It’s hard to know where to begin with the news today that former MLBPA Executive Director Marvin Miller passed away at the age of 95. In the history of sports, there may have never been a more galvanizing and important figure. As with most people of greatness, the actions of Miller were not seen by all as being good for sports. Still, love him or hate him, his impact on not only Major League Baseball, but all professional sports leagues, cannot be overstated. Collective bargaining, arbitration, free agency, and the fight for players’ rights all began with Miller. In that, you might disagree with Miller, but you had to respect him.
“It is with profound sorrow that we announce the passing of Marvin Miller,” said current MLBPA Executive Director, Michael Weiner. “All players—past, present and future—owe a debt of gratitude to Marvin, and his influence transcends baseball. Marvin, without question, is largely responsible for ushering in the modern era of sports, which has resulted in tremendous benefits to players, owners and fans of all sports."
“It was an honor and a privilege to have known Marvin. The industry has never witnessed a more honorable man, and his passion for helping others and his principled resolve serve as the foundation of the MLBPA to this day. On behalf of all Major Leaguers and MLBPA staff, I extend my heartfelt sympathies to Marvin’s daughter, Susan, son, Peter, their families, and Marvin’s many friends and admirers. Marvin was a champion among champions, and his legacy will live on forever.”
“Marvin possessed a combination of integrity, intelligence, eloquence, courage, and grace that is simply unmatched in my experience,” said former MLBPA Executive Director, Don Fehr, who worked under Miller as General Counsel from 1977-82 and is now mired in the lockout of the National Hockey League as the Executive Director of the NHLPA. “Without question, Marvin had more positive influence on Major League Baseball than any other person in the last half of the 20th century. It was a rare privilege for me to be able to work for him and with him. All of us who knew him will miss him enormously.”
And yet, with all the accolades piled upon Miller and the large shadow he has cast across baseball, he has yet to gain entry into the Hall of Fame. Yes, while the likes of former Commissioner Bowie Kuhn—a bumbling stooge by comparison to Miller—is in the Hall, Miller has yet to be inducted.
Part of this is likely due to his unwavering stands on not only the game but the voting process for the HOF. In interview after interview, Miller took a stab at the process. When Jay Jaffe interviewed him for BP in 2008, Miller said, “They abolished that [first Veterans Committee I was eligible for in 1982,] which had kind of been scandal-ridden in the sense that the only way they could elect anybody was to engage in vote trading. You support my guy and I'll support your guy, and out the window went merit. So they abolished that committee, and that was understandable. Then they created a new one, this time composed of all of the living members of the Hall of Fame. For the first time I was put on a ballot in 2003, and my vote was far short of the 75 percent needed, and that was okay.” When the committee structure changed, it was again a case of owners that Miller had raised the ire of having a key stake in blocking his induction.
Miller: Nine out of 12 people were management people, and what few, if any, people have commented about is that among the nine people…
Jaffe: Three legacies? [Bill DeWitt Jr., Andy MacPhail, Bill Giles]
Miller: No, three who were among the leaders of the collusion movement against players [DeWitt, MacPhail, and John Harrington]. Let's remember that I was the negotiator of the anti-collusion language, and let's also remember that I was the lead witness in the collusion case against the owners. As you may know, there were two separate cases, and both impartial arbitrators rejected the sworn testimony of these now-former general managers that there was no such thing as collusion. In other words, without even using the word "perjury," in effect that's what two impartial arbitrators found that the testimony before them represented. And these were to be my judges. The whole thing is absurd.
Miller’s sharp words were not just for those former executives; he had them for the writers when I interviewed him in 2004:
And then there are members of the press who vote who are the newspaper reporters wing of the Hall of Fame. While some of those might vote for me, many would not. There were a lot of them who were, if not in the owners’ pockets, at least on their laps. There are the radio and TV announcers who, interestingly enough, in almost every case, cannot be announcers in radio and TV unless the clubs that they are telecasting or broadcasting agree. They hold the veto power over them.
So, it should come as no surprise that Miller, ever a man to stand on principles over horse trading, took the unprecedented stand in 2008 of telling the Hall of Fame to, basically, kiss off:
Paradoxically, I'm writing to thank you and your associates for your part in nominating me for Hall of Fame consideration and, at the same time, to ask that you not do this again… The anti-union bias of the powers who control the Hall has consistently prevented recognition of the historic significance of the changes to baseball brought about by collective bargaining.
As former executive director of the players' union that negotiated these changes, I find myself unwilling to contemplate one more rigged Veterans Committee whose members are handpicked to reach a particular outcome while offering a pretense of a democratic vote. It is an insult to baseball fans, historians, sports writers, and especially to those baseball players who sacrificed and brought the game into the 21st century. At the age of 91, I can do without a farce.
Today, there will be few that won’t mourn his passing. As with many that pass on, those that might have been some of Miller’s strongest critics will say that it’s a sad day. The truth is, the things that most of Miller’s critics despised are the very things that we’d all wish to have if we were being taken advantage of in the work place. Miller might seem out of place in the current union/management relationship, but his unwavering stance on player rights coupled with his incredible ability to communicate with the players and those he interfaced with on a level that was easily understood made him an incredible force. The sports world is a little less bright without Miller in it. Here’s hoping that he posthumously gains entry into the Hall of Fame, as he so rightly deserves. Rest in peace, Marvin. Here's what your HOF plaque might look like: