|The players, in this ‘game,’ were blessed to have had the leadership of Marvin Miller.
I was out of the country when
word reached me of the passing of the legendary Marvin Miller, the retired
Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association. While I
was not completely surprised to hear the news - Miller was 95 at the time of
his death - his fierce determination often led me to think that he would
actually be around a bit longer!
It is an understatement to
suggest that Marvin Miller changed baseball. Under his leadership, not only was
the Players Association transformed from an anemic organization into a vital
representative of the players’ interests, but it took on the struggle for free
agency and against the notorious “reserve clause.”
It was Curt Flood who, with
the backing of Miller and the MLBPA, challenged the de facto indentured servant provisions of the reserve clause that
locked most players into both low salaries and bondage with particular teams. First,
through the unsuccessful court challenge by Flood, and later through the
combination of organizing, shrewd tactics, and the terrible publicity that the
owners received in the context of Flood’s challenge, Miller led in the process
that resulted in a whole new ballgame, so to speak. The reserve clause imploded
and the provision of free agency, which is largely accepted in most sports
today, was introduced.
The owners of the baseball
teams hated both Flood and Miller. As a result, every effort to place both of
them into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, due to their roles in the
development of baseball, has failed. In the last effort to get Miller into the
Hall of Fame he fell short by one vote. The owners refuse to acknowledge the
contributions of these two giants and they will never forgive Miller for
altering the status of the baseball player through the building of the Major
League Baseball Players Association and the victories that they won.
Though Miller appeared to
have taken the block on his candidacy in stride, the failure to have him and
Curt Flood placed in the Hall of Fame is of greater significance than the ego
of either of these individuals or the importance for their families. It is
really about history.
There is a famous story by
Aesop that tells of a human and a lion who engage in a debate over the
superiority of humans vs. lions. In a clearing they discover a statue of
Hercules standing on top of a defeated lion. The human exclaims that this
proves that humans are superior. The lion replies that were it the lions who
built the statues the lion would be standing on top of Hercules.
Miller led in the process that resulted in a whole new ballgame.
Refusing to admit Flood and
Miller into the Hall of Fame is a matter of who is building the statues. It is
a matter of telling the actual story
of the evolution of Major League Baseball. Just as the real story of baseball
as a phenomenon in the USA cannot be told without attention to the often
forgotten Negro Leagues, so too is it true that the story cannot be told unless
one gives attention to the struggle of the players. This struggle went beyond
Flood and Miller, actually being a multi-decades-long fight for respect and
dignity on the part of the players. At nearly every step they were blocked by
the owners, the media, and frequently by the government. It was through
organization and determination that there was a breakthrough. That organization
was the Major League Baseball Players Association and it was Miller who guided
it as it moved toward becoming a real labor union, fighting on behalf of its
members and periodically making its case to the broader public of baseball
No, Marvin Miller did not
build the MLBPA by himself. One would be foolish to think so. But leadership is
always critical. There are moments when the stars align, so to speak, but
opportunity is lost precisely because innovative and visionary leadership is
lacking. The players, in this ‘game,’ were blessed to have had the leadership
of Marvin Miller.
For those who love baseball,
Miller will be missed. For those who love justice, he will also be missed. So,
let’s get Miller and Flood into the Hall of Fame. Further excuses are simply unacceptable.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member
and Columnist, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a
Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfricaForum, and the author of “They’re
Bankrupting Us” - And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. He is also the co-author of Solidarity
Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice, which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA. Click here to contact Mr. Fletcher.