On the day where America observes the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Major League Baseball Players Association gathered to pay homage to another extraordinary leader, teacher and mentor at New York University Law School. As the hundreds of guests began to fill Tishman Auditorium prior to the evening’s festivities, one could not help but stare in wonder and amazement at the dignitaries from the baseball community that populated a venue normally occupied by aspiring lawyers and legal scholars. Hall of Famers such as Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, and Joe Morgan highlighted an all star cast of former and current players that traveled to Greenwich Village on a frigid winter evening to pay tribute to a man who simply referred to himself as a trade unionist and civil libertarian.
Over the course of two hours and several heartfelt speeches by players, friends and colleagues, Marvin Miller was hailed for leading a life filled with meaning and purpose. The former Executive Director for the Major League Baseball Players Association (1966 – 1983) was praised for his numerous achievements, but many wanted to fondly remember Miller for being a confidant, educator and an individual that consistently demonstrated unparalleled leadership. Dick Moss, the former Major League Baseball Players Association General Counsel (1966 – 1977) recalled Miller as being, “a tough man that liked tough justice.” He also believed that Miller was a great teacher that could explain complicated matters to a diverse group of people in a manner that everyone could understand.
Jim Bouton, the controversial author and former Yankees pitcher, referred to Miller as a mild-mannered professor who immediately became your friend. He recalled a time when St. Louis Cardinals President August A. Busch, Jr. tried to intimidate the players on his ball club and strongly encouraged them to distance themselves from Miller. He warned them of darker times ahead and possible altercations that could become quite contentious if Miller’s services were retained by the players. As a sign of solidarity and trust, the ball players on the Cardinals banded together and unanimously voted for Miller and supported him as their leader and advocate. Bouton jokingly referred to former Commissioner Bowie Kuhn’s enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008 by saying, “Putting Bowie Kuhn in the Hall of Fame is like putting Wile E. Coyote in the Hall of Fame instead of the Road Runner.” He also believed that Kuhn benefitted from all of Miller’s policies.
Buck Martinez, a 17 year veteran and former manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, jokingly said that he had always loved to see Miller since he was the man responsible for distributing the licensing revenue checks for $325.00, also known as the “bubble gum money.” Martinez discussed how Miller motivated the players to be proud and to learn about how they can participate in the revenues being generated throughout the game of baseball. He also used two words that eloquently described how the players felt about Miller: trust and confidence.
The sentiments and reflections expressed by Hall of Famers Dave Winfield and Joe Morgan transcended generations. In an attempt to educate his daughter on Miller and the economics of baseball at one point in time, Winfield shared with the captivated audience a fascinating anecdote. At one point in his illustrious career, Winfield decided to see what he would collect each year in his pension beginning at age 65 if he had played 20 seasons. Much to the shock and astonishment of the hundreds in attendance, Winfield stated that he would receive $2,000.00 a year if he had achieved the aforementioned requirements. Morgan stressed how Miller challenged the players to “know their worth” and how difficult of a job Miller had taking a group of ball players and turning them into an association. Morgan concluded his remarks by saying, “Miller became our leader; he saw our problems and conquered them all.”
Miller’s successor and current Executive Director of the National Hockey League Players Association, Donald Fehr, shared an intimate detail and new revelation regarding Miller’s moods. For five and half years, Miller and Fehr ate lunch together approximately four to five times a week. Miller was from the generation that a cocktail at lunch was normal and an accepted practice. Fehr identified that Miller had three preferences for alcoholic beverages based on his mood. If he was happy, Miller drank a Vodka Collins. If Miller was perplexed, he would order a specific type of martini and drink it slowly. On the occasion where Miller was in a bad mood, he would slowly sip a neat Old Grand Dad. Fehr also expressed admiration in Miller’s ability to lower his voice when discussing key matters and thereby forcing his audience to lean in and listen intently. Thanks to Miller, the Major League Baseball Players Association became a symbol of what a union could be if it had the right leadership and vision for unity.
Rusty Staub complimented the extraordinary progress ball players have made today regarding compensation. In a gentle manner, he implored that current ball players should write an essay on Marvin Miller before they cash their first check. By the time Tony Clark had concluded his remarks and spoke on behalf of the current members of the union, you got the sense that both he and Executive Director Michael Weiner are constantly educating their constituents on the importance of leadership, solidarity, principles and the history of the Major League Baseball Players Association.
If one underlying theme had to be identified regarding the evening’s tribute to Miller, it had to be his exclusion from the Baseball Hall of Fame. As the campaign for Miller’s candidacy continues to build in momentum and in size, it became obvious to those in attendance that Miller’s legacy is not inextricably tied to a bronze plaque hanging in a gallery in Cooperstown. His achievements and profound influence on the lives of many speak volumes for the type of man and leader Marvin Miller was. Someday, he will posthumously receive baseball’s greatest honor, but he has already achieved something far greater: the admiration from generations of ball players whose lives he has intimately touched by providing them with financial security, knowledge and the ability to take control of their own lives.