Tuesday, November 27, 2012

THE MOST IMPORTANT MAN IN SPORTS IN THE PAST FORTY YEARS: Tom Boswell pays tribute to the late Marvin Miller.

I dug up the first NYT article I could find on Miller, a January 18, 1968 column by Bob Lipsyte. Reading it now makes clear just how much Miller changed the world:
A SPECTER is haunting the capitals of sport—the specter of unionism. Athletes are groping seriously toward some kind of representation more effective than the present players' associations, and established unions, such as the Teamsters, have shown enormous interest in putting locals in the locker room. ...

Player leaders feel that owners have generally acted like lords of the manor and treated their athletes as petitioners. This is true, but owners must also be appreciated as among the last frontier spirits left in American business—especially those whose family-owned clubs were formed in other eras and held together by pure orneriness and benevolent despotism. Now, when America has entered upon a gold-plated age of sports, these old owners aren't about to cut bright young labor lawyers into the bonanza.

If many of the owners are holdovers from another era, the players they are dealing with now are alike different from their forebears. These new athletes are men with fathers and uncles who are union members, men who read good things about the labor movement in the college courses, men infected by the personal militancy of the times and the need for post-employment security.

The modern athlete loves the game, but he isn't willing to play for love alone. If he has any illusions, they are smothered by the ever-growing piles of money around him —television money, endorsement money, licensing money, product tie-in money, which only the super player—a man often grossly overpaid in proportion to the median — gets his hands on.…

The early support for players' unions should be found in the second half of a club roster, the half filled with replaceable men who are judged by "character and desire" as much as on talent. General managers will have a strong tendency to view union militancy as a mark of deficient character and a good enough reason to trim a roster of reserve malcontents.

The battle lines are far from drawn, and no real muscle flexing has begun. No one knows yet if such unions can get off the ground, if the top players will join. No one except management really knows how far the clubs can go financially. No one knows how deep is the money well. But the specter is afield.


  1. The Pathetic Earthling9:46 PM

    Well. Him and David Crain. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1st_%26_Ten_(graphics_system)

  2. And Connie Mack, for being the first major advocate of the designated hitter in Philadelphia. But seriously, I think it's almost impossible to overstate how important Miller was and just how nuts it is that he's not in the Hall, owners be damned.

  3. Marvin Miller did indeed change sports forever, and probably for the better. But it's not quite so simple. Bos says, "Some athletes will still go broke" casually. In 2009 Sports Illustrated did a study that showed that 78% of NFL athletes go bankrupt within 2 years of retirement; in the NBA, the statistic is 60% within 5 years. Are players as a whole actually better off now with the unions? I don't know the stats, but were 60% or 78% of MLB baseball players bust within a few years after retirement in 1968 (notwithstanding the sad example of Brooks Robinson in the story)? Have the unions really helped players if so many of them are still in distress despite their salaries being so extraordinarily higher than they used to be, both nominally and as a % of the revenues of the teams?