Even though Marvin Miller had been out of power for years, his name had often been in the news. Every time there was a labor dispute in professional sports, and there have been many, Miller’s name invariably came up.
Miller invented the position of players association president. There were players unions before he came along, but they were powerless.
One of his acolytes, Donald Fehr, who was a longtime head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, now heads the NHL Players Association. Fehr’s union and the NHL are engaged in a lengthy labor dispute, with the union head using tactics he learned from Miller.
Early Tuesday morning, Miller died at 95. He dies without entering baseball’s Hall of Fame, something the many players whose lives he enriched financially badly wanted.
There’s no one like him in the Hall of Fame because there was no one like him. Miller was able to beat the owners in court and labor disputes. He won free agency and enormous riches for the players, and other sports unions have tried to copy his formula.
A former steelworker’s head, Miller was selected as head of the union instead of an out of work lawyer named Richard Nixon in 1966. Miller educated the players and was able to best the owners.
Early in his tenure, Miller annoyed Orioles manager Earl Weaver. He was disrupted his spring training schedule with meetings, Weaver complained and unions were ruining the game. When Weaver’s salary began climbing as a result of the player’s gains, he became a big supporter of Miller and his union.
As someone who came of age watching the three long work stoppages, it’s a bit strange that baseball’s union and its owners have the most harmonious relationship in any of the major sports. A fourth work stoppage seems implausible, just as the idea of labor peace was 20 years ago.
The seeds of peace and prosperity were sown by a true baseball revolutionary, Marvin Miller.