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Marvin Miller, Baseball Revolutionary

Marvin Miller, Baseball Revolutionary

Robert F. Burk
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 336
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt6wr5nc
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  • Book Info
    Marvin Miller, Baseball Revolutionary
    Book Description:

    Marvin Miller changed major league baseball and the business of sports. Drawing on research and interviews with Miller and others, Marvin Miller, Baseball Revolutionary offers the first biography covering the pivotal labor leader's entire life and career. Baseball historian Robert F. Burk follows Miller's formative encounters with Depression-era hard times, racial and religious bigotry, and bare-knuckle Washington politics to a successful career in labor that prepared Miller for his biggest professional challenge--running the moribund Major League Baseball Players Association. Educating and uniting the players as a workforce, Miller embarked on a long campaign to win the concessions that defined his legacy: decent workplace conditions, a pension system, outside mediation of player grievances and salary disputes, a system of profit sharing, and the long-sought dismantling of the reserve clause that opened the door to free agency. Through it all, allies and adversaries alike praised Miller's hardnosed attitude, work ethic, and honesty. Comprehensive and illuminating, Marvin Miller, Baseball Revolutionary tells the inside story of a time of change in sports and labor relations, and of the contentious process that gave athletes in baseball and across the sporting world a powerful voice in their own games.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09670-9
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. PART I: THE MAKING OF A PROFESSIONAL UNIONIST (1917–1966)

    • One A Brooklyn Boyhood
      (pp. 3-19)

      Marvin Miller—the man working-class chronicler Studs Terkel would later label “the most effective union organizer since John L. Lewis”—entered the world through a small apartment on Beck Street in the Bronx on April 14, 1917. For the newborn’s parents, thirty-four-year-old Alexander (“Alex”) Miller and twenty-seven-year-old Gertrude Wald Miller, the arrival of their first child marked a new beginning after a series of wrenching trials. Although many of the details evaporated with the passage of time, family descendants would later recall suggestions that the couple had encountered difficulties in conceiving, and possibly a miscarriage as well. Additionally, illness had...

    • Two Hard Times
      (pp. 20-32)

      The Great Depression fundamentally altered the lives of millions, not just in New York but throughout the nation and the world. For Marvin Miller it was the formative period of his life. It offered up brutal testimonials to the ties that bound people together, and how swiftly those ties could fray under stress. It tested the solidarity of working people while underscoring the importance of that same principle to their well-being. It helped lead the young Miller toward a decision to pursue a degree in economics. It began his personal history in the union movement and introduced him to its...

    • Three Avenues of Discovery
      (pp. 33-44)

      By the time Marvin Miller returned to New York to complete his college education, class-conscious activism had become even more visible in his home city. In 1937, local theater audiences still arose to chant “Strike!” at each curtain close of Clifford Odets’s agitprop,Waiting for Lefty. Garment-union leaders David Dubinsky and Sidney Hillman had formed the American Labor Party as a political vehicle for Gotham’s leftist trade unions. Michael Quill, a former Irish revolutionary now head of the Transport Workers Union (TWU), launched a sit-down strike against the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Company. On the national scene, with the aid of Dubinsky...

    • Four Working for Victory
      (pp. 45-55)

      Barely one month after Pearl Harbor, president Franklin D. Roosevelt set forth before Congress the immense challenge that now confronted the United States as a nation engaged in a two-front, global war. The production goals he outlined as necessary were daunting, and included 60,000 military aircraft in 1942 and more than double the number the following year; 120,000 tanks; 55,000 antiaircraft guns; and sixteen million deadweight tons of merchant shipping over a comparable two-year span. Because of the military disasters already suffered by the Russians and British, the speed with which the United States could convert its factories into an...

    • Five Issues of Loyalty
      (pp. 56-68)

      In the months following the end of World War II, a return to Depression-era mass unemployment did not materialize. But return to a peacetime economy nonetheless produced short-run dislocations and turmoil. Organized labor, which had exercised restraint for the cause of victory, now expected rewards for its sacrifices. Spurred by long-festering discontent over wage inequities and in anticipation of the end of the no-strike pledge, workplace actions already had begun to surge. By November 1945 a strike wave was sweeping the country. Before it finally started to subside in 1946 it encompassed hundreds of thousands of workers in the automobile,...

    • Six Technician
      (pp. 69-81)

      The United Steelworkers of America that Marvin Miller joined in February 1950 shared a status with the United Auto Workers as one of the two flagship organizations of the American union movement. By the early 1950s it claimed more than one million members in more than twenty-three hundred locals, including not just workers in basic steel but also aluminum, can manufacture, iron ore, nonferrous metals, fabrication, and locomotive making. The USWA even counted among its ranks the makers of Shenango pottery and—ironic in light of Marvin Miller’s eventual career path—Louisville Slugger bats. Geographically, the union covered a wide...

    • Seven A House Divided
      (pp. 82-96)

      In the words of colleague Ben Fischer, by April 1960 Marvin Miller had reached the “big time” at the Steelworkers. Besides newly holding the titles of chief economist and assistant to the president, Miller was now in the inner circle of USWA leaders, along with Fischer, Arthur Goldberg, and pension-and-insurance specialist John Tomayko, who spearheaded the union’s collective-bargaining efforts. His salary climbed to $16,000, trailing only that of David McDonald at $50,000 and the USWA district directors at $20,000 each. There was but one melancholy note to the timing of his ascent. His father, Alex, had passed away in February,...

  6. PART II: BASEBALL REVOLUTIONARY (1966–1985)

    • Eight A Fresh Start
      (pp. 99-116)

      Shortly before Christmas of 1965, forty-eight-year-old Marvin Miller was seated in the office of Cleveland pension-fund actuary John Gabel. He was interviewing for the position of executive director of a union so weak it barely merited the label. The Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) was the successor to a player-representation system consisting of team representatives and a league-wide player delegate from each of the two circuits. Major-league owners had granted it in 1946 along with a minimal pension program after having crushed a unionization threat from the American Baseball Guild. Eight years later the players had incorporated as the...

    • Nine Securing the Basics
      (pp. 117-133)

      Thanks to Marvin Miller’s leadership, by the beginning of 1967 the Major League Baseball Players Association was already on a much more solid footing. Not only did the union finally have professional leadership, its finances were more reliable and safe from management manipulation. Reflecting its improved position, the Players Association moved out of its earlier improvised accommodations to a thirty-eighth-floor suite—one story above famed architect Philip Johnson—in the Seagram’s Building. Concerned to maintain a modest image, despite his new digs Miller refused to wear monogrammed shirts, rode the subway to work, and presided over a Spartan staff of...

    • Ten Taking On the Plantation
      (pp. 134-154)

      Despite major-league baseball’s late-sixties attendance slump, the industry’s long-term prospects remained reasonably bright. The industry’s total broadcast revenues had risen to more than $30 million, and increasingly they—not gate receipts—represented the sport’s economic future. Expansion by four teams delivered an extra $20 million entry-fee bonanza to the other NL franchises and $11.2 million to the AL clubs. Despite this money infusion—or rather perhaps because of it—the owners entered a new round of pension negotiations with Marvin Miller’s MLBPA showing even greater combativeness. At the clubs’ December meetings they fired an early salvo, declaring that they would...

    • Eleven Earning Respect
      (pp. 155-175)

      As 1971 wound down, Marvin Miller steeled himself for the next round of pension negotiations. Given the emotions stirred by his son’s injury and painful rehabilitation, the last thing he wanted was another protracted showdown—and he did not expect one. In the three years since the last deal, the value of both club contributions and member benefits had eroded from inflation, and the price of players’ health care had jumped a half-million dollars. Accordingly, the MLBPA proposal called for a 17 percent annual boost in clubs’ payments to $6.5 million and a similar adjustment to the health-care fund. To...

    • Twelve Emancipation
      (pp. 176-195)

      Despite the impressive gains recorded by Marvin Miller’s MLBPA, in 1975 baseball remained the only major professional sport in America that lacked a version of free agency for its performers. To be sure, in such cases as the NFL—where the “Rozelle rule” authorized the league’s commissioner to determine compensation in the form of a player of “equal status” from the team signing a free agent—the right existed more in theory than fact. Every spring training since 1967, Miller had reiterated to his membership that according to his reading of the Uniform Player’s Contract, paragraph 10(a), a club could...

    • Thirteen Holding the Line
      (pp. 196-215)

      After more than a decade at the helm of the Players Association, Marvin Miller was by 1977 arguably the most recognizable labor leader in America. As he briskly strode the forty-five-minute walk to his office from the $40,000-a-year Upper East Side apartment he now called home, he found himself the frequent object of comments from fellow pedestrians offering their opinions on the national pastime. In recognition of his efforts on the membership’s behalf, his union had voted him raises placing his compensation package at nearly $200,000 and setting up an $185,000 retirement annuity that put his pension on par with...

    • Fourteen Flunking Retirement
      (pp. 216-230)

      Marvin Miller’s daily routine altered little in his last year at the helm of the Players Association. He was determined not to convey any sign of slacking that might embolden his adversaries, and he was driven by his desire to preserve the legacy of a fighting organization that would endure after he left. He continued to battle any efforts to undermine the free-agency system, and he pressed his demand for a coequal union role in baseball’s television negotiations. When the Angels’ Buzzie Bavasi declared his wish to compensate the Yankees with a return player for signing Reggie Jackson, the vigilant...

  7. PART III: DEFENDER OF THE FAITH (1986–2012)

    • Fifteen Living Memory
      (pp. 233-249)

      By 1986 it had been twenty years since Marvin Miller had been selected to revive the moribund Major League Baseball Players Association. For sixteen years he had led it through trials and triumphs. After stepping down as its executive director he had continued to serve it as a consultant, had retired and then unretired, and had joined the union’s bargaining team for the 1985 Basic Agreement negotiations. Prompted by reminders of his mortality and what he perceived as the ingratitude of others, he had once more retreated from the arena. But to the surprise of no one who knew him,...

    • Sixteen Lightning Rod
      (pp. 250-267)

      Back in 1983 an anonymous baseball official had declared, “The only way Marvin Miller will ever get into the Hall of Fame is through the public entrance.” But in the years immediately following his retirement from the Players Association, such sentiments had seemingly mellowed. Even Dick Young endorsed his selection. Miller himself was less optimistic, seeing Cooperstown as a company town controlled by his adversaries in management. In the aftermath of the Pete Rose gambling scandal and banishment from Hall of Fame consideration, the retired MLBPA leader had recommended the union create its own place of honor, with the costs...

    • Seventeen Awaiting the Call
      (pp. 268-286)

      As his ninetieth birthday approached, Marvin Miller’s intellect and tongue both remained as sharp as ever. Remarkably, he still managed a set of tennis on a weekly basis. But arthritis now limited his performances on the piano, multiple bouts of atrial fibrillation had led to being placed on a blood thinner, and his eyesight had grown dimmer. Nonetheless, outside the media spotlight, leaders of other unions still sought his counsel when they encountered fresh difficulties. In 2006, with baseball reporter Murray Chass serving as unofficial go-between, the Association of Minor League Umpires contacted him seeking tactical advice for their effort...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 287-314)
  9. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 315-320)
  10. Index
    (pp. 321-332)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 333-340)