The debate has raged for decades in regard to Marvin Miller. His death Tuesday, at age 95 of liver cancer, won’t slow it down in the least.
That’s all you need to know about Miller’s impact. It was sweeping, controversial and lasting. It outlived him, and will do the same to me, you and everyone on your block.
The former union head was the best thing to happen to baseball players, to professional athletes in general. There is no questioning that.
But was he bad for baseball and, by extension, the landscape of sports?
That is the debate.
Those who curse free agency are cursing Miller, even if they’re too young to know who he was. He made it happen. He gave baseball players the freedom to negotiate with other teams when their contracts ran out. He provided them the leverage to secure better deals from their current clubs.
He pried them out from under ownership’s thumb and soon they held all the cards.
The morning Miller died, a story in The Pantagraph detailed how the Tampa Bay Rays had reached a 10-year deal with third baseman Evan Longoria that adds six guaranteed seasons and $100 million to his contract. Directly below was a story on how a full postseason share for the World Series champion San Francisco Giants was worth $377,003, highest in baseball history.
Miller’s fingerprints are all over both.
Players have lived lavishly for nearly 40 years since Miller fought for and won free agency for them in 1975. The concept eventually spread to all major sports, forever changing the dynamic of how leagues and franchises operate.
Part of the process in baseball was Miller spearheading a players strike in 1972. It lasted 13 days. He also was head of the union for a walkout during spring training in 1976 and a seven-week regular-season strike in 1981.
We despised him for that. How dare he take away our game? Back then it was still the national pastime … ours, not Miller’s. We wanted no part of him. Maybe you never will.
Yet, when it comes to salary and benefits and working conditions, is there anyone in history you’d rather have on your side?
Miller’s success in establishing and furthering baseball players’ rights led to players unions in the National Football League, National Basketball Association and National Hockey League.
Each has had labor strife in the past two years, with the NHL currently in the midst of a lockout that has canceled games and threatens to wipe out the season.
We grow weary of the bickering, posturing and greed from both sides of owners-players negotiations. We wonder why multimillionaires haggle over money.
Blame Miller if you’d like, but it was not about millions when he was elected the players union head in 1966. The minimum annual player salary was $7,000, light years from the current $480,000.
While the average salary today is more than $3 million per season, keep in mind Major League Baseball revenue has jumped from $50 million in 1967 to $7.5 billion this year.
Both sides have won as a result of Miller’s 16-year reign. His legacy 30 years later is that the players got their share.
Maybe you believe they’ve received more than what’s fair. Miller made sure they did not get less than that.
Does it make him a bad guy? Was he bad for baseball, for sports in general? He brought free agency to a free society, so in my mind, the answer is no.
How about yours?
The debate continues.