Marvin Miller: Sports executive who pioneered the concept of free agency

 

Marvin Miller was the founding executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association who led a revolution in sports by expanding the concept of free agency, which made many leading athletes multi-millionaires. "I loved baseball, and I loved a good fight, and, in my mind, ballplayers were among the most exploited workers in America" he wrote in his memoir, A Whole Different Ball Game.

When he was approached to lead the players' union in 1965, their primary goal was to increase their pension fund. He had been the leading labour negotiator for United Steelworkers and had served on presidentially appointed labour-management panels. Quiet and urbane, with a matinee-idol moustache, he did not conform to the stereotypical image of a hard-knuckled union organiser.

When he took over, the union had $5,400 in its coffers and no staff. But he forged one of the unlikeliest and strongest unions in the country, battling an entrenched group of wealthy team owners. He helped establish several landmark advances, notably free agency and salary arbitration, which gave players a greater voice in determining their salaries and guiding baseball's future. He organised four labour stoppages, including a mid-season strike in 1981 that halted the game for two months and alienated many fans sympathetic to the players' cause.

"I think he's the most important baseball figure of the last 50 years," former Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent said. "He changed not just the sport but the business of the sport permanently, and he truly emancipated the baseball player – and in the process all professional athletes." When Miller took over, the minimum salary was $7,000. Today, it is $480,000.

Other triumphs included the right to collective bargaining, the right to use agents to negotiate contracts, arbitration in labour disputes and the contractual ability of players to block transfers to other teams. The model Miller created for baseball was later copied by unions in other sports, including the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League.

Owners sought to brand Miller as a communist destroying the game, and clubs went to great lengths to disrupt his meetings. In one instance, a coach hit baseballs into the outfield near where he was talking to players.

Marvin Miller was born in the Bronx and was raised in Brooklyn. His father sold women's clothing and was a labour organiser. His mother was a schoolteacher and an early member of a teachers union. He graduated in 1938 from New York University in economics and had early jobs with the Treasury Department and New York City's welfare department. A shoulder damaged at birth prevented military service; he worked instead for the National War Labor Board. In 1950, he began a 16-year association with United Steelworkers in Pittsburgh.

Miller was repeatedly denied a place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, five times failing to gain the required 75 per cent of votes of the Hall's veterans committee, which was once dominated by old-school players and executives with a lingering resentment of Miller's role in changing the game. In 2010, after he fell one vote short, Miller said, "It is an amusing anomaly that the Hall of Fame has made me famous by keeping me out."

Marvin Julian Miller, sports executive: born New York 14 April 1917; married 1940 Theresa Morgenstern (died 2009; one son, one daughter); died New York 27 November 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada