Marvin Miller died this week thirty years after he stepped down as the leader of the baseball players' union. The news is more than several hours old and many have already written of Marvin Miller's contributions to the game that we see today. For most of you readers here, these articles all over the Web are history lessons. But some of us lived through those days. And when Marvin Miller began appearing in the sports pages every day, we hated the man. We truly hated him.
We did not understand, of course. Like most great leaders of any generation, these leaders shake up the status quo and right wrongs despite obstacles. But back then, all we knew was that this man...this one man was the reason that our cherished game was interrupted on three occasions during his tenure.
For a game that is rooted in tradition and for the constant flowing and rhythm of the seasons, the sharp break in those rhythms were jarring. In 1972, the season suddenly stopped for thirteen days. And then in 1976, Spring Training was interrupted and the season threatened. Things kept getting worse. In 1981, the season stopped for seven weeks. The result was a sham of a post season with cockamamie rules determining the playoff structure. What was happening to our game!?
And of course, most of us believed that Marvin Miller was the villain. Baseball was sacrosanct and the team owners wouldn't lie to us. Fans are not unlike all other people that want to believe the best of those in power. Heck, even the Supreme Court ruled against Curt Flood. The Supreme Court doesn't mess things up. They were the ultimate in logic and the bastion of the American way of life.
And Marvin Miller came to the players' union via the steelworkers' union. We did not trust those guys. Wasn't the big unions run by the mafia? Why would those steelworkers complain about making three times more than our dads were making? These were the pictures we were painted and most of us bought it.
The game had always been what it had always been. Youngsters break into the game. Some become stars. The elite became superstars. Other than the year that Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax held out for more money, no one thought about the condition of the players. The game had stood the test of time just as it was. If it wasn't broke, why did it have to be fixed?
Those players were getting paid to play a kids' game. Shouldn't they be satisfied with that? We would give a kidney to be in their shoes.
We knew that the superstars made good money. It was a big deal when Mickey Mantle made $100,000. But what about those that weren't superstars? When Dick Schofield was interviewed here last week it was noted that he played nineteen years in the big leagues. All of his years combined would not equal in pay what the least paid player in baseball makes now in one season. Schofield did better in the last few years of his career after Miller's influence started to be felt. But even so, a minimum salaried player today makes as much as Schofield did in his best paid season in just three and a half weeks.
But it wasn't just the lack of revenue sharing the owners allowed the players. It was a lack of any participation in their own destiny. The reserve clause upheld by the Supreme Court in the Flood case meant that the owners owned their players. They controlled them so completely that a player had no option but to accept his fate. Most workers of the twentieth century at least had at will work rules where we could quit to go work for somebody else. The players couldn't do that.
And when Marvin Miller started to win for his players, oh, gosh, the anguish that was felt around fans of baseball. Rich teams would get the best players and the small markets would get screwed. The game was going to go to hell in a hand basket.
Except it did not turn out that way. Well, some of you might want to believe that the system is unfair to the small market teams if you want. But there have always been rich teams and they always got the best talent. They signed the best high school kids. There has always been a caste system when it comes to baseball teams. Do you honestly think the Yankees won all those championships from 1950 to 1961 because they had good managers? No. They had the best players.
History has shown us that the process Marvin Miller started has not killed the game. Instead, the game is richer now than ever and everyone is making buckets of money. Miller's efforts gave the players options. He had to compromise and let those options wait for six years before they could be made manifest, but after that, the player could make the best deal going forward.
And those best deals have led to a thriving off season of interest that continues to build excitement for fans every season to see what happens.
Marvin Miller deserves every accolade that history has taught us about his contributions to the game. He deserves every anguished article that he fell one vote short of induction into the Hall of Fame. But history teaches this all to us in hindsight. But during those years, perhaps only Richard Nixon had a worse image. We hated the guy and we did so with a passion. He was the scapegoat for the shocking dams in the great river of baseball. It is at least fitting that he lived long enough for most of us to change our minds.