Marvin Miller—A Man Of Vision And Guts

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Marvin Miller’s death at 95 has spurred public expressions of appreciation and recognition of all he did for baseball, baseball players, and sports in general. But it’s also highlighting the remaining misplaced animosity towards him from the owners because he’s still not in baseball’s Hall of Fame. I’m reminded of the scene in Godfather 2 where, during his rant about Moe Greene, Hyman Roth tells Michael Corleone that in spite of everything Greene did and created with his idea for Las Vegas, there’s “isn’t even a plaque, or a signpost, or a statue of him,” to commemorate what he accomplished.

The scene is below.

You can say the same things about Miller. His obituary in the NY Times explains who he was and goes into detail of his rise to prominence, status as a hero to the players, and the vindictive loathing he still endures from the owners, but there was something more. Miller took over as the executive director of the MLB Players Association in 1966 during a time when the owners’ collective self-importance and belief that their political connections would supersede any true attempt by the players to effectively unionize and garner greater compensation for themselves.

Miller used that arrogance and greed against them and impressed upon the players what was possible if they stuck together and were willing to take the necessary steps to strike in the face of public scorn and threat to their livelihoods. Back then, but for a select few stars, baseball couldn’t justifiably be considered a “livelihood” since most players had off-season jobs to make ends meet and their baseball careers could end on a whim from the front office. The reserve clause had tethered players to their teams for the duration of their careers and the anti-trust exemption was brandished as a weapon to flog their indentured servants and hold them in check.

Miller wasn’t what the owners portrayed him as: a rabble-rouser who put it in the players’ heads that they deserved more of the financial pie and ruined their monopoly, thereby destroying the game. What he did benefited everyone. In fact, without Miller the owners who bought or owned clubs as a family hand-me-down would not be part of the still-established monopoly known as Major League Baseball with a built-in fanbase, guaranteed appreciation on their investment, massive television and advertising deals, as well as the clout from being an MLB owner. The most financially hindered franchises such as the Tampa Bay Rays have doubled in value over the past five years. Would that have been possible for the lower echelon teams of the 1960s before Miller came to prominence?

Miller took a chunk of the power from the owners and placed it in the hands of the players. No longer was the rich guy in the suit able to hammer the desperate worker with the lingering prospect of unemployment and no recourse; with the warning that not only would they be out of a job as a player, but they wouldn’t be able to get another job as a player for another team and definitely wouldn’t find work as a coach, scout, manager, ticket-taker or beer vendor. The idea of the “real world” was so horrifying that players wound up signing the contracts, enjoying the ride, cursing the situation, and hoping it wouldn’t end prematurely due to injury or by angering the wrong person.

The mindset of the player had to be altered to enlighten them that the owners weren’t doing them any favors; they weren’t friends; and if the players joined together en masse and demanded that they be treated more fairly, they would achieve concessions they never thought possible. When engaging in a negotiation, each side must have a stake in the outcome. There’s no need for animosity nor a suspicion of the other’s motives provided each side understands how the failure to reach an agreement will negatively affect both sides. The players and owners have made one another a lot of money because of Miller.

But former commissioner Bowie Kuhn is in the Hall of Fame and Miller isn’t.

Many players today wouldn’t know who Miller is or what he did for them. They would have no clue and presumably little interest that pre-Miller, the money wasn’t always what it is now; the players didn’t have the right to sell their unique set of skills to the highest bidder; and the generous perks including medical care and pensions would not be available had it not been for him.

But he’s still not in the Hall of Fame.

Had the players taken a stand demanding that Miller be inducted, there wouldn’t be this debate. Because they had an investment in their own futures, they stood with Miller when the owners held the players in their fists and utilized any and all tactics to keep them in line. Why haven’t they stood up for him and his Hall of Fame candidacy not with a sense of urgency, but a sense of justice?

The more eloquent and influential players like Tom Seaver can make a case; the Nolan Ryan and Frank Robinson type can intimidate and use their status as front office insiders to make something happen; Joe Torre can make voters offers they can’t refuse. Have they done everything they can? Since Miller is still on the outside looking in, the answer is clearly no.

He deserves that plaque; that signpost; that statue. In fact, he deserved it while he was alive to enjoy the moment. Hopefully, though, it will be realized—by the owners too—that Miller has earned his place in baseball history and they’ll give it to him even if it’s far too late.

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The “Screw ‘Em” Template

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It provides no benefit at all for the MLB Players Association to have drafted players—who are not yet members of the union—to receive lavish bonuses for signing their names.

In addition to that, the draft is affecting the MLB free agents. If there is draft pick compensation and unwanted offers of arbitration, a player isn’t “free” to go where he chooses even if there’s mutual interest between him and a team. Other conditions apply—perhaps the interested team doesn’t feel the player is worth losing the draft pick and won’t sign him because of that.

The clubs are in a similar situation. What if they offer arbitration fully expecting the player to reject it, have crunched the numbers and made plans to move on without him…and he accepts it?

Heath Bell has hamstrung the Padres by stating that he’s going to accept arbitration if it’s offered; Rafael Soriano stunned the Braves by accepting after the 2009 season and they responded by trading him.

For those reasons, why should the Players Association care if there’s a slotting system and cost control devices in place to prevent amateurs from making a ton of money and hindering their own freedom of movement?

And why should the teams care?

There’s an underlying bitterness among big league players that a drafted player receives a massive paycheck for his performance as an amateur; that they’re shifted around and prevented from leaving a club or going to their desired venue because of the ties between something that has nothing to do with them—the draft—and their own freedom of movement. It grates on big league players when Bryce Harper receives close to a $10 million payday for what most of them consider nothing.

Clubs would love to have a limit on what they have to pay to amateurs.

Big league players pay their dues literally and figuratively, wait for a chance at free agency and see that constrained by a rule that is in no way connected to them.

The owners and GMs would certainly prefer not to be held hostage by Scott Boras trying to find ways to circumnavigate the draft.

Naturally clubs like the Rays, who’ve benefited greatly from draft pick compensation, won’t be happy about the phasing out of the current system, but they’re smart and will figure something else out. For example, if there’s a limit to what a draft pick can receive as a bonus, there won’t be the reluctance to draft the best available player based on his agent or demands; signability will no longer be as great a factor.

As the MLB PA and MLB negotiates a new labor agreement, the players weren’t going to fight for amateurs with whom they might never play.

The owners don’t want to finance a new Porsche for a player who’s not a guarantee to be an impact producer in the majors.

It’s rational self-interest, not selfishness and will presumably be the easiest part of the negotiation.

Much like the dispensing of post-season shares where there’s a meeting to discuss how much a player traded at mid-season might get, the players aren’t influenced by perceptions of “right” and “wrong”. One segment will say give them a full share; another will say give them a half-share; a third will say give them a quarter share; and a fourth will say “screw ’em”.

They don’t fight over it because they’re not really bothered; it’s worse with the draft picks; I’m sure the vast majority—if not all—the players in the MLB PA said “screw ’em”.

It may sound selfish and coarse, but this is baseball and business.

And in this case, it’s actually quite fair. Or at least realistic.

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LoMo’s DeMo And The Grievance

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It’s well within Logan Morrison‘s rights to file a grievance with the Players Association for whatever he wants—even a demotion. But it’s clerical more than viable. He won’t win.

How’s this going to go? The PA is going to demand the Marlins bring Morrison back to the big leagues? Or what? Are they going to demand he play as well?

And why? Because he was one of the team leaders in homers and RBI?

Yeah? So?

Part of being an employee in any work environment is behaving in an appropriate manner based on the parameters set by the employer; to an extent (arguably) Morrison may have done that on the field, but that’s not all there is to being a big league player. He shirked responsibilities to the club and ignored strong suggestions/threats to tone down his outspokenness—in my eyes, perfectly acceptable grounds for demotion.

Former Marlins teammate Cody Ross summed what I’m sure is an unspoken belief among many veterans around baseball with the following:

“It sends a pretty good message.”

“It’s about baseball. It isn’t about you. Logan will figure it out and learn he’s got to stay quiet and stay in the corner and do his job.”

In other words, “shut up rookie”—something I’m sure has been said to him privately by teammates and opponents.

It’s telling that it was Ross who came out publicly with his pointed assessment since Ross is a player who had to fight and scratch his way to the big leagues and bounced from team-to-team—sold as disposable chattel—before getting an opportunity with the Marlins that he wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else. Common sense says he appreciates it more than Morrison does and is expressing that with his statement.

Discipline is part of development. This is a disciplinary move from the Marlins to show Morrison that he’s not an entity unto himself; he’s not a mega-star rookie; and he’s not playing for a team in the middle of a pennant race that has to put up with him to achieve their ends.

They sent him down because they could send him down. And he asked for it multiple times. The Marlins were beyond patient.

I’m not entirely convinced that Morrison is going to learn his lesson either. Judging from his personality, he’s a “last word”-type person and will feel defeated if he doesn’t have the final say.

But he has no bargaining power and that makes it pretty difficult to have the last word about anything.

On another LoMo note, I received the following comment about yesterday’s posting from someone or something named “Ingy”.

Are you black? Stupid article. D-

No, “Ingy”. I’m white. But is my grade race related? If so, I think I have grounds to file a grievance!

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