Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Marvin Miller

Marvin Miller, who died today at the age of 95, was one of the three most significant men in the history of baseball, following Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson in chronological order.

Don't feel you have to take my word for that declarative statement. Red Barber, who saw more baseball than any man who ever lived, said the very same thing back in 1992. More backup authority than him I don't need and doesn't exist in any case.

Different as those three men and their accomplishments were, they all had an unusual common link in their baseball lives. Each made everybody else in baseball a lot more money than they were making before. Ruth was the greatest gate attraction in sports history (Ali's in second). It is no denigration of Robinson's real historic accomplishment to note he was the biggest individual draw of HIS time, too.

And Miller, of course, changed the economics of the sport beyond comprehension. To be sure, he made the players wealthy. Even accounting for inflation, ballplayers in the early '60s were getting about what an SEC linebacker draws in salary today. Now they're multi-millionaires, which while it might not be what it used to be, still ain't hay, or even filet mignon.

What is less noticed, is that the free agent revolution Miller and the MLB Players' Association created in the mid-1970s made Miller's sworn enemies, the owners, even wealthier than it did the players. Baseball, widely viewed as a stagnating sport in the midst of a terminal business slump prior to the Andy Messersmith case, has since enjoyed robust to explosive growth in total revenue broken only by a few idiotic labor wars instigated by the owners.

George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees for about $12 million. What are they worth today? Two billion? Three? YES Network might be worth that alone. That owes as much to Miller as A-Rod's contract does.

I don't think Miller foresaw that, because I don't think anyone did. He was just fighting for every edge he could get his union members. But the possibility of sudden team improvement created by free agency and the ineffable respect/worship Americans have for wealth created a geyser of horsehide income. Players had always been marketed as heroes. When they became celebrities instead, somehow more people paid attention.

You'd think the owners would have been the ones to demand Miller was inducted into the Hall of Fame. This is to misunderstand the fundamental sociopathy of the American superrich. First, many of 'em would rather eat a whole cupcake than have to share a wedding cake with somebody else. Second, even more of 'em aren't nearly as interested in money as they are in having power over others as a byproduct of wealth. Miller broke their control over the players. He was never forgiven, and I'm sure most owners thought and think the capital appreciation of their franchises was due to their innate business acumen.

No matter. In the end, the Hall of Fame is a museum, not an achievement. Miller's baseball records will live forever. No asterisks allowed.


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