The Players Association got onto Miller after Robin Roberts of the Phillies asked the late Professor George Taylor of the University of Pennsylvania to recommend "a strong man of established character." Professor Taylor suggested Miller, who became one of six candidates the association submitted for approval to then Commissioner William Eckert. After checking, Eckert announced they were all fine men. Although Miller was offered the job, he still had to win a vote of approval from the players, and as he toured the spring-training camps in 1966 he found himself under attack. National League President Warren Giles told the players that Miller, whom he had not met, wasn't the best man for the job. Angel First Baseman Joe Adcock also denounced him. Abel was so outraged that he advised Miller to stay with the Steelworkers and tell baseball to "shove it." Miller recalls, "The pre-publicity was that I was a labor boss, a dese, dems and dose guy with gangsters in the background. I was a 6'8" goon with a big black cigar who was about to take over baseball." The contrast between the description and Miller turned out to be quite an asset in winning the approval of the players.
Upon taking over as executive director, Miller discovered that although the Players Association had been founded in 1954 it existed principally on paper. "The task initially was to make it an effective operating organization in the interest of the players," he says. "I am neither the smartest, most skilled nor ablest person alive, but if I were it would cut no ice if I had no support from the players. The owners would pay no attention unless they were convinced there was a unified group. I had to have everyone understand what was involved. Number one, no matter what you called the Major League Players Association, it was a labor organization under the law. Under the Taft-Hartley Act, any organization that exists wholly or in part for improving salaries, hours, pensions, working conditions is a labor organization. That's a fact. You have certain obligations, responsibilities and rights. Under obligations, you must report to the government on finances, elections, constitution and bylaws, something Judge Cannon was unaware of. This we rectified immediately. But it had a larger meaning. It became essential to put the relationship between the Players Association and the owners on a proper basis, a contractual basis. The terms and conditions were to be negotiated through collective bargaining and the results formalized through a contractual arrangement. There had been informal agreements, but these were never formalized and were too often honored in the breach. One startling thing was that if you looked back over the minutes, you found discussion of trivial things—whether there was a water fountain in the bullpen—and the second was that if you went through the minutes year by year, you found the water fountain being taken up as if it had never been discussed before. Even the pension plan was not a contractual agreement."
Miller's suspicions of owners and what they are likely to do to their employees has stood him in good stead—and, on occasion, in good humor. With relish, he tells of the time Buzzie Bavasi, then general manager of the Dodgers, went to Walter O'Malley for a raise. O'Malley said the club had lost $2 million the previous year. Bavasi was reluctant to press his case until he discovered what O'Malley meant by losing $2 million: the Dodgers had made $3 million the previous year and $5 million the year before that.
Under Miller, the players have fared extremely well. Pensions have more than tripled, and other benefits have grown, some gained as a result of a 13-day strike in 1972 that alienated fans who couldn't care less who was right or wrong. "It was forced on the players by the owners' miscalculations," Miller says. "The players demonstrated their unity, and I would hope that kind of a demonstration would not be required again." The present Basic Agreement, a paperback booklet of 44 pages, runs through 1975, and looking toward its expiration, Miller says, "I think it's fair to say the players are still concerned about the overly restrictive reserve system. They are also concerned with the overlong season, in terms of the good of baseball, the quality of play as shown to the fans and the impact on their own careers."
Nonetheless, according to Miller, binding salary arbitration best exemplifies the progress of the Players Association. "The most important thing is the dignified status the players now have with the clubs," he says. "The essential dignity of equals sitting down together just can't be overemphasized."