. "Bud" Selig took over the business of baseball and through even the toughest of recessions, the business has held pretty even on attendance, revenues have risen and regional sports networks far beyond New York and Boston are rising in Texas, Anaheim and other points across the industry. Owner Drayton McLane wants $800 million to $900 million for the Astros? He can thank Selig, but Miller has his place in that profit margin.
The Players Association has succeeded because it has never jumped over the cliff, as ownership has for free-agent compensation, pay-for-performance or the salary cap. It has been resolute in sticking to its core, and while it is a different world in 2011 as the two sides prepare for the next negotiation, there are principles Miller established to which Michael Weiner will adhere.
For instance, it has recently been suggested that one way to resolve the Derek Jeter and Albert Pujols contractual stalemates is to give each a piece of ownership. If only Miller were in the MLBPA office to roar to The New York Times or The Associated Press. What that would do is alienate Jeter or Pujols from teammates unhappy about the biggest or smallest of issues. As a member of ownership, neither player would be allowed in union meetings, and how could they be eligible for postseason shares? If Phil Hughes or Colby Rasmus were shaken down by management, why wouldn't they harbor animosity toward Jeter or Pujols?
Miller recently leveled a shot at White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf for his union stance, despite the fact that Reinsdorf has run a first-rate organization and has treated employees on every level with unrivaled respect. But that's all right. Marvin will forever fight the wars and scratch the wounds he endured when the balance of power was distinctly against any sports union.
The man made the players a lot of money and he made the owners a lot of money -- he changed baseball history. Of course he belongs in Cooperstown.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.