Marvin Miller, the man who changed the face of baseball, oversaw a series of work stoppages and ultimately led the players' union through the dawn of free agency, died Tuesday after a long bout with cancer.
Miller was 95, and died at his Manhattan home months after being diagnosed with liver cancer.
As executive director of the Players Association from 1966-84, Miller waged many battles with old-school owners, who had their own rules of running the game. In 1968 under Miller, players negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement. Two years later, he helped negotiate the players' rights to arbitration to resolve disputes.
He won free agency for players in December 1975.
"Marvin Miller was a highly accomplished executive and a very influential figure in baseball history," Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. "He made a distinct impact on this sport, which is reflected in the state of the game today, and surely the Major League players of the last half-century have greatly benefited from his contributions. On behalf of Major League Baseball and the 30 Clubs, I extend my deepest condolences to Marvin's family, friends and colleagues."
Added current union head Michael Weiner, "All players -- past, present and future -- owe a debt of gratitude to Marvin, and his influence transcends baseball. Marvin, without question, is largely responsible for ushering in the modern era of sports, which has resulted in tremendous benefits to players, owners and fans of all sports."
Free agency and salary arbitration changed baseball, and earn billions of dollars in player salaries. During Miller's run, the average players' salary went from $10,000 in 1967 to $329,000 by 1984, while the minimum salary increased from $6,000 to $40,000. MLB's revenue has grown from $50 million in 1967 to $7.5 billion this year.
"Club owners had ruled baseball with an iron fist for nearly a century prior to Marvin Miller's appointment as the MLBPA's executive director," it reads on Miller's MLB.com biography page. "Players had no ability to choose their employer as they were tied to their original club by a 'reserve clause' in every player contract that provided for automatic renewal. Salaries and benefits were low, working conditions abysmal."
Miller presided over the first baseball strike, on April 5, 1972, and the sport has seen eight work stoppages through 1995, but none since then. Meanwhile, hockey is currently enduring a lockout, and football and basketball each recently had labor strife
"Marvin exemplified guts, tenacity and an undying love for the players he represented," National Football League Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith said in a statement. "He was a mentor to me, and we spoke often and at length. His most powerful message was that players would remain unified during labor strife if they remembered the sacrifices made by previous generations to make the game better. His passion for the players never faltered, and men in women across all sports are in a better place thanks to his tireless work."
Added NFLPA President Domonique Foxworth: "Marvin was the definition of a leader. By challenging team owners and league commissioners and successfully protecting and enhancing the rights of players, he proved that labor unions were necessary in sports."
An economist, Miller was elected to head the union by a 489-136 decision on April 15, 1966, and salaries have increased by close to 500 percent under his watch. One of his failings was in falling one vote shy of election in baseball's Hall-of-Fame.
"I and the union of players have received far more support, publicity, and appreciation from countless fans, former players, writers, scholars, experts in labor management relations, than if the Hall had not embarked on its futile and fraudulent attempt to rewrite history," Miller said after falling one vote short in December 2010. "It is an amusing anomaly that the Hall of Fame has made me famous by keeping me out."
He didn't need a plague to list his accomplishments. His legacy is tied to free agency. He saw the reserve clause that tied a player to a team holding as slavery, and wanted to challenge it in court. He got his chance in 1969, when outfielder Curt Flood refused to report to Philadelphia after he had been dealt by St. Louis.
Though that challenge ultimately failed, the clause finally fell in 1975, when pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally refused to sign contracts.
Eventually, arbitrator Peter Seitz sided with the players, and his decision was upheld two months later.
That sparked an agreement that allowed for players with six years of major-league service to become free agents.
"Marvin possessed a combination of integrity, intelligence, eloquence, courage and grace that is simply unmatched in my experience," said Donald Fehr, a successor to Miller as union chief, and now the head of the NHL Players' Association. "Without question, Marvin had more positive influence on Major League Baseball than any other person in the last half of the 20th century."