Living

Marvin Miller: One of the Most Important Men in Sports

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Marvin Miller, who died early yesterday of cancer at age 95, was more than what Red Barber once called him: “along with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson, one of the three most important men in baseball history.” He was, for almost four decades, one of the most important men in all of sports

He was the man most responsible for hammering the old players union (essentially a company union maintained by the owners for their own benefit) into the most successful union in America. But he also had an enormous influence on all of sports. Just two quick examples:

DeMaurice Smith, the toughest leader the NFL players union ever had, was an admirer of Miller and spent several hours at Marvin’s Upper East Side apartment discussing the strategy which helped the NFLPA finally kick the owners’ butts in the 2011 lockout.

Marvin was also in touch with his former legal counsel, Don Fehr, now
head of the National Hockey League Players Association, until the last
couple of weeks, and you could feel some of Marvin’s steely resolve in
the way Fehr had held the hockey players to stand fast through the
current lockout.

I first met Marvin in 1990 when, after reading my coverage of the 1987
NFL players strike in the Village Voice, he asked me to work with him on
his autobiography, A Whole Different Ball Game. I urge anyone who wants
to understand the real business of sports to read it. (I particularly
recommend the reissue from Ivan R. Dee, which includes Marvin’s update
on everything that happened from his retirement in 1982 till 2004.)

A Whole Different Ball Game was the proudest work I’ve ever done and the best education I’ve ever had.

If you want to read some of the tributes to Marvin from his former
players, check out this site set up by former White Sox relief pitcher
Bob Locker in a futile effort to have Marvin elected to the Baseball
Hall of Fame – futile because Marvin knew, though none of us would ever
accept it, that the Major League baseball owners were never going to let
a man who had defeated them in every negotiation into Cooperstown.

Also, for a brilliant assessment of Marvin’s career and accomplishments, read Keith Olbermann’s Baseball Nerds.

Cherish the man’s memory because we won’t see his likes again in our lifetime.