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Marvin Miller dies Tuesday. Baseball union leader fought for player benefits

Marvin Miller dies early Tuesday in New York. Marvin Miller led the Major League Players Association for 16 years, during which time players earned the right to become free agents.

By Ronald BlumAssociated Press / November 27, 2012

This file photo shows baseball union leader Marvin Miller speaking to reporters after rejecting a proposal to end a baseball strike, in New York. Miller died Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012 in New York.

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New York

Marvin Miller, the soft-spoken union head who led baseball players in a series of strikes and legal battles that won free agency, revolutionized sports and turned athletes into multimillionaires, died Tuesday.

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Miller died at his home in Manhattan at 5:30 a.m., said his daughter Susan Miller. He had been diagnosed with liver cancer in August.

In his 16 years as executive director of the Major League Players Association, starting in 1966, Miller fought owners on many fronts, winning free agency for players in December 1975. He may best be remembered, however, as the man who made the word "strike" stand for something other than a pitched ball.

"All players — past, present and future — owe a debt of gratitude to Marvin, and his influence transcends baseball," current union head Michael Weiner said. "Marvin, without question, is largely responsible for ushering in the modern era of sports, which has resulted in tremendous benefits to players, owners and fans of all sports."

Miller, who retired and became a consultant to the union in 1982, led the first walkout in the game's history 10 years earlier. On April 5, 1972, signs posted at major league parks simply said: "No Game Today." The strike, which lasted 13 days, was followed by a walkout during spring training in 1976 and a midseason job action that darkened the stadiums for seven weeks in 1981.

Miller's ascension to the top echelon among sports labor leaders was by no means free from controversy among those he represented. Players from the Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves, California Angels and San Francisco Giants opposed his appointment as successor to Milwaukee Circuit Court Judge Robert Cannon, who had counseled them on a part-time but unpaid basis.

Miller overcame the opposition, however, due in part to his personality.

"Some of the player representatives were leery about picking a union man," Hall of Fame pitcher and former U.S. Senator Jim Bunning, a member of the screening committee that recommended Miller, recalled in a 1974 interview. "But he was very articulate ... not the cigar-chewing type some of the guys expected."

Miller recalled that owners "passed the word that if I were selected, goon squads would take over the game. They suggested racketeers and gangsters would swallow baseball. The players expected a 'dese, dem and dose' guy. The best thing I had going for me was owner propaganda."

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