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.
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When Miller made a tour of spring training camps in 1966, seeking support from the players, some coaches and managers who were members of the association at that time heckled him and disrupted his sessions.Skip to next paragraph
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"A lot of players figured that anyone the owners disliked that much couldn't be all bad," former club owner Bill Veeck said.
Miller was elected by a vote of 489-136 on April 15, 1966. Baseball had entered a new era, one in which its owners would have to bargain with a union professional.
The owners made it clear that Miller's election would bring an end to their financial contributions to the association, which had been formed in 1954 because players were disenchanted with the way their pension plan was being administered. Miller insisted he would have asked for the change in any event.
"I told them that if they wanted to make any real headway, they'd have to adopt an independent stance," Miller said.
The players' association consisted of a $5,400 kitty and battered file cabinet when Miller took the reins shortly after calling baseball's minimum salary of $7,000 "unreasonably low."
Today the biggest stars earn up to $32 million a season, the average salary is more than $3 million and the major league minimum is $480,000
Baseball salaries increased by nearly 500 percent under Miller's leadership, more than three times the rate at which manufacturing workers' wages rose.
Yet baseball's Hall of Fame repeatedly refused to vote him in.
"I and the union of players have received far more support, publicity, and appreciation from countless fans, former players, writers, scholars, experts in labor management relations, than if the Hall had not embarked on its futile and fraudulent attempt to rewrite history," Miller said after falling one vote shy in December 2010. "It is an amusing anomaly that the Hall of Fame has made me famous by keeping me out."
Miller's legacy — free agency — represented the most significant off-the-field change in the game's history. He viewed the reserve clause that bound a player to the team holding his contract as little more than 20th century slavery.
"I had seen some documents in my life, but none like that," Miller said in 1966 after reading a Uniform Player's Contract.
Three years later, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the validity of the reserve clause by a 5-3 vote, keeping intact baseball's antitrust exemption.
Still, the die was cast when Justice Harry Blackmun, in his majority opinion, wrote that baseball's exemption from ordinary law was an "aberration" that had survived since the court ruled for the game in 1922. The reserve clause would not survive its next test.