Marvin Miller never played the game, but he may have had more influence on baseball than anyone else in this half of the century. Hired by the players in 1966, he brought a wealth of experience garnered in the tough steelworkers’ union to bear on baseball labor relations, and his knowledge, organizational ability, and resolve completely overmatched the owners and their representatives, particularly Commissioners Bowie Kuhn and Spike Eckert. In a time of baseball prosperity which saw manifold increase in the value of franchises, his tough tactics finally got the players not only a “bigger piece of the pie” but also greater, if grudging, respect for their wishes in regard to trades and other matters.
Miller made himself unpopular with fans as well as owners by leading two strikes, at the beginning of 1972 and in the middle of 1981. But he always compromised with the owners in some way; the great progress he made came over the course of five contract negotiations and 18 seasons. Retiring in 1984, he had achieved more than could have been imagined when he took office: an end to the reserve clause, with free movement from team to team through free agency, resulting in a hundredfold increase in the highest salaries; arbitration in labor disputes; the right for veteran players to veto trades; a vastly improved pension plan funded largely through percentages of television revenue; and, first, recognition of the players’ union, the right to bargain collectively, and the use of agents to negotiate individual contracts. He may be reviled for having made baseball a business, but it had been since 1876; he made the business pay off for the 600-odd players active each year instead of just their 26 bosses.