Marvin Miller – changed the game…for better or for worse?

From today’s NY Times:

Marvin Miller, an economist and labor leader who became one of the most important figures in baseball history by building the major league players union into a force that revolutionized the game, died on Tuesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 95.

When Mr. Miller was named executive director of the association in 1966, club owners ruled much as they had since the 19th century. The reserve clause bound players to their teams for as long as the owners wanted them, leaving them with little bargaining power. Come contract time, a player could expect an ultimatum but not much more. The minimum salary was $6,000 and had barely budged for two decades. The average salary was $19,000. The pension plan was feeble, and player grievances could be heard only by the commissioner, who worked for the owners.

By the time Mr. Miller retired at the end of 1982, he had secured his place on baseball’s Mount Rushmore by forging one of the strongest unions in America, creating a model for those in basketball, football and hockey.

I grew up loving baseball. And I grew up in a union house. To this day, when I hear someone crying about how much money the players make, I’ll tell them that they deserve it. Certainly the owners run the show, but its the players that bring in the revenue. So, from a dollars and cents standpoint, Marvin Miller certainly changed the game for the better.

HOWEVER, from a love-of-the- game standpoint, the end of free agency, I believe, had a tremendously negative impact on baseball.  While sports like football and basketball, full of constant action, can be enjoyed in small doses, baseball is different. What I loved  (maybe obsessed over) about baseball was the history and the tradition. Munson, Nettles, Chambliss, Lyle, Randolph were the Yankees – last year, this year and next year.  Watching a game, for me, was an ongoing process – being a part of the team-family. With a few exceptions, this years team was just a tweaking of last years. It was notable to see who would get traded or retire – but you could count on most of the team being there year in and year out. Free agency – while necessary and right- changed all that and absolutely had an impact on my interest in the game.  Perhaps getting older with more to do played a big part, but I just didn’t find it as interesting to follow the “new” team from April to October – we didn’t have a history. Football and soccer are exciting in a single game unit –  I don’t find baseball to be the same, and certainly not at the 3+ hour major league level. I can’t remember the last time that I watched a major league game from start to finish, and, back in the day, I never missed one.

That all being said, Marvin Miller was as historical a figure in  the game as Babe Ruth was, and he deserves his place in history and in Cooperstown.


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