Unless we think those people who possess the actual, “discernible” talent—athletes who perform on the field, singers and musicians who make record albums, and actors, directors, writers, editors, cinematographers and technical crew who put together a movie—shouldn’t be entitled to a fair share of the profits, we have to acknowledge that Marvin Miller deserves induction into baseball’s Hall of Fame.
As someone noted shortly after Miller died, in 2012, the three men who, arguably, contributed the “most” to major league baseball were Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson and Marvin Miller. While that’s an ambitious statement, even a cursory look back at the game tells us the observation is true.
Before Miller, there were relative scraps; after Miller there was a veritable feast. Marvin Miller, like Jackie Robinson before him, changed everything—not only for the game of baseball, but for all other professional sports as well. Robinsons broke the “color line”; Miller broke the “money line.”
For those unfamiliar with baseball history, it was Miller, former Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association (1966-1982), who more or less single-handedly ushered in free agency and gave players the ability to be earn “market value.” A hundred years from now, long after Derek Jeter is relegated to a footnote, Miller will still be written about.
Prior to free agency, the people who made the real dough in baseball—the people who grew wealthy off the sweat of the players—were the owners and executives. While fans paid to see the players, it was management who prospered. These arrogant team owners and functionaries ran the game not only with absolute autonomy but with a near “plantation-master” mentality.
Understandably, once Miller made clear that his goal was to gain “parity” for the players, everybody went Chicken Little nuts. The owners, the fans, the media—everyone—predicted that unless baseball were strictly controlled (i.e., that the ownership maintained total control over the players), the game would degenerate into chaos. Even some of the players worried that free agency would result in pulling down the pillars of the temple.
Of course, none of that happened. The only real changes that occurred were that the union grew appreciably stronger, the players were given the right to seek employment wherever they liked, and team owners were required to pay market value. Not exactly the French Revolution.
Yet, even today you hear people complain about “overpaid” athletes. It’s as if people think the economics of the entertainment industry (sports, music, TV and movies) should benefit only the “management” tier and not those with the conspicuous talent.
The entertainment industry generates hundreds of billions of dollars. The calculus is obscene. Still, that the profits should be distributed to those most responsible for it makes utter sense. Is it “fair” that some players earn $20 million dollars a year, or that Justin Bieber makes $60 million? Who’s to say what’s “fair”? All I know is that I’d rather see the money go to the person with the chops rather than the person who handles the paperwork.
If people like Charles Comiskey and Al Spalding (baseball executives), Kenesaw Landis and Bowie Kuhn (commissioners), Leo Durocher and Walter Alston (managers), and Jocko Conlin and Bill Klem (umpires) can be inducted into the Hall of Fame, there is no reason on God’s earth why the game’s “savior” can’t be.