Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Marvin Miller, 1917-2012

Marvin Miller and Joe Torre at the end of
the brief 1972 players strike. Torre, then a leader
of the players association, is now a significant
figure in the commissioner's office.
Marvin Miller took the helm of the fledgling players union in 1966 and retired as executive director in 1982. In those 16 years, he changed professional sports forever.

Step by step, confrontation by confrontation, Miller -- who died Tuesday at age 95 -- laid the foundation for free agency. For generations, the owners had insisted that allowing players a voice in their employment would ruin the game. They were wrong.

They weren't the only ones who couldn't see what Miller saw. Jim Bouton, pitcher-turned-writer, tells of asking Miller about the free agency dream before it happened: Wouldn't it let the big market teams buy up all the good players and win all the time? To which Miller replied: You mean like the Yankees have done all these years?

The changes Miller brought to baseball spread to the other major sports. Miller's legacy is the strength and cohesiveness of the union he built. Because of that, baseball's players have the most freedom, baseball has the greatest competitive balance of our major sports and baseball hasn't had a labor stoppage in 18 years. The NFL, the NBA, the NHL -- all had lengthy lockouts in the past few years, in no small part because the owners in those sports are sure they can break the union (as they always have). Baseball's management knows it can't.

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