12/4/2012 10:39:00 PM Column: Other major sports will never catch up to Miller's MLB
The Associated Press This April 13, 1972 file photo shows Marvin Miller, left, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, and Joe Torre, of the St. Louis Cardinals, talking to news reporters after Miller announced an end to the baseball strike, in New York. Miller, the union leader who created free agency for baseball players and revolutionized professional sports with multimillion dollar contracts, died Nov. 27 in New York. He was 95.
Marvin Miller, who passed away last week at the age of 95, was easily one of the five most influential people in the history of Major League Baseball. I won't try to convince you he was number one. You can rank the top five on your own from among Babe Ruth, Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson, Miller and Bud Selig, in chronological order of when they made their impact on the game.
Some people may be surprised at the inclusion of Selig in that group, but you try to keep 30 owners, most of whom are billionaire egomaniacs with diverse backgrounds and different motives for owning an MLB team, in line while at the same time negotiating with what many believe to be the strongest union in the country, all while shepherding the sport through more than two decades of labor peace and financial prosperity. In addition to his $20 million annual salary, Bud should also be an annual nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. If you think what he has accomplished is easy, dial up NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman who has presided over - some would say instigated - three lockouts in the last 18 years at a loss of more than two full seasons of games.
Ruth, Rickey and Robinson are already in the Baseball Hall of Fame and Selig will be a lock for the Hall the first year he is eligible. Miller? He's been on the ballot five times and only once came close to being enshrined, all because he sat across the table from baseball owners and executives for 16 years while they repeatedly shot themselves in the foot during negotiations with the players' union. Of course, Miller deserves some credit for management's losses, but as he was quick to point out, he was merely focused on doing what was right for his employers - the players - and the incompetence and egos of the owners played right into his hands.
Miller has not been an active participant in MLBPA affairs for 30 years but Major League owners and executives have memories like elephants and are well aware of Miller's accomplishments, which, contrary to their beliefs, have benefited not only the players but the owners as well. As Miller repeatedly said, the fact that he was not elected to the Hall was more a reflection on the voters than it was on him. Now that he is gone, and owners will be spared his induction speech, it is likely Miller will be voted in next year when he appears on the ballot for the sixth time, too late for him to enjoy the moment he so richly deserved.
I spent many an hour talking - actually, listening - to Miller discourse on his negotiations with the owners, his preparation, approach and what his goals were during the years he spent as executive director of the union. He was always articulate, thorough and objective in describing events that occurred 40 years ago. Miller had the ability to break things down to a level that could be understood by the common man. Students in my Business of Sports course at the University of Wyoming were enraptured when Miller responded to their questions via a conference call. Hearing Miller speak was like listening to an oral history of the labor movement in MLB.
The difference between Miller and every labor leader in every other sport can easily be seen by reference to the negotiations - strong-arm tactics would be more accurate - that have taken place in other sports during the past year. First, the NFL locked out its players, followed by the NBA. The NHL locked out its players in September and is on the precipice of losing a second full season in the past eight years.
The reason why other sports are still experiencing labor-management unrest is because their union leaders failed to follow Miller's formula: Build a strong union by educating the members on the issues and unite them in purpose. The stronger the union, the more likely management is to negotiate an equitable agreement with the players, one that benefits all parties, the sport and the fans, rather than resort to lockouts.
Miller knew that. His legacy will be fully realized when labor leaders in other sports also recognize that and follow his example.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor and Chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and is a contributing author to the Business of Sports Network. Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org