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.
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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.

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