Marvin Miller, who transformed a loose association of players primarily interested in a better retirement first into a bona fide labor union then gradually into one of the country's most cohesive collective-bargaining forces, has again been denied entry to baseball's Hall of Fame.
12/06/2010 2:32 PM ET
Marvin Miller denied election to HOF
MLBPA founding executive director falls one vote shy
The founding executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association fell one vote shy of the 12 necessary for election by an expansion era panel of 16 owners, executives, players and writers. The vote was announced Monday in Orlando, Fla., as part of baseball's annual Winter Meetings.
Miller, 93, had been denied entry in four previous votes despite his undisputed place as one of the industry's most important 20th-century figures along with icons like Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey.
This panel, again, failed to acknowledge Miller's impact while serving as the MLBPA's executive director from 1966 through 1982, a period during which he methodically guided players to greater economic freedom which, in turn, sparked increased competition among owners and an era of unprecedented industry growth.
"Many years ago those who control the Hall decided to rewrite history instead of recording it," Miller said on Monday. "The aim was to eradicate the history of the tremendous impact of the players' union on the progress and development of the game as a competitive sport, as entertainment and as an industry.
"... The union was a major factor in increasing the annual revenue of all Major League clubs, combined -- from $50 million a year before the union started in 1966 to this year's almost $7 billion. That is a difficult record to eradicate -- and the Hall has failed to do it. A long time ago, it became apparent that the Hall sought to bury me long before my time, as a metaphor for burying the union and eradicating its real influence."
Current executive director Michael Weiner, on behalf of all players, called the latest vote an injustice.
"On behalf of members past and present of the Major League Baseball Players Association, I express my frustration, disappointment and sadness that Marvin Miller today was again denied his rightful place in the Baseball Hall of Fame," he said.
"Every person who has benefited in the past half century from baseball's prosperity -- player, owner, executive, manager, coach or member of the media -- owes a debt to Marvin. Marvin's legacy is undiminished by this vote; the Hall, by contrast, once again squandered a chance to better itself as an institution."
Donald M. Fehr, Weiner's predecessor as the PA's executive director and general counsel in the later part of Miller's tenure, shared in the disappointment.
"Once again, Marvin Miller has been denied election to the Baseball Hall of Fame," Fehr said. "There can be no question as to the extraordinary contributions that he made to baseball. No one had a greater or more meaningful positive impact on the game than did Marvin Miller in the last half of the 20th century.
"Generations of players are already in his debt, as all future players will be. The fact that a few members of the Veterans Committee saw fit to continue to deny recognition to the representative of the players -- who are the reason that the Hall exists in the first place -- says more about them than it does about Marvin. This is a sad day for anyone who is or has been a Mmajor League player."
In 1965, when a group of players led by Robin Roberts and Jim Bunning sought candidates to lead their association, players were tied to their original clubs by a "reserve clause" in every contract that provided for automatic renewal. Salaries and benefits were low, working conditions abysmal.
A gifted economist who had served the U.S. government and several trade unions including the United Steelworkers of America, Miller brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to the players' cause. With a combination of charisma and clarity of vision, Miller convinced the initially skeptical players of the strength they could wield through solidarity and collective bargaining.
In 1968, Miller led a committee of players that negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement in the history of professional sports. The agreement raised the minimum salary in baseball from $6,000 -- the level at which it had been stuck for two decades -- to $10,000 and set the tone for future advances.
In 1970, Miller helped players negotiate the right to arbitration to resolve grievances -- an achievement Miller considers the most significant of the union's early years. The impartial dispute resolution process paved the way for nearly all of the gains the players would achieve in ensuing years.
Five years later, that breakthrough in arbitration rights led to free agency when Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally played out the option year of their contracts and challenged the "reserve clause" before arbitrator Peter Seitz. The arbitrator's decision in favor of the players was later upheld in federal court and a compromise that allowed all players free agency after six years' of service was formalized in the ensuing collective bargaining agreement.
In all, Miller helped players collectively negotiate enormous advances in salaries, benefits and working conditions over five collective bargaining agreements with the owners during his tenure. To reach those agreements, Miller guided the players through strikes in 1972, 1980 and 1981 as well as lockouts in 1973 and 1976.
Miller often called the 50-day, mid-summer strike in 1981 the union's "finest hour" because of the players' collective resolve in fending off the owners' attempt to gut free agency by giving each team that lost a free agent the right to select any player from the signing team's roster. When owners suggested Miller didn't have the players' support, he left the negotiations for a two-week period while players including Mark Belanger, Bob Boone, Doug DeCinces and Steve Rogers went to the bargaining table.
By the time Miller retired a year later the average salary, which was $19,000 when he became executive director, had risen to $185,000.
The often contentious labor disputes only served to strengthen the players' resolve, and Miller helped preserve that strength by emphasizing to each succeeding group of players the sacrifices that had been made on their behalf by players who came before them. That legacy endures.