Sports Opinion & Analysis

The Most Important Man In Baseball, Besides Babe Ruth

In MLB on November 28, 2012 at 5:45 pm

By Jonathan Danielson

Imagine working a job you love, but the pay sucks, and the hours are even worse.

And before we continue, no, I’m not talking about public school teachers.

“I do it for the money.”

I’m talking about professional baseball, but baseball before 1976. I’m talking baseball before the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), when players weren’t just players, but the physical property of the league’s owners.

It was an era when, if your pay sucked, or you played a position that was already filled on your team’s roster, and as a consequence of that you never saw any playing time for the bulk (or sometimes entirety) of your career, well tough luck, you didn’t have any recourse about it. There was no way to get out of your contract and find a team that could and would use your services. There was no way to negotiate about maybe getting a raise.

It was an era when you either sucked it up and played for peanuts, or you didn’t play at all.

And then Marvin Miller came into town.

Marvin Miller is technically the third most important person in the history of baseball. He is behind only Babe Ruth, and Jesus Christ.

Miller started out his career as a labor economist for the Machinist Union, United Auto Workers, and United Steelworkers, before being elected in the mid 1960’s as the head of the MLBPA. As head of the union, Miller ushered in a new period in baseball, and all sports, by more or less inventing free agency and allowing players to choose their own teams, contracts, and destiny.

(For a more in depth view of how Miller changed baseball, read here)

Now, in an age of over-enflated contracts like Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez, or big market teams who can spend whatever they want for such high prized players, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia and San Francisco, you’re probably wondering why the ability for players to hit the open market is, in the long run, a good thing for sports?

“Without Miller, I would’ve never been able to afford being such a douche.”

Because without free agency, the league was one way and one way only; teams had their rosters, and if you were number two, three, or even lower on the depth chart, you were never given a chance to play. Sometimes players spent their whole lives dwelling in the minor leagues, and were never given the chance that there talent deserved. Because of Miller, those players, when their contracts expired, were able to go to teams who needed that position filled, and as a consequence, the game got better because of it.

Instead of rotting in minor league purgatory, players could come out of no where and surprise you.

And if not for Marvin Miller, some of those players would still be on the bench. If not for Miller, some of our  favorite players would have never made it out from under  the shadow on their owners, and gone on with a new team and shined.

Miller died yesterday at the age of 95, yet his legacy in baseball, and all sports, will never be forgotten.

Yet, with all his accomplishments, Miller has not been inducted into baseball’s legendary Hall-of-Fame. It’s not because the Hall is reserved for only players, but because the people who vote for inductees are all former executives or owners, people who were pushed around and bested by the former labor rep. It’s petty and trite, but old rivalries are keeping one of the most important people in baseball from receiving the honors he earned and deserves.

This year, voters will have the opportunity to determine the Hall-of-Fame fates of alleged cheaters and steroid users. While most probably won’t make the Hall on their first ballot, one day the past will become past, angers will subside, and then the likes of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa will become enshrined in Cooperstown. They will be held as the best to ever play in the era of the asterisk.

“Without Miller, I’d never have been able to afford growing my head so big!”

But, if players who allegedly took PED’s can (and, in the future, probably will) make the Hall-of-Fame, why can’t an honest man who changed the rules and helped make the game a little bit better?

And if Bonds, Clemens and Sosa can make the Hall-of-Fame, then why can’t Pete Rose?

“What the hell?!?”

In fact, don’t even get me started on that one.

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