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Remembering Marvin Miller on Labor Day

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As I have noted several times over the past several years, Labor Day is the only major holiday Major League Baseball refuses to recognize. Oh, it knows it’s Labor Day — it happily schedules a bunch of Monday day games to take financial advantage of people who have the day off — but it doesn’t give a rip about the purpose of the holiday. Mostly because it doesn’t give a rip about labor in general. At every turn, Major League Baseball and its owners have sought to run roughshod over its workers, be they players, front office staff, stadium employees, you name it. 

But they haven’t always won. Indeed, for a long time, the owners got their butts handed to them by the Major League Baseball Players Association which, from 1966 until 1982, was led by Marvin Miller. 

A lot of people have asked me how Major League Baseball could, it it wanted to, recognize workers on Labor Day. That’s not an easy question to answer, as Labor Day is more of a reflective holiday than a celebratory one. But if the league did ever want to recognize the contributions of its workers — from the star center fielder all the way down to the peanut vendor — it could start, perhaps, by paying tribute to Marvin Miller in some fashion. 

Given that the league has never done that and likely never will, I’ll do so here, with a remembrance of Miller I first wrote at the time of his passing in November 2012

 

It is impossible to overstate Miller’s impact on Major League Baseball. While some — including Hall of Fame voters — have long given Miller short shrift (or piled on utter disdain), baseball today cannot be understood without understanding Marvin Miller’s contributions. He was a truly transformative figure who, after Jackie Robinson, did more to correct the excesses and injustices delivered onto players by baseball’s ruling class than anyone.

When Miller took over as the head of the MLBPA in 1966 there was no free agency. Players were told by ownership what they would make the following year and if they didn’t like it, tough. They couldn’t switch teams. They couldn’t do what any other worker can do and shop their services elsewhere. They were stuck thanks to baseball’s reserve clause and the ridiculous Supreme Court decision which exempted baseball and its owners from the antitrust laws.

Miller took all of that on and he won. He started small, negotiating the union’s first collective bargaining agreement with the team owners in 1968, which raised the game’s minimum salary from $6,000 to $10,000. In 1970 he got the owners to agree to arbitration for the first time. In 1970 Curt Flood, with Miller’s support and guidance, challenged baseball’s antitrust exemption — and the dreaded reserve clause, which kept players tied to one team against their wishes — in the courts. Flood ultimately lost that case in the landmark 1972 Supreme Court decision. The decision did not, however, blunt Miller’s resolve, and he took his fight to other forums.

In 1974 he exploited a loophole — and an oversight by Oakland Athletics owner Charlie O. Finley — to get Catfish Hunter free agency and baseball’s first $1 million contract.  Up next: the whole enchilada. In 1974, he got Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally to play out the season without contracts, placing them in cross-hairs of the reserve clause and giving them standing to fight the provision in arbitration. In 1975 they won, with the Seitz Decision ushering in the age of free agency. Baseball players’ indentured servitude was over.

In all Miller led the union through three work stoppages: two short ones — 1972 and in spring training 1980 — and then the long, season-altering strike in 1981.  In all three stoppages the union prevailed. Overall during his tenure the average players’ salary rose from $19,000 to $241,000 a year and their working conditions improved dramatically. It is no understatement to say that Miller turned the MLBPA into the most effective and successful labor union in the United States. Not just in sports: in the entire United States.

Miller, however, paid a cost for these victories, being snubbed repeatedly in Hall of Fame voting.  Baseball’s executives — who played a part in his voting — resented him. Some still do, even though he’s been dead for years. Some players on the Veteran’s Committee who came before the era of free agency did as well.  Miller never helped his own case, of course — he was at terms feisty, abrasive and mostly dismissive of the Hall of Fame and his own candidacy for it — but his exclusion is nonetheless a travesty. This is especially true given that so many executives and owners who did so much to harm players’ well-being through greed, racism and other vile impulses have been welcomed in to Cooperstown with open arms.

Whether or not Miller ever makes the Hall of Fame, baseball would not be what it is today, both as a business and a game, without Marvin Miller. Indeed, you can count the people who have made as great or greater a contribution than Miller to the context in which the game is played on one hand. In this regard his legacy is inviolate.

The game will never see his like again. Would that the powers that be in Major League Baseball acknowledge that and, in some way, big or small, make note of it somehow.

And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Orioles 6, Yankees 3: Tim Beckham hit two homers and drove in three to help the Orioles come back from a 3-0 deficit to win the game and avoid the series sweep. Baltimore finishes the year 7-12 against the Yankees which, given how bad they are overall, is actually pretty dang good. If the Yankees fall behind the A’s in this last week and end up having to travel to Oakland for the Wild Card game, I think the Orioles should take credit for that. Print up t-shirts and everything.

Rays 5, Blue Jays 2: Blake Snell tossed shutout ball into the seventh, struck out 11 dudes and won his 21st game on the season. His ERA went down to 1.90 too, and his Cy Young chances, I suspect, went up to about 98%. Snell has not lost since before the All-Star break. C.J. Cron and Brandon Lowe homered for the Rays and Tommy Pham reached base three times. The season will, effectively, be over for them in the next couple of days, but it has been a hell of a second half. That’s worth celebrating if you’re a Rays fan. It’s probably also worth wondering if they couldn’t have done a couple of things differently early in the season to have made them a few games better. Rays fans get pissed at me for saying stuff like that, but sorry, fans of every team should think that way in these sorts of situations. To not do so is to be a fan of a front office, not the fan of a baseball team.

Cardinals 9, Giants 2: Miles Mikolas had no trouble with a Giants lineup which looked like it was already in offseason mode, Matt Carpenter homered and St. Louis swept San Francisco. They’ve won six of seven overall. They’re two back of the Brewers and host them for three games starting tonight. I’m in St. Louis right now and I caught the game in Busch on Saturday. I’m here tagging along with my wife who’s on a conference for work and I have to play dutiful spouse at various social functions in the evenings so I don’t think I’ll get to any of these games before I go home, but the cool thing about St. Louis is that Cards games are on virtually everywhere you go. Living in Columbus, where you have to beg bartenders in sports bars to devote even one TV to a baseball game, I forget that that’s not the case everywhere else. Seriously: in Columbus, if there is no football on, the TVs will put on ESPN talk shows and crap before baseball. Even with the sound down. Which, now that I think about it is probably an improvement, but still. Not the case in St. Louis of course. I feel like I watched the whole game yesterday simply by walking around and in and out of places.

Royals 3, Tigers 2: Brad Keller allowed one run over seven, Adalberto Mondesi homered and Cam Gallagher hit a two-run single to give the Royals the win. Thus ends the Tigers home season. It wasn’t great. As I write this I’m watching the Lions game. They’re at home and they’re leading the Patriots in the fourth quarter. I have no idea why I’m watching this — I’m in a hotel room and everything is weird right now, so that’s probably why — but I can’t remember the last time the Lions had more to be proud of than the Tigers. Maybe it’s the End Times? I dunno. Maybe me just watching football is a sign of the End Times.

Marlins 6, Reds 0: It must’ve been “dude most of you have never heard of tossed seven shutout innings” day yesterday because it feels like several of them did so. Here it was Trevor Richards doing it. Yes, THE Trevor Richards. Chad Wallach hit a three-run homer. I probably should’ve known that Tim Wallach’s kid was a ballplayer but I did not and I do this for a living, so don’t feel too bad about you not knowing who Trevor Richards was. Also: the Marlins had traded Wallach to the Reds back in 2014 in the Mat Latos deal. They got him back on waivers last winter. It’s gotta hurt Cincinnati a little to have a castoff beat you like this.

Braves 2, Phillies 1: The Braves put out the post-clinch hangover lineup against the Phillies ace and still finished off the sweep. Gotta say, I thought the Phillies were gonna have more fight than this but the late season whimper from this club has been quite the thing. Lane Adams homered and drove in both of the Braves’ runs and Anibal Sanchez of all people got the win after allowing just one run five innings. The Braves have a chance to earn home field for the NLDS against, probably, the Dodgers by holding up in the final week. If they have a great week and the Cubs crater they could get home field in the NL playoffs. Doubtful, but still possible.

Mets 8, Nationals 6Michael Conforto hit a go-ahead, bases-loaded triple in the fourth inning and just piled on from there. Jeff McNeil had four hits too, and the Mets took three of four from the Nats. This offseason a lot of people are going to note that the Mets, absent their disastrous May and June, were actually not terrible for most of the year and that with a little more luck with health and some help from the front office they could be a contender in 2019. Then the front office won’t make any moves and they’ll disappoint next season and everyone will act as if it was inevitable even though it isn’t.

Brewers 13, Pirates 6Christian YelichTravis Shaw and Mike Moustakas all hit homers to help Milwaukee win three of four and maintain its two game lead over the Cardinals for the top Wild Card spot. They are two and a half behind the Cubs. Fun play — the Brewers scored three runs on a wild pitch:

My favorite part of that highlight is watching Clint Hurdle chew his gum. I’d be punching walls but I guess that’s why he’s been around so long.

Cubs 6, White Sox 1: Kyle Hendricks pitched one-run ball into the eighth. Kyle Schwarber homered. Ben Zobrist had three hits. Kanye West threw out the first pitch for some reason:

It was also White Sox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson’s final game. He wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but he was an institution for the Sox.

Astros 6, Angels 2Yuli Gurriel hit a two-run homer and Evan Gattis had three hits and two RBI as the Astros sweep the Angels, but the real story here was Charlie Morton, who left early due to shoulder discomfort which is not what you want this close to the playoffs.

Rangers 6, Mariners 1: Texas put up a four-run sixth inning to take a lead they would not relinquish and Joey Gallo hit a two-run homer in the eighth. Once the Rangers had a safe lead, they took Adrian Beltre out of the game. It may very well have been his final game in Texas, and the fans gave him an ovation for it:

Twins 5, Athletics 1Kyle Gibson allowed one run while pitching into the eighth, Jake Cave hit a two-run homer and the Twins prevented the A’s from celebrating a Wild Card clinch at home. The need one more win or one Rays loss to be ensured of a game next week. They remain one and a half games back of the Yankees and need to catch up in order for that one game to be in Oakland rather than the Bronx.

Dodgers 14, Padres 0: It was Matt Kemp‘s birthday and it was a pretty good one: he went 3-for-4 with a single, double and a homer and drove in three. Everyone on the Dodgers partied yesterday, in fact, as the team banged out 16 hits in a walkover. Even Hyun-Jin Ryu got into the act, pitching six scoreless innings and getting three hits of his own. Max Muncy drove in four runs and he didn’t even start in the game.

Rockies 2, Diamondbacks 0: Kyle Freeland tossed seven shutout innings, scattering seven hits, as the Rockies keep their playoff hopes alive. They remain a game and a half behind both the Dodgers in the NL West and the Cardinals in the Wild Card race. The good news for them is that they get to take on Philly and Washington, each of which is sort of mailing things in right now, in their final two series and they’re at home. The bad news is that they need some help.

Indians 4, Red Sox 3: Greg Allen hit a bases-loaded single to give the Tribe a walkoff win. It was the second 11th inning walkoff win for Cleveland in as many nights, in fact, with Michael Brantley doing the honors on Saturday. There’s a chance these two teams could meet in the ALCS — Boston will have to beat the Wild Card winner in a division series and Cleveland will have to beat Houston — but if this past weekend was any indication, such a matchup could be kinda fun.