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Marvin Miller

MLBPA Executive Director, 1966-83

In 1968, Marvin Miller led a committee of players that negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement in the history of professional sports. (MLBPA)

Marvin Miller served as executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1966 through 1983, transforming the association first into a bona fide labor union then gradually into one of the strongest collective bargaining units in the United States.

Club owners had ruled baseball with an iron fist for nearly a century prior to Marvin Miller’s appointment as the MLBPA’s executive director. Players had no ability to choose their employer as they were tied to their original club by a “reserve clause” in every player contract that provided for automatic renewal. Salaries and benefits were low, working conditions abysmal.

A gifted economist for first the U.S. government then the United Steelworkers of America, Miller brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to the players’ cause. With a combination of charisma and clarity of vision, Miller convinced the initially skeptical players of the strength they could wield through solidarity and collective bargaining.

In 1968, Miller led a committee of players that negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement in the history of professional sports. The agreement raised the minimum salary in baseball from $6,000 – the level at which it had been stuck for two decades – to $10,000 and set the tone for future advances.

In 1970, Miller helped players negotiate the right to arbitration to resolve grievances – an achievement Miller considers the most significant of the union’s early years. The impartial dispute resolution process paved the way for nearly all of the gains the players would achieve in ensuing years.

That breakthrough led five years later to free agency when Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally played out the option year of their contracts and challenged the “reserve clause” before arbitrator Peter Seitz. The arbitrator’s decision in favor of the players was later upheld in federal court.

A compromise that allowed all players free agency after six years’ service was formalized in the next collective bargaining agreement. Miller embraced the compromise knowing that the six-year waiting period would limit the supply side of the market and drive salaries upward through competitive bidding.

In all, Miller helped players collectively negotiate enormous advances in salaries, benefits and working conditions over five collective bargaining agreements with the owners during his tenure. To reach those agreements, Miller guided the players through strikes in 1972, 1980 and 1981 as well as lockouts in 1973 and 1976.

The sometimes contentious labor disputes only served to strengthen the players’ resolve, and Miller helped preserve that strength by emphasizing to each succeeding group of players the sacrifices that had been made on their behalf by players who came before them.