Marvin Miller, Former MLBPA Director and Union Hero Who Ushered In Free Agency Era, Dies


Marvin Miller, the former longtime director of the Major League Baseball Players' Association, died Tuesday at age 95. During his tenure, Miller oversaw a dramatic expansion of union influence that culminated in the advent of free agency in Major League Baseball in the mid 1970s. Although Miller never wore a uniform, he is arguably the most important figure in MLB over the last 40 years. 

From 1966 to 1982, Miller was the Executive Director of the MLBPA. In 1968, Miller negotiated the first ever collective bargaining agreement in MLB, guaranteeing players a minimum annual salary, and was a key figure in the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Flood v. Kuhn. After the 1969 baseball season, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, but Flood wrote to MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn saying, "I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes." Flood and Miller were dealt a blow by the court, which upheld MLB's legally suspect anti-trust exemption, as well as the league's infamous "reserve clause."

Miller was a crusader against the reserve clause, which bound players to their teams even after their contracts with them had expired. Reserve clauses were typical of professional sports leagues until the 1970s. For example, if a player were under contract with a team until the end of a given season, the player could not enter into another contract with another team despite the termination said agreement. 

Despite the unfavorable Supreme Court ruling, the reserve clause was abolished after Miller had encouraged pitchers Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith to play the 1975 season without contracts, and subsequently file a grievance arbitration after the season. Arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled that McNally and Messersmith were no longer bound by the reserve clause, and were thus free agents. This was in direct opposition to the team owners' position, which was that under the reserve clause, their one-year contracts were automatically renewed. Seitz was fired by the owners from his arbitration post, while Messersmith went on to sign the first $1 million contract in MLB history. 

When Miller became head of the MLBPA in 1966, the average player's annual salary was $19,000. By the time he left in 1982, it was at $241,000

While Miller was a hero among players and reviled by the ownders at the time, his impact on the game has been undeniable.