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Marvin Miller, Baseball Union Head, Dies at 95

Miller was responsible for the creation of free agency

Adam Chandler
November 27, 2012
Marvin Miller(TMW)
Marvin Miller(TMW)

In 1992, Marvin Miller was placed in some pretty rare company by legendary baseball broadcaster Red Barber:

Marvin Miller, along with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson, is one of the two or three most important men in baseball history.

Did he play? Coach? Break any records? No. Miller was a Bronx-born labor economist who climbed the ranks of the various unions until he was chief negotiator for the United Steelworkers.

When he took over the Major League Baseball Players Association, the average minimum salary for a baseball player was less than $8,000. But during his 16 years at the helm of the MLBPA, Miller created precedents that refashioned the entire economic system in American sports.

Miller helped negotiate the first collective bargaining agreement in professional sports, fought to get players the right to arbitration in 1970—an eventual forerunner of the free agency system, which started in 1975.

1966, the year that Miller started, was the same year that a Texas fireballer named Nolan Ryan debuted for New York Mets with a fastball that jammed up batters for decades and a breaking ball that struck dumb even the best hitters.

After a long career in which he set the major league record for strikeouts and no-hitters, both by wide margins, Ryan looking back on his legacy during his Hall of Fame induction in 1999, thought to thank Miller of all people for changing the game.

Also, I would like to thank somebody that definitely has had an impact on myself and my family and many ballplayers sitting in this audience today and that was Marvin Miller. I came into the game when I broke into the major leagues, and the minimum salary was $7,000, and I had to go home in the winter time and get a job. And the first year that I was in the big leagues, the job I had was at a service station pumping gas from 3:00 to 9:00pm and closing the service station so Ruth and I could live through the winter until baseball season started. She worked in a bookstore at the college. And because of Marvin’s efforts and the people in baseball, we brought that level up to where the players weren’t put in that situation. Marvin, I appreciate the job that you have done and the impact that it’s had on my family. Thank you.

During Miller’s tenure, Major League Baseball saw its own full-count: two strikes and three lockouts. This may explain why Miller has yet to be successfully voted into Cooperstown himself. That might be a tough negotiation. Nevertheless, his mark is there.

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.