Posts Tagged ‘Marvin Miller’

They have chosen to start the war. They have fired the gun.” – MLBPA Executive Director Marvin Miller, quoted by AP, February 20, 1981

“We are at war!” – NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, quoted by The New York Times, January 22, 2011

As the NFL and the NFLPA careen toward what seems like an inevitable work stoppage, both the commissioner and players’ representative have engaged in a bout of public relations saber rattling. Meanwhile, major league baseball is expected to quickly come to an agreement on a new CBA when the current one expires in December 2011.

Smith doesn’t seem as if he’ll be the pushover that NFL owners have come to expect.

Anyone who is familiar with each sport’s labor relations over the past 20 years will immediately see the irony. Dating back to Marvin Miller’s election as head of the MLBPA in 1966, baseball players and owners have shared a rancorous relationship that included five strikes and three lockouts between 1972 and 1995. Football, however, has mostly enjoyed labor peace, particularly after two unsuccessful strikes by the NFLPA in 1982 and 1987 rendered the players’ union as a rubber stamp.

Not surprisingly, the NFLPA’s acquiescence to a salary cap has not mollified the owners’ voracious appetite for a larger piece of the financial pie. As a result, the lords of the NFL now stand poised to lock the players out if they do not once again capitulate to a series of adverse demands. If new NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith has anything to say about the process, however, things won’t be as pleasant for Roger Goodell and his band of profit takers this time around. The economics support the players’ position, so all that is needed is steadfast leadership.

Unlike past executive director Gene Upshaw, whose background was as a player, Smith is a bonafide litigator with 10 years experience in the U.S. Attorney’s office. Although he doesn’t have the labor background that Marvin Miller did when he took over control of the baseball union, Smith does seem to be cut out of the same cloth. Despite being criticized for his tough talk, he has not waivered in his public discourse. Ultimately, Smith will have to maintain unity among the rank and file, just as Miller did with his constituency, but if he can achieve that end, the NFLPA could emerge as a partner instead of an underling in the NFL’s financial structure.

The economic issues at hand are much different, and the relative size of the football union adds a greater challenge, but there are still lessons that Smith can learn from Miller. The chief among these, however, is the most basic. If the NFLPA is going to final win what is essentially a financial war, it can not be timid, and most certainly can not be accommodating. Even though the owners possess a massive war chest, their greed still makes them vulnerable. As much as the NFL chieftains would like to take a larger portion of revenues, they certainly do not want to relinquish the large sums of money that would be forfeited in a prolonged work stoppage. If the owners shut the game down for an extended period of time, they’ll be cutting off their nose to spite their face, and as much as greed can be a motivator for stupidity, multi-millionaires don’t get that way by turning off a steady steam of cash flow.

When it comes to this job, [Miller] remains my idol. He walks into a union that did not have a significant amount of information coming to the players, he had a very hostile reception from management, and what he brought to the players was the meat and potatoes of what organized labor unions do.” – NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, quoted by The New York Times, January 22, 2011

Miller was never shy about taking his case to the media.

As baseball’s labor history has shown, owners’ resolve can wear thin quickly. What’s more, their veiled negotiating tactics are usually looked upon unfavorably by the courts and relevant government agencies. There has already been a crack in the union ranks, and some have criticized Smith’s reference to being at “war”, but the answer to that is to push forward with even greater resolve. Smith can not be afraid of a lockout. Marvin Miller never was. Whether it’s a war of words in the media or a war of ideas at the negotiating table, Smith needs to be on the front line fighting. He can’t worry about the harsh words that are likely to follow. Those same criticisms were levied at Miller, and now most people believe he merits inclusion in the Hall of Fame.

With selfishness being a natural human tendency, and so many players already “getting theirs”, most people, including the sport’s owners, expect that a lockout will be too costly for the players. The greater cost, however, will come from capitulating to a bad CBA. That’s the lesson the NFLPA has to learn, and that’s the challenge facing Smith. What would Marvin Miller do if he was leading the charge? He’d prepare for war…and that’s what Smith should be doing too.

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeU.)

Pat Gillick was an accomplished baseball executive for well over 40 years, including 27 seasons as a general manager for four different franchises. Although he isn’t a blight on the Hall of Fame, his election this afternoon by the new Expansion Era committee process is an absurdity when juxtaposed against the exclusion of two much more worthy candidates.

Marvin Miller, flanked by Joe Torre, announces the end of the first player’s strike (Photo: AP).

The mission of the Hall of Fame is (or at least should be) to honor excellence and preserve history, but unfortunately, the new era-based committee process seems just as prone to the cronyism that corrupted past iterations. One could not write the story of baseball’s expansion era, which the Hall of Fame defines as 1973 to the present, without devoting massive chapters to the contributions of MLBPA executive director Marvin Miller (1966 to 1982) and Yankees’ principal owner George M. Steinbrenner III (1973-2010). By excluding each member, the Hall of Fame is presenting an incomplete history…one influenced more by personal relationships than impact on the game.

The argument against Miller seems to be from those who think free agency ruined the game. “Because of the fiery union leader, the wholesome sport of baseball was undermined by greedy players no longer interested in simply playing for the love of the game”, Miller’s detractors have usually argued in one way or another. Sadly, such sentiment is pervasive, even though Miller’s labor revolution ushered in an era of growth and competitive balance. If he was an NFL commissioner, he’d be widely lauded as a hero. In the baseball world, however, he is still viewed by many as an enemy, especially by former executives who failed time and time again when squaring off against him at the bargaining table. By collecting 11 of 12 votes needed, Miller just missed joining Gillick, but as long as the committee contains a strong element of his past adversaries, getting over the hump could be difficult.

Steinbrenner was an industry leader during his tenure as Yankees owner.

Steinbrenner’s exclusion comes as a surprise because it seemed as if part of the reason for the Hall’s new voting process was so the recently deceased Yankee owner could be awarded with immediate posthumous enshrinement. Incredibly, however, he received less than eight votes. Even Dave Concepcion received eight! There is no legitimate argument for not electing Steinbrenner. The history of baseball without mention of Steinbrenner is simply incomplete, and that fact should override any other concern. The idea that his two suspensions should detract from his overall contribution to the game is ill conceived, especially because a careful look at each situation reveals that Steinbrenner was unfairly treated during both investigations. Putting that aside, the bottom line is George Steinbrenner was arguably the most gigantic figure during the expansion era, so having fewer than half the electors recognize his accomplishments doesn’t speak well for the process.

Getting back to Gillick, his three world championships and 2,276-1,388 record as a general manager are impressive, but are they Hall of Fame worthy? The only other men who have been elected purely as front office executives are all legendary figures in the game: Ed Barrow, who was the architect of the first Yankees’ dynasty; George Weiss, who carried the flag from Barrow by winning seven World Series in the Bronx; and Branch Rickey, who was a pioneer in so many regards, not the least of which was his role in breaking the color barrier. Two other men elected based largely on contributions as an executive were Larry and Lee McPhail. Again, both father and son left behind a legendary imprint on the game well beyond wins and losses. With all due respect to Gillick, he has not had the same impact as the front office executive he now joins in the Hall of Fame.

Most of the unworthy Hall of Fame selections in the past have emanated from the backroom politics of the veteran’s committee process. Instead of focusing on the historical integrity of enshrinement, committee members lobbied for friends and ex-teammates, resulting in more than a few curious selections. Sadly, it seems as if that process hasn’t changed. By having 16 contemporary voters preside over friend and enemy alike, the vote is almost certain to be impacted by personal bias.

Marvin Miller and George Steinbrenner were such towering figures that their legacies will grow regardless of whether they are elected to the Hall of Fame. It is a shame, however, that for at least the next three years, visitors to that institution will be witness to an incomplete history.

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