Sports Commentary 11/28: A Man Of Lasting Impact
The passing of Marvin Miller, the man who helped introduce Free Agency to baseball..
A MAN OF LASTING IMPACT
I remember riding on the same train to Ebbetts Field with Billy Cox and Carl Furillo, two of the Brooklyn Dodgers famed “Boys of Summer” who were on their way to work while I was on my way to watch them work. I remember running into former local baseball stars who had gone on to the major leagues while they stocked shelves at the local super market during the off season, or at the local sporting goods store. I even once had a baseball player as a substitute teacher during the off season. Such was the life of a Major League Baseball player during the first quarter century of my life, taking work wherever they could find it to supplement their baseball incomes, just so they could make a living. After the last game of the 1967 season Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey informed his super star, Carl Yastrzemski, he had earned a six figure salary for the next season. Yastrzemski’s accomplishment that earned him a $100,000 salary was winning a triple crown, a feat that today would pay off in a $100 million plus contract. To the last two generations of baseball fans such scenarios seem impossible, with minimum salaries, per diems and licensing fees giving the lowest paid major leaguers annual incomes of more than $600,000 while average salaries top out at nearly three million and star players sequester themselves over the winter in palatial hideaways made affordable by annual salaries in excess of 15 and 20 million dollars. Carl Furillo, Billy Cox, my junior high school substitute teacher and the Carl Yastrzemski of 1967, a year that will forever bear his name, suffered from one common thing. Bondage. In Major League Baseball it was called the “reserve clause”, which bound a player to one team, to one owner, his future in the hands of that owner, who had sole say over that players movement. Along came Marvin Miller, a lawyer and player agent who founded the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1966 and, as it’s first head, directed the first players strike in 1972, demonstrating to the players that they had a power of their own, leading to the end of the reserve clause and the beginning of player friendly clauses in individual contracts. In 1974 Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley violated one of those clauses, failing to make a $150,000 dollar annuity payment for pitcher Jim “Catfish” Hunter, and Miller opened the floodgates. A year after two other pitchers had been granted their own choice of movement over similar contract clause violations, Catfish Hunter, the premier moundsman in the game, went on the open market and Yankee owner George Steinbrenner broke the bank. Players were free to deal for themselves when their contracts were up, or as the Red Sox learned in 1978, if certain stipulations weren’t met, and the era of free agency was in full swing. Marvin Miller showed the players the door and guided them through it until turning his position over to Donald Fehr. By comparison to the sharks of today baseball commissioners from Bowie Kuhn to Fay Vincent felt Miller was an honorable man and that he dealt with them as such. No man in history has had more influence on the landscape of sports than Marvin Miller, as baseball free agency led to free agency in all sports. Marvin Miller passed away yesterday at age 95. For years baseball owners have feared giving him the forum of Hall of Fame induction while he was alive. Marvin Miller is a candidate for induction into every major league sports hall of fame, such was his impact on all of them. It’s time for Major League Baseball to make the first move, in Cooperstown, next summer. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.