Former head the MLBPA, Marvin Miller, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 95. Miller achieved many things in his tenure as the players’ chief negotiator from 1968-1982. Among his achievements, Miller bargained to include arbitration into players’ rights. He raised the minimum salary exponentially. But Miller’s greatest achievement was challenging baseball’s reserve clause. In 1974, he encouraged Andy Messersmith to play out his contract, and have an arbitrator determine if he was still bound to his team. We all know what happened. Messersmith was granted free agency, and baseball changed forever.
There has been much debate over whether or not Miller belongs in the Hall of Fame. There’s no question that he had a profound impact on the game. Free agency gives us something to talk about during the off season. It also gives us fodder for discussions on whether or not our teams should let our favorite players play out their contracts, trade them, or re-sign them (sound like David Wright and Jose Reyes?)
But were Miller’s contributions always in baseball’s best interests?
One thing that Miller (and subsequently Donald Fehr, Gene Orza, and Michael Weinstein) staunchly opposed was the idea of a salary cap in baseball. This attempt to control salaries resulted in work stoppages in 1981, 1987, 1990, and 1994. But is the lack of a salary cap in baseball a good thing? Football, basketball, and hockey all have salary caps. The idea is to achieve parity in the game, essentially leveling the playing field for all. Is this important? Ask yourself how much hope Royals, Pirates, or Astros fans have every spring. How do they feel when their team is competing with teams whose payrolls are more than double than that of the team they root for? Yes, sometimes low payroll teams will rise up and make it to the post season. But how often do the Yankees make it to the post season? Is it that occasional miracle? Or has it become expected because of the bloated payroll? Is that good for the game? The Yankees don’t win the World Series every year, but some lower-payroll teams haven’t sniffed the post season in over 20 years.
I love talking about the amazing virtues of my favorite sport. But I know that the salary structure of the game that I love is not tenable. As difficult as it would be, I’d go a full season without baseball if it meant that the game came back with a salary cap. It’s the right thing for the game. The NFL is the most popular league on the planet, and it thrives with a hard salary cap.
Back to the question above. Does Marvin Miller belong in the Hall of Fame? I say no, he does not. I think his advocacy for the players went, and has gone, too far and to the game’s detriment. What do you think?