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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

RIP Marvin Miller

Two on Marvin Miller's passing, the first from Keith Olbermann:
You can argue that the pendulum Marvin unleashed from its artificial restraint has swung too far to the other side (and you’d be wrong – who is about to sign a six billion dollar contract? The new Dodgers owners, or Evan Longoria?) You can argue that what Marvin wrought has destroyed competitive balance and especially the small markets (and you’d be wrong – in the 18 seasons before his ascent, the Yankees had won 15 pennants and the Dodgers had won nine, and the team then in Kansas City had finished last or in the bottom four 13 times). You can argue that the freedom Marvin enabled has destroyed the continuity of players and made the one-team player nearly extinct (and you’d be wrong – there are 41 Hall of Famers who played for only one team, and a disproportionate number, 11, are from the Free Agent era. The only thing that’s changed is that the players can now initiate their own jarring relocation, not just the owners).
Next up, Tim Brown recounts a meeting between Scott Boras and a Marvin Miller in failing health:
They'd met twice in passing over the previous three decades. Here, for the first and last time, they'd come together for soup and conversation. On one side of the table, the baseball establishment's villain in the era of player unification and bloody labor wars, of Curt Flood and the stricken reserve clause. On the other, its villain at a time of escalating player salaries and rights for drafted players, of Alex Rodriguez and the age of information.

Boras hoped for an hour, maybe two. Miller gave him five. Throughout, Boras would ask Miller if he was OK to continue, if he was up to it, and each time Miller would smile and nod. "Yes," he'd say, and his eyes would fire again as he launched into a story about Bowie Kuhn or Mickey Mantle or one exasperated owner or another.

"I walked on his stage," Boras said Wednesday evening, seven months later and not long after learning of Miller's passing. "And I realized where my wings came from."

It seems to me that the genius of MLBPA is not so much that they can set a floor for player salaries — though this does in fact happen — as that it permitted the market to work freely for the top stars. In this, it operates in the reverse manner of most unions, which attempt to set pay and working conditions for the lowest common denominator. Here I am thinking of teachers' unions, but it is common elsewhere, too.

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