February 25, 2013
A Detailed Look at the Salary Arbitration Class of 2013
Several years ago, when I was deep in the throes of researching Major League Baseball’s labor past, I contacted former MLB Players Association Executive Director Marvin Miller to ask him some questions about the defining early moments of the players union. I knew well of Curt Flood’s struggles and eventually the Peter Seitz ruling that allowed for free agency. It was well documented, and only a scrub would phone Miller without having that information in his or her back pocket. But, I had latched onto another labor facet that preceded free agency. It was still fuzzy, but the impact of salary arbitration seemed larger than it was often portrayed, taking a back seat to the struggles of Flood and the breaking of the reserve clause. So, as I talked to Miller, I brought up the subject.
“Which was more important, achieving salary arbitration or free agency?”
Surely, this would be an easy answer, as the breaking of the reserve clause and the advent of free agency were seen as monumental in the media. Miller paused, and then, making full use of one of his gifts, put it in simple and clear terms:
“You see, there really could not have been one without the other. At the time, we knew that going directly after free agency would be a difficult battle, so we leaned upon labor law and used salary arbitration as our first step. Of course, the owners were opposed to it, but they seemed to sense that salary arbitration would surely be better than free agency. It wasn’t until it was implemented that they understood that it was a controlled form of salary escalation that we thought the players clearly deserved.”
From there, Miller said something that may still not fully resonate with fans today.
“Salary arbitration is one of the single most important aspects that the union has provided for the players. It was one of our crowning achievements.”