smart alec's Blog

Yesterday Marvin Miller died.  To his family I wish them God's grace during their grief.

As a baseball fan I will not join in the praise heaped on him by the sportswriters.  I believe Miller did more to negatively affect the baseball fan than anyone in history, except perhaps Cap Anson (the man mainly responsible for baseball's exclusion of non-whites until 1947).

 Marvin Miller was a labor lawyer who took over the baseball player union in the 1960's and then took on Curt Flood as a client int he 1960's.  Flood sued Major league baseball.  Why? Because he got traded, boo-freaking-hoo. Flood's salary, had he played would've been $100,000 (apprx. $600,00 in today's dollars). Flood's claims (and Miller's legal position) was that he could not be traded because that was precluded by federal anti-trust laws.  He claimed he was a "free agent" who could contract his services anywhere he so chose.  Eventually Miller and Flood went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the court upheld the position of MLB.  The court noted that MLB's reserve clause was a valid exception to the antitrust laws.  Therefore Flood had to report to the Phillies if he wanted to keep playing and MLB retained the reserve clause. 

In 1975 Miller got his victory against MLB when he convinced an arbitrator that players who didn't sign a contract were free agents, effectively negating the reserve clause.  With that player salaries skyrocketed.  By 1975 the average player made over $44,000 per year, within 5 years the average salary more than tripled to $143,000.  Nowadays the average player makes over $3.3 million.

Notably, when Flood and Miller challenged the reserve clause no active player backed them.  The average player made $29,000 per year, while the average american made just over $6000. The players knew they had it pretty darn good.  Ticket prices were around $1 for bleacher seats and $5 for box seats (at least that's what they were at Candlestick Park).  Back then I recall my dad taking me to Giants games, and both of us eating hot dogs, peanuts and beer for my dad, soda for myself.  The total cost: around $11.  Nowadays a day at the ball park with your child, with food, costs about $98.  Nowadays the average american makes $43,000.  So by comparison, our wages went up about 7X since 1970, while the average ballplayer's salary increased by 114X.  The cost to attend a game (at a minimum) went up by a figure of 9X.  The end result is fewer fans can afford to go to the game as they could before free agency.

Thanks to Miller's lead, baseball players greed grew exponentially with their salaries, giving rise to players' strikes in 1981 and 1994 (plus several lesser strikes between 1975-2002). The 1981 strike wiped out 1/2 the season, while the 1994 strike basically wiped out the season and the post-season.  Why would the players strike? It's simple, they refused to go along with anything that would cut into their maximized salaries, even if doing so was in the best interest of the game. Miller (and his personally picked protege Donald Fehr) effectively convinced the players to think of no one but themselves. Let the fans be damned.  Keep in mind these guys play a game we all played for free, and would gladly change places with the players even at a fraction of their salaries.

So let me conclude by saying this as an epitaph for Marvin Miller:  You got what you wanted for a few and screwed over all the rest of us.  The scorn heaped on you by true fans was well-deserved.

November 29, 2012  03:18 PM ET

The game is healthier than ever today and the players and the owners are both doing very well. Miller had an enormous effect on baseball and how it looks today.

Comment #2 has been removed
December 2, 2012  01:30 PM ET

The game is healthier than ever today and the players and the owners are both doing very well. Miller had an enormous effect on baseball and how it looks today.

As a fan, who cares if the owners and players are both doing well. We fans are getting screwed.


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