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December 13, 2010

Another Look

Marvin Miller

by Bob Hertzel

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On the back cover of Marvin Miller’s book, A Whole Different Ball Game: The Sport and Business Baseball, there is a blurb that needs to be revived here, now that the Baseball Hall of Fame has once again denied Miller entry.

“When you speak of Babe Ruth, he is one of the two men, in my opinion, who changed baseball the most. He changed the construction of the game, the construction of bats as well as the ball. And the second most influential man in the history of baseball is Marvin Miller.”

If this were an endorsement from Reggie Jackson and Jim Bouton, who also offer their view on Miller in brief blurbs, you might toss it aside as coming from those who benefited most from Miller’s work to create a baseball union and bring free agency to the sport. Instead, the author of that blurb was one of the most respected voices ever to broadcast the game—Red Barber.

It is difficult to imagine that the 16-man Veteran’s Committee could possibly believe that Pat Gillick is more deserving of enshrinement than Miller. This is not to belittle Gillick’s admirable career, but to emphasize Miller’s importance to the game. Some Hall of Fame voters seem to misunderstand their role in chronicling the most significant men in baseball history. The game has had its fair share of scoundrels and flakes. There is no background check performed when a player signs a contract. Throughout history, countless character flaws and indiscretions of players have been covered up. But even if the Hall is right in keeping Joe Jackson and Pete Rose out of the Hall, it is impossible to explain how Marvin Miller is being left out, short of his own bitter analysis.

Upon being denied induction, Miller issued a long statement pointing a crooked finger at the Hall for ignoring him and the changes he brought to the game.“The Baseball Hall of Fame’s vote (or non-vote) of December 5 hardly qualifies as a news story. It is repetitively negative, easy to forecast, and therefore boring,” Miller said.

“Many years ago those who control the Hall decided to rewrite history instead of recording it. The aim was to eradicate the history of the tremendous impact of the players’ union on the progress and development of the game as a competitive sport, as entertainment, and as an industry.

“The union was the moving force in bringing Major League Baseball from the 19th century to the 21st century. It brought about expansion of the game to cities that had never had a major-league team. It brought about more than a 50 percent increase in the number of people employed as players, coaches, trainers, managers, club presidents, attorneys and other support personnel, employees of concessionaires, stadium maintenance personnel, parking lot attendants, and more.”

Think of the strides the game has taken since the formation of the union and the change in baseball’s financial structure. Think of the increased access through expansion and television. Think of new stadiums that are sports palaces, the luxury boxes, and the sportswear industry. It wasn’t all what Miller and those who wanted a union envisioned, but it certainly was a byproduct of the change.

“It converted a salary structure from one with a $6,000 a year minimum salary to a $414,000 a year salary from the first day of a player’s major-league service,” Miller continued. “The union was also the moving force for changing the average Major League salary from $19,000 a year to more than $3 million a year, and the top salary from $100,000 to more than $25 million a year. The union was a major factor in increasing the annual revenue of all major-league clubs, combined—from $50 million a year before the union started in 1966 to this year’s almost $7 billion a year. That is a difficult record to eradicate—and the Hall has failed to do it.”

Miller sees his exclusion as also being a result of this success. He believes those who still run the business cannot accept that Miller rolled over them and exposed them and the feudal system known as the reserve clause.

“A long time ago, it became apparent that the Hall sought to bury me long before my time, as a metaphor for burying the union and eradicating its real influence. Its failure is exemplified by the fact that I and the union of players have received far more support, publicity, and appreciation from countless fans, former players, writers, scholars, experts in labor management relations, than if the Hall had not embarked on its futile and fraudulent attempt to rewrite history. It is an amusing anomaly that the Hall of Fame has made me famous by keeping me out.”

 The day surely will come when the injustice is rectified. But if it doesn’t come soon—and the next time he is eligible will be 2013—Miller, now 93, probably won’t be there to see it. 

Bob Hertzel is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bob's other articles. You can contact Bob by clicking here

Related Content:  The Who,  Marvin Miller,  Managers Of The Year

36 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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R.A.Wagman

While Miller's exclusion from the Hall is a shame, if not a travesty of justice, as the man himself said, “The Baseball Hall of Fame’s vote (or non-vote) of December 5 hardly qualifies as a news story. It is repetitively negative, easy to forecast, and therefore boring."
I'd be more intereasted in Hertzel's take on Gillick.

Dec 13, 2010 06:31 AM
rating: 0
 
Richie
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Silly to argue that the union "grew" the game. Leastwise to state such as if it's self-evident. It didn't destroy the game as the owners way back caterwauled it would. But no more reason to see that union/growth correlation as causal than as associative.

Marvin's an angry old man who certainly merits induction. But the more he grouses about it, the less sorry I feel for him.

Dec 13, 2010 07:18 AM
rating: -4
 
fawcettb
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You'd kind of have to add "Market Capitalism" to the Hall of Fame if you're going to elect Miller. Between the two of them, they did the most to make baseball a rich spectators game, a condition which at this point is the biggest threat I can think of to the health of the game. Watching a bunch of millionaires with gold chains around their necks and Maseratis in the parking lot is what I enjoy least about today's game.

Dec 13, 2010 07:58 AM
rating: -4
 
CRP13

Market Capitalism was inducted to the HoF in 1998.

Dec 13, 2010 11:00 AM
rating: 4
 
rwarmowski

Well, no. MLB is the poster child for monopoly capitalism, not market or free-market capitalism.

Dec 13, 2010 22:46 PM
rating: 0
 
DAra

Do you also not enjoy seeing eccentrics who live in gated communities in Newport Beach, CA or South Beach, Florida; superstar rock stars who fly in private jets; and successful stockbrokers who eat at fine restaurants in New York?

If yes (which is what I assume based on your answer above), then what do you wish the baseball economic system to be based on? Do you want all players to make the same salary (pick a number, any number, say 250k, which is a lot of money for anybody, because we sure don't want them making TOO much money), have season ticket prices be capped so that of course the owners also shouldn't get TOO rich off of us poor fans, fix the TV-generated revenues so that we don't start bidding wars on showing baseball games?

Why don't we just kill entrepreneurship completely? Why don't we dis-incentivize anybody from playing baseball anyway? Why don't we completely kill motivation (for players, for owners, for networks) - to make a (highly) successful living.

Right. Socialism doesn't work. We reward excellence through supply and demand economics and if some of those talents, who can supply a talent/skill that is scarce but highly sought after, but end up lacing hemselves with gold chains and driving around Masteratis, so be it. I can live with it as long as we reward excellence.

Dec 13, 2010 23:38 PM
rating: 0
 
rwarmowski

Totally incorrect. Socialism doesn't work? Socialism for the rich works wonderfully - for the rich. Removing your head from the sand to examine just about any sector of our economy will quickly demonstrate numerous grotesque examples of the public bearing all the risks and none of the profit of private business.

Baseball just happens to be an excellent monopoly example of this endless favor grated toward business interests. To call any monopoly business an example of "rewarding excellence through supply and demand economics" is completely ludicrous propaganda of the lowest, most transparent order.

I don't care about player salaries. I care about counterbalancing the overwhelming advantage of the owners, these alleged "entrepreneurs" who never have to worry about competing with another baseball league. Marvin Miller not only knew this imbalance existed, he saw past the propaganda, addressed the imbalance, greatly expanded the game by introducing a fair labor market within it, making national news of the true value of players. He should not only be in the HOF, he should be in a labor relations HOF.

Dec 14, 2010 13:22 PM
rating: -1
 
CRP13

I work for a very large private business. I get rewarded for its success. A salary, benefits including insurance, and a really nice bonus that is dependent on the company's profits. The only risk I shoulder is if I don't do my job to my utmost ability, I have a long-shot chance at losing my job. However, if I do my job excellently and show my abilities better than those of my peers, I get rewarded in the form of recognition, promotion, salary compensation, and nice pats on the back from rich folk.

I consider myself "public." How am I bearing all the risks and none of the profit? And how am I different from a major league baseball player? Only that playing a physical sport at an elite level is a much rarer skill set than that of a good mechanical engineer, and so baseball players are accordingly paid more.

DAra...love the sarcasm. Don't love the spelling. Therefore, I conclude that you are also an engineer.

Dec 14, 2010 13:59 PM
rating: 0
 
rwarmowski

1) You are fundamentally different from a ballplayer in that if you don't like your boss, you have (or had, and signed away) the right to leave and work for a competing company. MLB is a monopoly. It does not compete with other non-existent baseball leagues. See: http://www.slate.com/id/2068290/

2) Your bosses (at an immense multiple of your pay) enjoy any tax break, subsidy or special legal protection offered them by the state, local or federal government. Generally these are laws or regulations (or pullbacks of same) at the behest of a the bosses themselves by way of lobbying groups donating to legislators on behalf of your corporation or economic sector. This is often referred to as "corporate welfare".

The notion that your corporation's share of the tax burden deserves to be lightened or eliminated altogether is admittedly a very popular one, but that' s because the United States is by far the world's #1 producer of pro-business propaganda. This idea is just dandy for your bosses and for shareholders, but for everyone not so enjoined, who pay tax yet receive progressively less service for that tax because your corporation doesn't pay, it's a lousy deal. It's us out here who are the public, and (speaking broadly) your costs of doing business are borne by us in the form of tax breaks and subsidies.

It's also true that corporate capitalism is increasingly subsidized by the public not just through tax breaks or deregulation. It leads away from "free markets" and toward oligopolies and monopolies, encouraging the fixing of prices. See: Archer Daniels Midland (lysine), Samsung (DRAM), LG Display (LCDs), Siemens (electricity) and on and on and on. It also leads toward wholesale abuse of the environment.

Baseball (and all pro sports) is rife with this continual pimping of the public; see: any and every means of raising stadium construction capital using billions in public money in the past 40 years.

So when you say you are "rewarded for success", it's overwhelmingly likely that some portion of that reward has literally been expropriated from the people near you who don't work for nor are customers or suppliers of your large corporation. One wonders why they can't be left alone and private industry can't stay private.

Dec 14, 2010 15:09 PM
rating: 1
 
CRP13

That's well-stated, I just don't agree.

Dec 15, 2010 06:05 AM
rating: -1
 
dodgerken222
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The Players Union, like all unions in history, grew out of a need to correct some obvious econoic injustices. Like all unions, with success they became as greedy and contemptible as the forces they were fighting. World War 11 couldn't stop the World Series; it was too important to the nation's morale. The Players' Union did. When it became obvious that steroids were ruining the game, it was the Players' Union who blocked drug testing. (Granted, the owners were somewhat complicit too). Like all unions, its main aim seems to be to protect criminals and incompetents. Thank God we did have a Players' Union after the Black Sox Scandal; no one would have been banned as no one was convicted. Today convicted felons get slaps on the wrist, thanks to the Union.
The Players' Union and escalating salaries have effectively priced me out of attending games. Yes, Marvin Miller had a major effect on the game. So did Arnold Rothstein.

Dec 13, 2010 08:33 AM
rating: -10
 
R.A.Wagman

I can see that you are bitter. What alternative do you suggest? It's very easy to complain, but not quite so simple to come up with something better.

Dec 13, 2010 08:43 AM
rating: 0
 
mikebuetow

That's an interesting take. The average ticket price to see perhaps the worst sports union -- the NHL -- in action is $51.41. http://www.andrewsstarspage.com/index.php/site/comments/nhl_average_ticket_prices_since_1994_95/119-2008-09

The NBA's is $49.47. http://teammarketing.com.ismmedia.com/ISM3/std-content/repos/Top/Fan%20Cost%20Index/NBA/NBA_FCI_08-09.pdf

The NFL's is $74.99. http://teammarketing.com.ismmedia.com/ISM3/std-content/repos/Top/News/nfl%20fci%202009.pdf

MLB's is $26.74. http://teammarketing.com.ismmedia.com/ISM3/std-content/repos/Top/Fan%20Cost%20Index/MLB/MLB_FCI_2010.pdf

Dec 13, 2010 08:52 AM
rating: 2
 
ostrowj1

I don't think it is all that worthwhile to compare the average ticket prices of a baseball game to 2 sports that are always played inside a venue with significantly less seating than an MLB stadium and a sport that plays 1/10 the number games. Supply is a much bigger factor in ticket prices (when comparing sports) than the effects of a union.

Dec 13, 2010 10:00 AM
rating: 0
 
mikebuetow

That's the point, though, isn't it? That blaming the unions for high ticket prices is a red herring?

Not to get all Scott Boras, but in each of the biggest contracts (A-Rod twice, Jeter, Sabathia, etc.) ever handed out, the owner was bidding against himself. The only exception
I can think of is Manny Ramirez's deal with the Red Sox, and there were lots of factors at play in that instance. Want to blame someone for ticket prices, look at the owners, not the unions.

Charley Finley was right: Make every player a free agent every year.

Dec 13, 2010 11:31 AM
rating: 3
 
CRP13

World War Eleven? Dang, I must have missed that one.

Seriously good point with the 2nd sentence.

Dec 13, 2010 11:01 AM
rating: -2
 
Mr. Cthulhu

"The Players' Union and escalating salaries have effectively priced me out of attending games."

That's right, because businesses set their prices based on their expenses not market demand.

Dec 13, 2010 11:39 AM
rating: 2
 
flyingdutchman
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Classic dodgerken, as ill-informed as ever. I suggest you go educate yourself, and then come back to comment.

Dec 13, 2010 11:55 AM
rating: -4
 
CRP13

this post is utterly and completely unnecessary.

Dec 13, 2010 11:58 AM
rating: 0
 
awayish

guys right though

Dec 13, 2010 13:36 PM
rating: 0
 
cburnell

For anyone to assert that Marvin Miller does not merit induction in the Hall of Fame is to acknowledge that they don't understand the history of the sport, the reserve clause or the changes it the MLBPA brought about. There are two very fine biographies of Curt Flood which tell the story -- read them.

Miller understood the power of a union, the importance of membership communications, the use of leverage in collective bargaining, the finances of the industry and the weakness of the MLB ownership.

Finally, I take issue with the characterization of Miller as bitter. That belittles him and paints him as preoccupied by the decision and small-minded. He is certainly not that, but simply a 93 year-old man who is disappointed and honest.

Dec 13, 2010 10:02 AM
rating: 4
 
R.A.Wagman

No one said Marvin Miller was bitter. Bob Hertzel states that his analysis is bitter - hard to argue that. I personally said that dodgerken222 is bitter.

Dec 13, 2010 10:14 AM
rating: -3
 
Lespaul1

I believe he is referring to Richie saying he's an "angry old man"

Dec 13, 2010 18:03 PM
rating: 1
 
awayish

>implying ticket prices are dependent on cost rather than revenue.

Dec 13, 2010 13:35 PM
rating: -1
 
juiced

It's an absolute crime that he wasn't inducted. When the owners ran the show players were glorified serfs. What a joke.

Dec 13, 2010 15:43 PM
rating: 3
 
awayish

baseball history can go to hell if it doesn't acknowledge the business nature of the game and the attendant issues of economic justice.

Dec 13, 2010 16:54 PM
rating: 2
 
WaldoInSC

Failing to elect Marvin Miller into the Hall while honoring Bowie Kuhn is like electing the Washington Generals into the basketball Hall of Fame but not the Harlem Globetrotters.

Love him or hate him, Miller had more impact on the game than anyone. Kuhn, on the other hand, was so utterly feckless that he couldn't have gotten elected into the Bowie Kuhn Hall of Fame.

Dec 13, 2010 19:13 PM
rating: 4
 
jerrykenny

Hey, Bowie had an influence on the game. OK, it was mostly negative but it was an impact :-)

Dec 14, 2010 17:06 PM
rating: 0
 
greg26

Interestingly, the HOF website is pretty much silent on the criteria for getting into the HOF. It does say that the institution is dedicated (among other things) to " honoring those who have made outstanding contributions to our national pastime."

Has Miller made a contribution? Absolutely.

Has Miller made an 'outstanding' contribution? Well, that depends on your definition of 'outstanding.' If you interpret it to mean that it has to further the development of baseball and/or the public's commitment to baseball, then it's at least arguable.

Personally, I agree with the posters who believe that free agency has detracted from the game (from the perspective of fans). Not only do we have overpaid players, but we have fewer players who stay with teams long enough for fans to develop strong attachments. If you root for the Pirates or Padres, for example, free agency means you're rooting for the uniforms only.

Dec 13, 2010 21:47 PM
rating: -1
 
Mr. Cthulhu

I take issue with calling these players over paid. Is it fair to say some players (Barry Zito, Vernon Wells, etc.) are earning more money than value they produce? Hell yes, but overall players are being compensated pretty fairly for the amount value they are producing for the owners (baseball is not bankrupt). People seem to get upset when they see the huge dollar figures players are paid, forgetting that they need to be taken in the overall context of the revenue generated by baseball. If you have a problem with how much money baseball is making, stop supporting the game. Support the independent leagues who have players who are playing purely for sake of getting to play baseball.

And yes, I understand the Padres lose talent to free agency and it is tough on fans. But, would you prefer it if the players were forced to play their entire careers for the Padres at a far below market price, while ownership raked in revenues? Could you defend that morally? That Adrian Gonzalez should earn a fraction of the value he creates for the Padres so their fans can watch his entire career?

Dec 13, 2010 22:15 PM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

Pop quiz! Who is more overpaid:

David Glass or Barry Zito?

Hal Steinbrenner or Vernon Wells?

Ted Lerner or Jayson Werth?

Dec 13, 2010 22:47 PM
 
misterjohnny
(925)

Easy answer: Frank McCourt!

Dec 14, 2010 10:35 AM
rating: 2
 
mkegross

I wouldn't object to Marvin Miller being in the HOF, but I don't understand the outrage. I see him as nothing more or less than a lawyer who did a phenomenal job for his clients, i.e., made them tons of money. That's great if you're part of a tiny elite that's good enough at baseball to play it at the highest level, but how did Miller make the game more interesting or fun or compelling or in any way better?
I don't see baseball players being insanely rich as necessarily a bad thing, but how is it a wonderful thing for anyone other than the players, their families and Maserati dealers?
The word "impact'' is being thrown around way too loosely here. Impact is not necessarily contribution, and does not necessarily have anything to do with "fame.'' If sheer impact in the criteria, the guy who started ESPN is a first-ballot HOFer in every American sport. If I was a fan of the Royals or Pirates, I might argue that Miller has had "impact" on the fix my team is in, but I don't think I'd be clamoring to see him in Cooperstown.

I might - might - be willing to come off my position a little if someone could offer evidence to support the statement Miller made above:

"The union was a major factor in increasing the annual revenue of all major-league clubs, combined—from $50 million a year before the union started in 1966 to this year’s almost $7 billion a year."

Dec 14, 2010 07:41 AM
rating: 1
 
WaldoInSC

Miller did far more than increase salaries; he unmade the 100-year bed in which players wallowed in indentured servitude to overlord owners. Before Miller, baseball's labor economics involved a set of monopolist owners and independent contractors with no rights to their place or conditions of employment.

Marvin Miller brought the free market to baseball. Every baseball player alive should name his first child Miller.

Dec 14, 2010 17:07 PM
rating: 1
 
kcboomer

Miller should have been elected if anyone was but we sure didn't need his diatribe on his omission. It would be interesting to find out which non-owner didn't vote for him. Might be interesting to hear what Miller would have to say about that person.

And the NHoF didn't let him down unless you want to accuse them of failing to create a body whose only goal was to elect Miller. It was the VC. That's as useless an organization as mankind has ever devised. It doesn't matter what form or makeup they always screw the pooch.

As for Zito versus Glass, any rational thought process would easily yield Zito as the answer to who is the most overpaid.

Dec 14, 2010 14:54 PM
rating: 0
 
Dr. Dave

greg26 wrote: "Not only do we have overpaid players, but we have fewer players who stay with teams long enough for fans to develop strong attachments."

There isn't any more player mobility now than there was before the union. It's just that today the players have a lot of say in where (and whether) they move.

Take a look at the history of the Kansas City Athletics in the late '50s and early '60s. The Yankees basically used them as a farm club, letting them develop talent (Roger Maris, Ralph Terry, Ryne Duren...) and then buying that talent. That was the A's business model -- on the field they were a joke.

Marvin Miller is a direct cause of why that doesn't happen any more. The worst recent offenders (the Pohlad Twins, the fire-sale Marlins) are much more competitive and much more fun to watch than the bad teams of the pre-union era.

Yes, superstars leave their original teams as free agents. Then again, if you check out the all-time WAR leaders at BaseballReference, you'll see that pre-union Babe Ruth, Tris Speaker, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Jimmy Foxx, Cy Young, Pete Alexander, Lefty Grove, ... all of these guys were traded mid-career. Some of them more than once. Some of them for cash, which was not re-invested in the team.

I'm not crazy about player mobility myself, but the union didn't invent it. The union only made it benefit players, rather than owners.

Dec 20, 2010 11:51 AM
rating: 1
 
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