Bennett: An hour with Marvin Miller

From SABR member Tommy Bennett at Baseball Prospectus on April 26, 2012, with mention of SABR members Ross Davies and Charles Korr:

Marvin Miller is a throwback to a past era—maybe two or three eras ago. It’s rare these days to hear a well-dressed economist refer to himself as a lifelong “trade unionist.” It’s rare to hear someone earnestly compare the federal minimum wage to the minimum salary in baseball. But perhaps it’s not so rare these days for someone to decry as excessive salaries paid to CEOs. Besides, what would you expect from a man who turned 95 two weeks ago if not something of a throwback?

Miller spoke Tuesday evening as part of a panel marking the 40th anniversary of the 1972 baseball strike and in his honor at New York University School of Law. His wide-ranging remarks lasted over an hour but focused primarily on what he called the “untold stories” of baseball’s labor history. Miller was joined by former colleagues, academics, friends, lawyers, and baseball fans.

Decades after the events took place, Miller’s impassioned retelling of the formative moments in baseball’s labor relations put the focus of the stories squarely on the players. He was most enthusiastic describing the final vote of the players—during spring training in 1972—on whether to walk out on the season. Miller described how he and his general counsel, Richard Moss (also on the panel), recommended against a strike at a union meeting in Dallas on March 31. Despite his urging, the team representatives voted unanimously (with one abstention) to strike. Thirteen days later, the owners had agreed to the MLBPA’s demands, including increased pensions and salary arbitration, and play resumed shortly thereafter.

Miller underscored the massive victories won by the MLBPA since 1966, when he took the reins of what was at the time a company union. In 1967, he noted, the minimum player salary was $6,000. In 2011, it was over $400,000. In 1967, the average player salary was $19,000. In 2010, it was $3.1 million. According to NYU Sports Management Professor Robert Boland, Miller and the MLBPA are responsible for the creation of modern sports business. Also present for the evening were Miller’s two successors at the MLBPA, Don Fehr and Michael Weiner. But Fehr took a backseat to Miller—or rather, he sat in the front row while his successor and predecessor spoke on the panel. And Weiner spoke emphatically about how he carries the legacy of the MLBPA created by Miller and Moss with him in his daily work.

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This page was last updated April 26, 2012 at 11:14 am MST.