Tuesday, November 27, 2012


This Marvin Miller.
It will linger in the news a bit longer than most death notices, because Marvin Miller was one of those singular figures in baseball history whose impact is, in the end, unmeasurable.

Not this Marvin Miller...
Miller passed away earlier this morning in his Manhattan apartment at the age of 95.

He had been retired from his post as Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) for thirty years, but his influence over the changes in baseball's economic structure and business practices had never waned over that time.

From one perspective, baseball lost its "innocence" when Miller's dogged efforts produced free agency in the particular form that's prevailed since 1976, brokering a structure that created a carefully balanced set of economic checks and balances which have been tinkered with, but never seriously revised.

Miller's efforts also indirectly contributed to a strain of sabermetrics that is based upon the economic precepts that issued from the ever-expanding envelope of free agent rules and strictures that have come to define the business practices of the game, all overlaid upon the classical task of evaluating raw baseball talent and developing it for success.

While there is no question that someone would have eventually pushed through the legal remedies that produced baseball's new economic order, it may well have waited another twenty years without Miller, an assiduous student of labor movements who knew that union organizing had already peaked prior to the point in time that the MLBPA had been created, and that it was of paramount importance to press the case for  a change in the labor structure of the game before the legal climate changed. It is inconceivable that the MLBPA could have made its advances during the Reagan years--so Miller's urgency and dynamic leadership was perfectly timed to achieve its results.

It is understandable why the Baseball Hall of Fame has seen fit to shun Miller--after all, the institution does not embrace history in the way that objective observers do. It's possible that they will see fit to honor him posthumously, in the type of empty gesture that certain types of institutions are known to do. Marvin Miller didn't care a hoot about such an honor--but it was an honor to hear him speak when the "Hall of Fame for the rest of us," the Baseball Reliquary, saw fit to honor him in 2003.

There will be much written on the occasion of Miller's passing, and it is a good thing that such will be the case--there are few true giants in history, and Marvin was one of them. Never shy to express himself, he was always eloquent and engaging, as charming as he was outspoken. One of the very best interviews with Miller was conducted by that singular sportswriter Dave Davis, just before his induction into the Baseball Reliquary's Shrine of the Eternals: it is characteristically blunt, and Miller's candor is bracing.