Marvin J. Miller, the dapper, feisty executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, hereinafter referred to as the Players Association, flew to Miami Beach and the Fontainebleau Hotel last week. Miller didn't go to Miami to play a little gin in a caba�a but to start his annual tour of the spring-training camps, hear out the players' wants and evaluate the results of the novel player-owner salary arbitration sessions concluded the week before.
Baseball's arbitration plan is the brainchild of Miller, who was known as a creative thinker when he was assistant to the president of the United Steelworkers of America. According to a procedure arrived at late last year, a player and owner who are unable to reach a salary agreement can go to arbitration. The player submits his figure, the club its, and one of 14 arbitrators jointly selected by the Players Association and the owners listens to their arguments. The arbitrator can also consult a confidential list of all major league salaries to help him determine how much money a second baseman, say, with a .260 batting average after five years in the majors, should be making. The arbitrator cannot compromise on the salary. He must either accept the player's figure or the club's.
Fifty-four major-leaguers took their salary disputes to binding arbitration. In 25 cases the differences between the players' and owners' figures were so close that they were able to settle. In the remaining 29 cases, the arbitrator found in favor of the club 16 times. This edge is misleading, however, for apparently in only one instance did a team submit a figure lower than the one it had offered in prearbitration negotiation. As a rule, a player's recourse to arbitration led to the team making a higher offer than it had previously felt necessary and, as a result, salaries may increase by 14% this season, compared with an average rise of 10.9% for the past five years.
Arbitration will cost A's Owner Charles O. Finley alone at least $87,000. Nine Oakland players opted for arbitration, five of them getting what they wanted, Reggie Jackson leading the way with a $60,000 raise. In the National League, Darrell Evans of the Atlanta Braves was a big winner. Last season Evans hit .281, had 41 homers and drove in 104 runs. The Braves said he still had to prove himself. Evans did just that with the arbitrator. "We are not supposed to say how much we got," Evans said, "but on a percentage basis I'd say I got about a 75% raise. I think that is a fair decision."
"The box score of the cases in arbitration is only the tip of the iceberg," says Miller. "The most significant thing is that the owners and general managers are making a far more realistic appraisal of salaries. Arbitration is replacing a system in which the owners always determined what a player's salary was. A player either accepted an unfair offer or he learned a new way to make a living. When you replace that, you can't go wrong."
As far as the players are concerned, Miller can do little wrong. Rollie Fingers of the A's, who was awarded his figure of $65,000, says: "Marvin is worth his weight in gold." The fact that Miller only stands 5'8" and weighs 150 pounds does not diminish the compliment.
Team officials and hidebound reporters do not value Miller so highly. According to
Atlanta Journal Columnist Furman Bisher, Miller is a "manipulator" who is as "smooth-as-grease" and has "spewed out" and "mouthed" what Bisher calls "typical labor rhetoric." Last year Bisher wrote that when Miller took charge of the Players Association in 1966 "he came in with the submissiveness of an Oriental," but now "to establish his own power image, he is willing to destroy an American tradition." In short, "the tactics he employs are so brazenly steelworkers, coal-miner, auto-worker labor union as to be embarrassing to an athlete of pride. His bearing, his approach, his terminology belong on a soapbox around the corner from a struck factory. Miller's effect on the game has caused an alarming spiritual erosion."
Several years ago, when Miller requested that the Players Association be polled on an exhibition the Mets were to play at West Point, on the grounds that there were contractual limitations on the number of exhibition games, Braves Vice-President Paul Richards fulminated, "Either Miller or baseball has to go, and right now I'm afraid baseball will go first." ( Richards' prediction was off base; he went.) Last spring, when Miller was speaking to an assembly of Texas Rangers and Houston Astros in the outfield of a ball park in Pompano Beach, Fla., a meeting stipulated by an agreement with the owners, Astro Manager Leo Durocher ordered his players to leave and then had fungoes hit in Miller's direction. The
St. Louis Globe-Democrat once editorialized that Miller "would do the game of baseball a great favor if he disappeared, got lost or found the nearest hole and jumped into it."
Miller himself has rarely been at a loss for strong words. He has called Commissioner Bowie Kuhn "a rank amateur," accused
The Sporting News
of "overwhelming bias" in favor of the owners and termed Durocher "a freeloader riding on the backs of his fellow-managers and players." Durocher, Miller is fond of noting, is the single biggest recipient of the pension plan, receiving almost $2,000 a month. Milwaukee Judge Robert Cannon, who was Miller's predecessor in the Players Association, also has attracted Miller's fire as a tool of the owners. Cannon drew up the executive director's contract for Miller, who was startled to find that he could be fired should he be accused of moral turpitude. Judge Cannon said, "You can always prove you're innocent." "Prove I'm innocent?" Miller expostulated. "Judge, have you ever heard of the Constitution of the United States?" The clause was stricken.
For all the controversy that swirls around him like the wind in Candlestick Park, Miller regards himself as a mild man. "If I were to engage in self-criticism," he says, "I would say there are times when I don't get angry enough fast enough. I have perhaps an exaggerated self-restraint."