Marvin Miller, Led Baseball Players to Free Agency

Owners Keep Giant of National Pasttime Out of Hall of Fame

Staunch Unionist: Broadcaster Red Barber called union leader Marvin Miller one of the three most important figures in baseball history, alongside Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson.
Staunch Unionist: Broadcaster Red Barber called union leader Marvin Miller one of the three most important figures in baseball history, alongside Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson.

By Peter Dreier and Kelly Candaele

Published December 04, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 5)

During the last vote in 2010, for example, Miller received 11 out of 16 votes cast, one less than the 75% needed to gain entry. Although the votes are secret, it is likely that the committee’s four baseball executives — Phillies owner Bill Giles, former Cubs and Orioles executive Andy MacPhail, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, and Kansas City Royals owner David Glass (former CEO of the virulently anti-union Walmart) — voted against Miller. Veteran Hall of Fame observers believe that the fifth anti-Miller vote was probably Whitey Herzog, a former manager.

Over the years, the Hall of Fame has inducted many second-rate baseball owners and executives who had little impact on the game. Several former baseball commissioners — including Bowie Kuhn, who lost every battle he fought with Miller — have their own plaques in Cooperstown.

In contrast to these midgets, Miller was a giant. Under Miller’s leadership — which included teaching players about labor history and labor law, giving them a sense of their own power, and training them how to outmaneuver the owners during negotiating sessions — the players won a democratic voice in their workplaces and dramatically improved their pay, pensions, and working conditions.

“I loved baseball and I loved a good fight, and in my mind, ballplayers were among the most exploited workers in America,” Miller wrote in his 1991 autobiography, A Whole Different Ball Game.

Miller was born in the Bronx in 1917 and raised in Brooklyn. Like many Jews of his era, he had a rebellious streak. His father, who sold ladies coats, was an Orthodox Jew, but “from a very early age I felt estranged from his beliefs,” Miller recalled in his memoir. At age 10, he quit his four-day-a-week Hebrew school classes, Miller’s first strike. But as he would reveal later in his life, he also had a knack for negotiation and compromise. As his 13th birthday approached, and not wanting to disappoint his favor, he agreed to take instruction with a private tutor three nights a week for six weeks. “This cram course enabled me to learn enough Hebrew to conduct myself creditably at the bar mitzvah ceremony,” Miller wrote.

Miller walked his first picket lines as a youngster in support of a union organizing drive. His mother, who taught elementary school, was a member of the New York City teachers union. Although he was born with a serious injury to his shoulder, Miller became a good athlete, especially in handball and tennis, and was a lifelong baseball fan.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.