8:41 PM CST, November 27, 2012
To say that Marvin Miller was as tough as nails is to compliment the strength of nails.
Miller has passed away at 95, and somewhere there are baseball owners — who haven't done battle with him directly in 30 years — who know they have just lost the toughest adversary of their lives.
Miller was beloved by the union leaders who followed him, but he was only a little easier on them than he had been on men like Gussie Busch, Walter O'Malley and the young George Steinbrenner.
Miller was relentless in holding Donald Fehr and, to a lesser degree, Michael Weiner, to the standard that he set when bringing pro sports into the light after its long robber baron era.
His mind and his commentary will be missed, and maybe now that he won't be around to brighten the stage at Cooperstown — or, who knows, refuse to attend his induction — the Hall of Fame can get around to righting a wrong and giving Miller his due as one of the most influential figures in the game's history.
Amazingly, Miller wasn't elected when the Veterans Committee was composed mostly of former players, including many who benefited hugely from free agency and salary arbitration, the twin engines that have driven baseball's ever-escalating salaries. He missed by one vote when the current version of the veterans committee (one heavy in members from ownership) last considered him in December 2010, and will be considered again a year from now, by the Expansion Era Committee, for possible induction in 2014.
He belongs. As does Curt Flood, the idealistic pioneer who challenged the reserve clause that for generations had bound players to the organization that signed them.
In Miller's first full season in baseball, the sport generated $50 million in revenue. It was at about $7.5 billion in 2012 and is expected to grow beyond $8 billion next season.
While Miller and a resolute group of players from the game's biggest stars through the rank-and-file guys, had to fight for dimes in the early years, they eventually convinced Bud Selig and other owners that it was better to work alongside them than square off in contentious labor battles every few years. Credit Miller for making owners understand that players are partners in the game, not servants to it.
"Marvin possessed a combination of integrity, intelligence, eloquence, courage and grace that is simply unmatched in my experience," said Fehr, the NHL players union leader now who worked for Miller for six years before replacing him at his retirement in 1982. "Without question, Marvin had more positive influence on Major League Baseball than any other person in the last half of the 20th century. It was a rare privilege for me to be able to work for him and with him. All of us who knew him will miss him enormously."
Former Commissioner Fay Vincent, who Selig replaced because owners thought he was too soft on labor, calls him the most important figure in baseball over the last 50 years. Miller may have had more victories over owners — big and small — than Cy Young's 511 in games. He routinely handled the owners' cast of hired-to-be-fired negotiators like a championship team does expansion teams.
Can it really have been 30 years ago that Miller walked away? He was retired almost twice as long as the tumultuous time he spent in baseball. The game changes a little bit every year. It never has changed in more meaningful ways than when Miller was dragging it into the big time, with owners kicking and screaming all the way.
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