By birth, background, education, experience and drive, Miller brings a finely honed mind to the fray. A voracious reader, he devours such journals as the Monthly Labor Review while some of his adversaries in front offices are assumed to be thinking deeply if they cast a somnolent eye over Class A earned run averages. This is not to exalt Miller or to denigrate owners but the fact is that he is disciplined, informed and organized while his opponents have often been slipshod. To a disinterested observer, Miller comes on like a David with an ICBM in his sling while the owners stumble around like so many befuddled Goliaths.
Miller is consumed by his job and rues the fact he does not have a hobby. "This is of concern to me as I get older," says the 56-year-old Miller. "I love to play tennis, but I'm only too well aware that this is not a retirement activity. I play the piano, not well and not frequently, but I like to go back to it. More often than not, I'll play popular songs, Jerome Kern, Gershwin. I played a couple of weeks ago, and my fingers felt as if I had been typing for hours."
Miller was born in the Bronx, but his family moved to Brooklyn when he was a year old. His father was a women's coat salesman, and his mother, who now lives with Miller's younger sister in Florida, was an elementary school teacher. As a youngster, Miller haunted the bleachers in Ebbets Field to root for Brooklyn. To his amusement, shortly after he became executive director of the Players Association he was sharply asked by Garry Schumacher, the publicity man for the Giants, to name some oldtime Brooklyn players. Miller began with the battery of Dazzy Vance and Hank DeBerry, went on to cite Babe Herman, who hit .393 in 1930 only to lose the batting title to Bill Terry of the Giants who hit .401, then Lefty Clark, Glenn Wright ("the best shortstop Brooklyn had in years"), Del Bissonette ("he had a golfer's swing") and Rube Bressler ("the only player who would consistently throw balls to the kids in the bleachers"). Defeated, Schumacher interrupted the recital with shouts of "All right! All right!"
When he wasn't in the bleachers, Miller was reading obsessively. He ran through the Frank Merriwell and Tarzan series and was enormously taken with Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. He was enrolled in school at 5� and graduated from James Madison High at 15, having skipped three grades. He would have skipped more, but "it would have been ridiculous." Upon graduation, Miller discovered that he "was not old enough to be serious about college, yet I felt old enough to go to work." He clerked in stores, and to hedge his bets began taking night courses at Brooklyn College. At 18 he enrolled at Miami University in Ohio because he had found from researching college catalogues that its school of education had an excellent reputation, and he was thinking of going into teaching. Moreover, it was a land-grant school with low tuition for an out-of-stater. Miller spent two years at Miami before transferring to NYU where he majored in economics and received a B.S. in 1938.
After NYU, he had a series of minor jobs, including one as a runner on Wall Street, until he passed a Federal Civil Service exam and moved in late 1939 to Washington as a clerk in the Treasury Department at an annual salary of $1,440. Emboldened by his success, he married Theresa Morgenstern, whom he had met when she got him a blind date. Mrs. Miller, known as Terry, is a clinical psychologist and teaches at Kingsborough ( N.Y.) Community College. The Millers have two children, Peter, who is finishing his doctorate in sociology at Berkeley, and Susan, who works at a home for disturbed children in Wisconsin. When they were married, the Millers agreed that whoever did the cooking would not have to wash the dishes. Miller did most of the cooking at first, recently returning to the stove when the family boycotted meat. "He made a very good spaghetti-and-clam dish," Mrs. Miller says, "and he's very good with scrambled eggs."
Evaluating her husband, she says, "He's a perfectionist. He believes in a perfect world and perfect people, and he's striving to make them live up to his expectations. He believes in justice. He's a good husband for a feminist wife. He's not a sexist." Four years ago, when the landlord of the Millers' Manhattan apartment house decided to make the building co-op, a move that Miller denounced as a "rip-off," the Millers joined the subsequent battle, and though it would have been easy for them to move to another apartment, they have stayed to fight it out. "We can't leave because of Marvin's commitment," Mrs. Miller says. "He's a very moral man. He has a commitment to the other people in the building. It's like the captain staying with the ship. Marvin is absolutely adored by the little old ladies in this building. Many of them are widows with fixed incomes who were panicked by the landlord's move to make them buy or leave. They just adore Marvin. It's very old-fashioned, I suppose. It's idealism. We never get gas on odd days when we're even."
In 1940 the Millers had moved back to New York, where he was one of 2,500 successful applicants (out of 18,000) for jobs as municipal social investigators. "In some ways, this was the greatest education I ever had," Miller says. "As a youngster from a middle-class family, you really couldn't get a picture of what unemployment means in a depression. I mean men disintegrating, families falling apart. It wasn't just the want, it was what it did to people. Where the wage earner is no longer the wage earner, poppa isn't poppa anymore. The father retreats into himself, blames himself, thinks he has done something wrong. There was a pervading atmosphere of 'I have failed.' No modern civilization ought to tolerate a situation where people who want to work or ought to work can't work."
Miller spent World War II mainly in Philadelphia with the National War Labor Board. "The AFL and the CIO had a no-strike pledge, but there had to be machinery for resolving disputes," he says. "First I was an economist in the wages division, then I was a hearing officer in the disputes division." When the war ended, he shifted to the Conciliation Service in the Department of Labor, where he trained mediators. The chief lesson he taught was that "the most important thing to know is as much or more about the issues than the parties themselves." Afterwards he worked briefly in New York for the machinists union and the Federal Housing Expeditor; in 1950 he accepted the post of associate director of research for the United Steelworkers in Pittsburgh. Hired by Philip Murray, then union president, Miller was elevated in 1960 to assistant to President Dave McDonald. "It was a team around McDonald, with Arthur Goldberg, the legal counsel, as majordomo," Miller says. As a brain truster with the Steelworkers, Miller was singled out for praise by FORTUNE and
The Wall Street Journal
. He was also named to presidential commissions by Kennedy and Johnson.
With the union, Miller helped devise the Human Relations Committee in Basic Steel, whose function was to settle problems before contracts expired. He was primarily responsible for the heralded plan with Kaiser Steel, under which a self-adjusting agreement permitted workers to receive equitable benefits without the threat of strike.
When McDonald lost the Steelworkers election to I.W. Abel in 1965, there were demands within the union from some of Abel's political allies that Miller should be replaced. "In the 1965 steel negotiations, Abel's political supporters were conspicuous by their absence," Miller says with satisfaction. "This business of Abel's attitude has been exaggerated. When I spoke to Abe about the offer from the baseball players, he said, 'Look, if you want to go, I wish you well, but I wish you wouldn't.' "