Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson and Marvin Miller – baseball giants

The baseball world and the sports industry lost one of the games giants Tuesday when Marvin Miller passed away at the age of 95. Along with Babe Ruth who ignited Americans to baseball in the 1920’s, Jackie Robinson breaking the sports color line when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, Miller changed baseball and sports landscape forever when he was hired as the first executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1966.

When Miller left the United Steelworkers of America (Miller was an economist at US Steel) for the MLBPA, the average MLB salary was $19,000, the minimum salary stood at $6,000. Major League Baseball teams had a reserve clause tied to player to whatever organization they had signed their first contracts with the organizations they signed too as youngsters for life. Effectively, the reserve clause represented slavery.

Taking over the reins of the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1966, Miller served as the MLBPA head for 17 years and remained closely associated with the union until his death. The success of the baseball players association fueled collective bargaining advances by unions in the other major team sports.

"Marvin Miller was a highly accomplished executive and a very influential figure in baseball history," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "He made a distinct impact on this sport, which is reflected in the state of the game today, and surely the Major League players of the last half-century have greatly benefited from his contributions. On behalf of Major League Baseball and the 30 clubs, I extend my deepest condolences to Marvin's family, friends and colleagues."

Miller guided the MLBPA through five collective bargaining agreements (CBA) negotiations with Major League Baseball, growing players’ rights through each CBA.

Miller’s impact, a handful of the meaningful changes Marvin Miller had on MLB:

In 1968, Miller led a committee of players that negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement in the history of professional sports. The agreement raised the minimum salary in baseball from $6,000 – the level at which it had been stuck for two decades – to $10,000 and set the tone for future advances.

In 1970, Miller helped players negotiate the right to arbitration to resolve grievances – an achievement Miller considers the most significant of the union’s early years. The impartial dispute resolution process paved the way for nearly all of the gains the players would achieve in ensuing years.

That breakthrough led five years later to free agency when Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally played out the option year of their contracts and challenged the “reserve clause” before arbitrator Peter Seitz. The arbitrator’s decision in favor of the players was later upheld in federal court.

A compromise that allowed all players free agency after six years’ service was formalized in the next collective bargaining agreement. Miller embraced the compromise knowing that the six-year waiting period would limit the supply side of the market and drive salaries upward through competitive bidding.

In all, Miller helped players collectively negotiate enormous advances in salaries, benefits and working conditions over five collective bargaining agreements with the owners during his tenure. To reach those agreements, Miller guided the players through strikes in 1972, 1980 and 1981 as well as lockouts in 1973 and 1976.

"Marvin was the most extraordinary man I ever met," said broadcaster Tim McCarver, a Major Leaguer from 1959-80. "You know, the players knew nothing before Marvin took over. The minimum salary had been the same for 22 years. Riding trains was considered first-class travel, and West Coast teams were involved by then. That the standard player's contract was unchanged for so long is mind-boggling. We knew so little that he had to teach us before we could move on anything. And he taught us and we did move on."

The numbers (baseball salary numbers) are staggering. The average baseball salary in 1966 was $19,000. The average baseball salary in 2012 $3.44 million. The minimum baseball salary in 1966 $6,000. The minimum baseball salary in 2012 $480,000.

“I would like to thank somebody who definitely has had an impact on me and my family and many ballplayers sitting in this audience today. And that was Marvin Miller. When I broke into the Major Leagues, the minimum salary was $7,000, and I had to go home in the wintertime 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 3-9 p.m. 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." Nolan Ryan, Hall of Fame induction speech.

"I am saddened to hear of Marvin Miller's passing," Texas Rangers CEO and president Nolan Ryan, a Hall of Fame pitcher, said. "Marvin had a tremendous impact on the game and always had its best interests at heart. He helped create a true partnership between ownership and the players."

Major League Baseball generated close to $7 billion in total revenues in 2012, not quite as much as the $9.4 billion the National Football League did, but a stunning total. Baseball owes much of its success to its players, and baseball players owe their success to both their God Given talent and to everything Marvin Miller accomplished during his years leading baseball players from servitude through freedom, to earning millions of dollars.

"All players -- past, present and future -- owe a debt of gratitude to Marvin, and his influence transcends baseball," MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner said. "Marvin, without question, is largely responsible for ushering in the modern era of sports, which has resulted in tremendous benefits to players, owners and fans of all sports."

"Marvin possessed a combination of integrity, intelligence, eloquence, courage and grace that is simply unmatched in my experience," said Don Fehr, executive director of the MLBPA from 1983-2009 who was general counsel from 1977-82. "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."

“Marvin exemplified guts, tenacity and an undying love for the players he represented. He was a mentor to me, and we spoke often and at length. His most powerful message was that players would remain unified during labor strife if they remembered the sacrifices made by previous generations to make the game better. His passion for the players never faltered, and men in women across all sports are in a better place thanks to his tireless work.” NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith

Marvin Miller embodied leadership, he defined success. Miller was steadfast in his belief that a hallmark of labor negotiations was never giving back anything a labor union, association or group had bargained for in good faith. MLB players owe more to Marvin Miller than the money they’ve earned playing baseball. Miller stood and believed in justice, in what was right and above all else if you were exceptional at what you did you deserved to be paid accordingly. Marvin Miller – a true sports luminary.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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