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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In 1975, Los Angeles pitcher Andy Messersmith and Montreal pitcher Dave McNally, with Miller orchestrating the attack, did not sign contracts and their teams invoked baseball's so-called renewal clause. That gave the team the right to renew a player's contract without his approval.Skip to next paragraph
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Players argued there could only be a one-time renewal, while management said the renewal could be invoked in perpetuity.
Arbitrator Peter Seitz sided with the players on Dec. 23, 1975. The owners appealed his decision in federal court, saying the reserve system was not subject to arbitration. Two months later, U.S. District Judge John Watkins Oliver upheld Seitz's decision, and teams then went to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which also upheld Seitz.
In negotiations later that year, the sides agreed to a labor contract that allowed players with six years of major league service to become free agents. Free agency became a reality nearly 100 years after the first players were put under contract.
"Marvin possessed a combination of integrity, intelligence, eloquence, courage and grace that is simply unmatched in my experience," said Donald Fehr, a successor to Miller as union head.
"Without question, Marvin had more positive influence on Major League Baseball than any other person in the last half of the 20th century."
He entered the labor field in 1950 as an associate director of research for the United Steelworkers Union. In 1960, he was promoted to assistant to union president David McDonald. When McDonald lost a hotly contested election to I.W. Abel, Miller began looking for a new job.
He and his wife Terry, the parents of two grown children, carefully considered their options, and Miller accepted the directorship of the players' association even though he had some reservations at the time. In fact, he thought his union image had "put some of them off."
"I was surprised when they called me back and asked me to stand for election," Miller said.
In the end, Miller's reputation as a hard worker won over the players, many of whom considered him the consummate professional.
"Baseball is my racket," Pete Rose said. "When it comes to negotiating ... that's Marvin's racket."