Posted by: mutantpoodle | November 27, 2012

Marvin Miller 1917 – 2012

If anyone post Branch Rickey has done more to change the business of American professional sports than the late Marvin Miller, I can’t name him (or her).

One delicious irony of Miller’s career is that one of the players who was instrumental in bringing him into the Major League Baseball world was future right-wing Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning.

For all that folks bemoan high-priced ballplayers and the lack of team stability that came with the end of baseball’s version of slavery reserve clause, Miller actually made the competition for professional athlete’s services into a free(er)market, albeit one that favored the players.

Miller’s excellent book, A Whole Different Ballgame, is a fascinating read, as is Lords of the Realm, by John Helyar, about the history of Major League Baseball owners and how, among other things, they were repeatedly outsmarted by an economist and steelworker union chief who treated his union members like adults and built the strongest, most effective sports union in the country.

Active into his 90’s, Miller, earlier this year, ripped into corporate salaries, pointing out that the boards that set CEO pay don’t have to pay them, while the baseball teams that sign free agents and set their salaries do.

He’s not in the baseball Hall of Fame – men who he bested over the years control his fate. But he did more to move baseball, and professional sports, into the 20th century than any of the small men who keep him from the club he is probably too good for anyway.

More here.

UPDATE: Charlie Pierce

The reserve system was an offense to an advanced democracy, and Miller’s great gift was to see it as all of a piece with every effort organized money ever has made to demolish the power of the people who do the actual work. He attached the Players Association to the history of trade unionism in America and he did so at a time in which the power of that movement was waning everywhere else. His great achievement with the player’s union was to get a group of the most selfish individual contractors in the history of the universe to think of themselves as a union, and to act as one. Having been around baseball players for a good portion of my career, I can tell you that this is nothing short of a miracle.


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