As you’ve probably heard by now, the father of the MLB Players’ Association, Marvin Miller, has passed away at the age of 95. Like most people, you probably aren’t too aware of Miller’s contributions. While I’m not an expert on the man, or his life, I became somewhat familiar with his story by reading John Helyar’s “The Lords of the Realm” (an excellent book, if you haven’t read it).
There isn’t much to be said about his life accomplishments that hasn’t been written a hundred times over by other journalists. Because of that, I’ll largely stay away from that topic. Besides, since my only encounters with the man are from Helyar’s book, I’ll give you what I took away from it.
As a character, Miller was hard to sympathize with. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact reasons why, but my inclination is that it’s because of his hard-lined approach. Miller knew what he wanted to accomplish, and he took whatever steps were necessary to get there. Whether it was striking, battling it out in courts or by being a cut-throat negotiator, Miller always reached his destination.
He’s also, at least according to the baseball executives interviewed in Helyar’s book, responsible for ending the patriarchy between front offices and their players. Before Miller and the union, there was this relationship between a team and its players that hasn’t existed since. The players viewed their general managers like their parents; they’d ask them for advice, and they’d negotiate contracts together, the players knowing full well that the GMs held all the leverage.
After Miller, relationships between teams and players became business-like, which is ultimately what they should be. After all, as much as we hate to admit it, that’s what professional sports really are—businesses. That’s how they operate when deciding which players to sign and which players to cut. Personality, character, years of service…those things don’t go into consideration; it’s only about the bottom line.
Miller’s also responsible for skyrocketing salaries and free agency. Those things tend to add a disconnect, especially the salaries, between athletes and their fans. It’s simply easier to relate to someone when you’re in a similar financial situation. You face the same struggles, or a lack thereof, and you tend to look at the world in similar ways.
While those climbing salaries and increased freedom created distance between fans and athletes, or athletes and front offices, it’s a necessary evil. As I see it: Sports are a big-time business. There’s a lot of money invested and that doesn’t figure to change anytime soon. So, the question becomes: If somebody’s capitalizing on this, should it be the players or the teams?
You could look at it both ways. The teams deserve the most capital because they’re the ones flipping the bills; they’re the ones taking all of the financial risks. The players, however, are the commodity. Without them, sports wouldn’t be as lucrative as they are. They’re the “talent”; they should be rewarded handsomely for that. Miller understood that, and he used it to his advantage in negotiations. So, as unpleasant as Miller may have come off to the owners, to the media and to the fans, he was a necessary cog in the sporting landscape.
Without Miller, we may have eventually ended up where were are today. Athletes would probably still make millions of dollars, and sports would probably still consume a large portion of our daily lives. But just because something would have happened eventually, it doesn’t discredit those that hastened the process. For that reason, Miller deserves credit for his accomplishments.
Whether that means he’s eventually enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, who knows? The fact that he’s not already there tells us a lot about the purpose of the Hall of Fame; it’s not a historical museum, it’s a revisionist’s historical museum. Its refusal to include Miller and steroid users tells us as much. But that’s beside the point.
The point is, losing Marvin Miller today is a blow to our society. Agree or disagree with his methods and his accomplishments, you can’t deny his progressive nature. Those are the types of people that make this society great. They have enough foresight and intelligence to see something that needs to be changed, and they have enough courage to do something about it.
For that, Marvin Miller will surely be missed.