Obit of the Day (Breaking): Former Baseball Union Head Marvin Miller
Marvin Miller, the man who led the way for baseball free agency (and, in turn, free agency for all other professional sports), has passed away at the age of 95. Miller led the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) beginning with its formation in 1966 until his retirement in 1982.
Miller was a labor economist who had worked with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the United Steelworkers before coming over to assist the major league baseball players. In 1968 he led the first successful collective bargaining agreement with MLB raising the minimum salary of ball players by 67%, from $6,000 to $10,000. Four years later the players struck for the first time - for all of 13 days - earning an increase in pension payments and the addition of arbitration to the collective bargaining agreement.
A year later, Miller partnered with St. Louis Cardinals outfielder, Curt Flood, to fight the decades old “reserve clause.” The clause allowed owners to re-sign players to one-year contracts in perpetuity if they player and team could not come to a salary agreement. It also allowed players to be traded at any time without input or agreement. The Cardinals attempted to trade Flood to the Philadelphia and he refused the trade.
Miller recommended that he sue baseball and Flood did. Flood v. Kuhn (1970) would eventually end up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Unfortunately Flood lost and would never play again but MLB created the “10/5” (aka, The Curt Flood Rule) that allowed players who had played ten seasons, and five with the same team, to veto any trade.
In 1974 Marvin Miller began to make inroads against the reserve clause. First he sued Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley in 1974 for violating the contract of his star pitcher Jim “Catfish” Hunter. An arbitrator agreed and Hunter became free to sign with any team. Hunter signed a five-year contract for $3.5 million with the NY Yankees - an unheard of sum up to that point.
The following year, Miller encouraged pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally to not re-sign their contract and take MLB to arbitration. After the hearing, the arbitrator decided that both players had fulfilled their contracts and they need not re-sign with their teams. The floodgates to free agency had opened wide.
Miller told the story in Ken Burns’ documentary Baseball that originally every player in MLB would become free agents the following year but owners were so worried about that prospect that they demanded that free agency be limited to certain veterans. Miller was happy to comply because it created a scarcity, which would raise salaries. He was right.
In 1965, the year before Miller joined the MLBPA the average players salary was $14,361 (in 1965 dollars) . When Miller retired in 1982 it was $245,000. For the 2011 season it was $3.1 million.
Famed Brooklyn Dodgers broadcaster, Red Barber, called Marvin Miller “one of the two or three most important men in baseball history” after Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson.
(Image of Marvin Miller, right, with Curt Flood, 1970, is copyright of AP and courtesy of ThePoint)