Miller, Marvin, 1917-2012

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1917-04-14
Death 2012-11-27
English

Biographical notes:

Marvin Julian Miller (1917-) was the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1966-1983, and was instrumental in its development into a powerful labor union that transformed the economics and labor relations of baseball, which led ultimately to profound changes in the nature of U.S. professional sports and their place in society. After his retirement in 1983, he continued to be active as a consultant to the Players Association and a frequent commentator on labor relations in sports, labor and economic history and current affairs.

From the description of Papers, 1944-2002. (New York University, Group Batchload). WorldCat record id: 60982625

Marvin Julian Miller was born in New York City on April 14, 1917 and raised in Brooklyn. His father, Alexander Miller, was a salesman in the garment district and a devoted Giants fan; his mother, Gertrude Wald Miller, was an elementary-school teacher. Miller studied first at Miami University of Ohio and then at New York University, where he received a B.S. degree in economics in 1938. In the same year he married Theresa Morgenstern; they had two children, Peter, born in 1945, and Susan, born in 1949. Theresa Miller went on to earn a Ph.D. in psychology in 1961 and, after working in clinical and experimental psychology, retired as an Associate Professor at the City University of New York.

After graduation from NYU, Marvin Miller worked briefly for the New York City Welfare Department and went on to positions as a staff economist at the War Production Board and an economist and disputes hearing officer for the War Labor Board. In the post-war period he worked for the United States Department of Labor's Conciliation Service. After brief stints with the International Association of Machinists and the United Auto Workers, he was hired in 1950 as a research economist for the United Steelworkers of America. There Miller worked with general counsel Arthur Goldberg to develop the Steelworkers' innovative and successful post-war collective bargaining strategy. When Goldberg left to become President John F. Kennedy's Secretary of Labor, Miller became the union's chief economist and negotiator, and assistant to Steelworkers president David J. McDonald.

In December 1965 former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Robin Roberts, representing the Major League Baseball Players Association, contacted Marvin Miller about the newly-envisioned position of full-time Executive Director of the MLBPA. After a long interview process and discussions with all the major league teams, against the back-drop of the Sandy Koufax-Don Drysdale holdout in the spring of 1966, Miller was elected to the new post by an overwhelming majority of players, managers, coaches and trainers. He was joining an organization that lacked staff, adequate office space, a war chest and the full confidence of its constituency. Visionary player-advocates like Roberts and Phillies delegate Jim Bunning were the exception in a culture bound by paternalism, sentimentality and deep divisions based on age, ethnicity, race and status. The owners, too, were often divided and short-sighted, relying too much on a cozy relationship with the media and legal establishments.

When Miller began as Executive Director, major league baseball was at a crossroads. Television revenue had increased dramatically but the owners, armed with a reserve rules system that bound every professional baseball player for his entire career to the franchise that had "drafted" and signed him (unless sold to another organization), were keeping salaries, pensions and other benefits at pre-television-era levels. In 1966 the average salary of a major league player was $19,000 a year; the minimum annual salary of $6,000 was only $1,000 above the 1947 minimum.

Miller applied his expertise as a labor economist and negotiator, as well as his human relations and organizing skills, to his new job, and scored some significant bargaining victories. His first Basic Agreement, signed in 1968, doubled pension levels, raised salary minimums and addressed a variety of player complaints about working conditions. These gains and new licensing arrangements which directly benefited players, plus Miller's frequent tours of training camps and open-door policy at his New York office, soon overcame player resistance - even in the face of the owners' persistent efforts to label him a "labor boss" and a communist.

In 1969 Curt Flood, an African-American and the St. Louis Cardinals' star center fielder, was abruptly notified that he had been traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, a team with a reputation for poor race relations. He decided to wage a legal battle against being uprooted and traded as merchandise against his will. After warning Flood of the tough struggle ahead and possible damage to his career prospects, the MLBPA Executive Board, on Miller's recommendation, agreed to back the effort and cover Flood's legal and travel expenses. Miller arranged for Flood to be represented by Arthur Goldberg. After a series of appeals, the case, technically a challenge to baseball's longstanding exemption from the anti-trust laws, reached the U.S. Supreme Court. In June 1972 the Court ruled, in a 5 to 3 decision, in favor of the owners. Once again, professional baseball's uniquely paternalistic system of labor relations was upheld.

In 1972 a hard-line majority of team owners, together with Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, were determined to reverse the union's recent progress and hold the line on pensions, despite the steady growth of television revenue. The blatant anti-union motivation was obvious, since Miller had proposed a formula whereby pension increases could be achieved without additional financing from the owners.

Despite strenuous efforts by Miller to achieve a negotiated settlement the owners refused to budge, and the players went on strike on April 1, 1972. A settlement was reached on April 13th, on terms encompassing those proposed by the players' negotiating committee before the strike began. A total of eighty-six games had been cancelled in what was the first successful strike in the history of professional sports. With this demonstration of solidarity the balance of power between players and owners had shifted significantly, laying the groundwork for more changes to come.

In 1975 pitchers Andy Messersmith of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Dave McNally of the Montreal Expos, whose 1974 contracts had been renewed without their signatures or consent, filed grievances against the unilateral renewal procedure. In effect, it was a challenge to the Reserve Clause, with the owners, as usual refusing to negotiate. Peter Seitz's arbitration decision in the case, delivered on December 23, 1975, upheld the players. The 1976 Basic Agreement included a guarantee of "the right of players under their present contracts to become free agents" after serving six years with the team that first signed them. Miller was immediately hailed as baseball's "Great Emancipator."

The owners regrouped and mounted another offensive in 1981 - demanding compensation for the loss of free agents. On the advice of Miller, Association general counsel Donald Fehr, former counsel Richard Moss, and their own Negotiating Committee, the players struck on May 29th. Player solidarity held, despite a barrage of press criticism and furious protests from fans. A settlement was achieved, again on terms originally proposed by the Association, and players returned to the field on August 1st.

When Marvin Miller retired in 1983 he was widely considered to be the most effective labor leader of his generation. He continues to be active as a consultant to the Players Association and a frequent commentator on labor relations in sports, labor and economic history and current affairs. In 1991 he published a volume of memoirs, A Whole Different Ball Game: The Sport and Business of Baseball (New York: Birch Lane Press), with a preface by Studs Terkel and an introduction by Bill James. A paperback edition, published by Simon and Schuster in the same year, bore a revised subtitle, perhaps more in keeping with the Miller philosophy: The Inside Story of Baseball's New Deal . Miller has been the recipient of many honors and awards. Sport Magazine in 1982 called him "one of the five most powerful men in sports," and ESPN-TV in 1999 deemed him fourth among the ten "most influential in all sports in the twentieth century."

Marvin Miller died in 2012 at the age of 95.

Sources:

Angell, Roger. Late Innings: A Baseball Companion. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1982. Chapter on 1981 strike. Belth, Alex. Stepping Up: The Story of Curt Flood and His Fight for Baseball Players’ Rights. New York: Persea Books Bevis, Charles W. "A Home Run by Any Measure: The Baseball Players' Pension Plan," Baseball Research Journal, 21 (1992). Burk, Robert F. Much More than a Game: Owners, Players and American Baseball since 1921. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001. Dworkin, James B. Owners versus Players: Baseball and Collective Bargaining. Boston: Auburn House, 1981. Flood, Curt and Richard Carter. The Way It Is. New York, Trident Press, 1971. Helyar, John. Lords of the Realm: The Real History of Baseball. New York: Villard Books, 1994. Koppett, Leonard. The New Thinking Fan's Guide to Baseball. New York: Simon and Shuster, 1991. Chapter 18, "The Players Association." Korr, Charles P. "Marvin Miller and the New Unionism in Baseball," in The Business of Professional Sports, ed. Paul D. Staudohar and James A. Mangan. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991. Kuhn, Bowie. Hardball: The Education of a Baseball Commissioner. New York: Times Books, 1987. Lowenfish, Lee. The Imperfect Diamond: A History of Baseball's Labor Warsrev. ed., New York: Da Capo, 1991. Miller, Marvin. A Whole Different Ball Game: The Sport and Business of Baseball. New York: Birch Lane Press, 1991. Snyder, Brad. A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood's Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports. New York: Viking, 2006. Yasser, Ray. Sports Law: Cases and Materials. Lanham, MD: University Presses of America, 1985. Section on the Messersmith-McNally decision.

From the guide to the Marvin J. Miller and Theresa (Terry) Miller Papers, Bulk, 1966-1990, 1919-2009, (Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive)

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Subjects:

  • Baseball cards
  • Strikes and lockouts--Baseball
  • Baseball players--Labor unions
  • Labor unions--United States
  • Baseball--Finance--History
  • Baseball--History
  • Strikes and lockouts--Baseball--United States
  • Baseball--Economic aspects
  • Iron and steel workers--Labor unions
  • Labor unions--Baseball players--United States--History-20th century
  • Collective bargaining--Baseball
  • Baseball players--Labor unions--History

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  • United States (as recorded)
  • New York (N.Y.) (as recorded)