Bronx, NY: Yesterday the HOF finally had the induction ceremony that was cancelled last year due to the pandemic. The class of 2020 had their day on the Cooperstown stage where Derek Jeter (NY Yankee’s), Ted Simmons (St. Louis Cardinals), Larry Walker (Montreal Expos & second Canadian in the HOF) and Marvin Miller (Former Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director) were officially inducted into the Hall of Fame.
We know of the three baseball players, but only a few might know anything about Marvin Miller. Let me take you back. In the 1960’s the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), the so-called union for the players was a toothless tiger. The conditions that the players were exposed to was nothing like the country club, spa like lockers rooms that the players have today. Players had very little rights and there was no collective bargaining. Miller joined the MLBPA In 1966 and coming from the steelworker’s union where he was their chief economist and negotiator he had more of a union organizer spirit. By the second year of his tenure, the MLBPA negotiated their first collective bargaining agreement in professional sports. In 1970 the MLBPA went further and established players’ rights to binding arbitration over salaries and grievances. That was one of the most important rights that players won as their grievances and disputes would no longer be settled by the MLB commissioner, who worked for the owners, but by an independent arbitrator. That was one important “workers’ rights” that baseball players got that made a major difference to what they had before.
That is who Marvin Miller was and that is why he is finally in the baseball HOF.
Miller help forge the MLBPA into a real union representing the rights of the players and spearheaded many changes in the relationship between the players and the team owners. However, the most important and impactful change in baseball came when St Louis Cardinals, Curt Flood took on the “reserve clause” that restricted players and basically chained them to their teams. It was a “take it or leave it” one season contract that “reserved” the teams right to “retain” the players to the next season. Flood took on that clause when in 1969 he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. Though he was offered $100K salary for the 1970 season, he stated that he would not go to the Phillies because It was a matter of principle. At the expense of his career, Flood stated, “a well-paid slave is nonetheless, a slave.” Flood wrote Commissioner, Bowie Kuhn a letter explaining why he refused to accept being traded.
“I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. It is my desire to play baseball in 1970 and I am capable of playing. I have received a contract offer from the Philadelphia club, but I believe I have the right to consider offers from other clubs before making any decisions. I, therefore, request that you make known to all the major league clubs my feelings in this matter and advise them of my availability for the 1970 season.”
The commissioner refused and Flood sued Kuhn and MLB. He argued that the leagues control of players violated federal antitrust laws. The case took a few years in the courts and eventually made its way to the Supreme Court who in 1972 ruled against Flood in a 5-3 decision stating that Major League Baseball was a game, not a business engaged in interstate commerce.
Flood, in the prime age of 31 was banned from baseball and paid a huge financial and emotional price. His decision destroyed his career. However, his action opened the floodgates on the unfairness of the “reserve clause”
In 1975 Miller found a loophole in the reserve clause that eventually ended the reserve system.
Therefore, while we all celebrate the induction ceremony of the players yesterday and the long-waited induction of Marvin Miller we believe that Curt Flood needs to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame as a key contributor the what the game is today.
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