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For all of the talk about Miller not being a baseball man, he has, by his own accounting, been in the game longer than 20 of the 26 owners—and indeed most of the players he represents. He has dealt with two commissioners, four league presidents and Lord knows how many coaches, managers and general managers. His, in fact, may be the most stable job in all of baseball, which, by conventional employment standards, is not saying all that much.
But Miller is a survivor and a fighter. He looks like neither. He is a small man (about 5'8" and 150 pounds) and he has a withered right arm (one player refused to talk to a New York sportswriter for years after he made a tasteless remark about the arm). Miller's gray hair, once slicked back, has lost the wet look and is more tousled than coiffed these days, and he has become a more conservative dresser than he was when he first came to baseball from Pittsburgh in suits of shimmering blue. The pencil-thin moustache gives him the look of the slippery "mouthpiece," so essential to 1930s gangster films. The heavy sighs, the shrugging shoulders, the mirthless laugh are all deceptive. Miller, who will be 63 next month, is still a vigorous advocate. And his dedication to the organization he virtually created is unflagging.
It is questionable if Miller would have accepted the baseball job if the Association had been other than an "embryo" organization. Reared in Brooklyn, he had been a fan, but his career had taken him far afield, and only a challenge of the sort presented by the foundering players union could have drawn him into the game. An economist educated at Miami of Ohio and New York University, he had been assistant to President Dave McDonald of the United Steelworkers for five years when, in 1965, McDonald was defeated for reelection by I. W. Abel. "Although I was not part of the political fight, I was identified with the outgoing president," Miller says. "But I stayed on as a negotiator, holding my own in the infighting. People outside the union made the erroneous assumption I had no future there, so word got out that I might be available if I got offers."
Somewhat to his surprise, offers did come. One was from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, asking him to undertake a study on the feasibility of employing collective bargaining skills in diplomatic relations. Miller was intrigued by the offer, but he considered the proposal a trifle vague. A second, even more intriguing, came from Harvard, asking him to do some teaching in seminar groups and to do some writing on labor-management relations. Miller was attracted, but he was not certain he was ready to retire from the trenches to the groves of academe. The third offer came from a bunch of baseball players. He took it.
The Players Association was founded in 1954, but before Miller it was a paper tiger. Dominated by and even partly funded by the owners, it emerged as a kind of sop to the canaille from the benevolent hierarchy. In 1957, however, relations became strained when an outside lawyer was employed to negotiate a new pension plan based in part on television revenues, as well as All-Star Game receipts. In the mid-'60s, as that agreement, which had been amended in '62, approached its expiration, the Association girded itself for a more serious pension fight. It needed experienced help. With this in mind, Robin Roberts, then closing out his distinguished playing career, sought the counsel of Professor George W. Taylor, a labor-relations specialist at the Wharton School of Business of the University of Pennsylvania. The professor agreed to help.
A few weeks later, in December of 1965, Taylor bumped into Miller in an elevator at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, where both were attending a meeting. Did Miller know of a Robin Roberts, Dr. Taylor inquired.
"Only by reputation," said Miller, the fan. A few weeks later, Miller was interviewed by a players' screening committee composed of Roberts, Harvey Kuenn and Jim Bunning. "They were straightforward," Miller recalls. "They were the first to admit that the association was inefficient and that it lacked direction and continuity. I went home and thought about it and decided I was interested. What appealed to me was that this was not a hidebound organization. I thought I could make a contribution unfettered by institutionalism. My son was away at college, my daughter was about to go, and, after 16 years in Pittsburgh, the idea of returning to New York appealed to my wife and me."
The owners, fearful of a "labor boss" in their clubbish midst, campaigned energetically against his election, issuing dread warnings of labor goons and gangsters. This, quite naturally, worked as a ringing endorsement. If the owners feared him that much, he was obviously the man for the job. Miller was elected by a considerable majority and took office on July 1, 1966. His opposite number as the management negotiator at the time was a young attorney for the National League named Bowie Kuhn.
Miller was scarcely welcomed aboard by the baseball Establishment. Instead, he was subjected to what he now calls a period of "hazing." His "they" and "we" approach to tricky negotiations is attributable in part to this chilly reception. "Labor relations had advanced a good deal from the '30s," Miller says, "so there was no physical intimidation, but the vitriol was there. In some valid sense, it has never changed." When the players asked naively if he thought he could "get along" with the owners, Miller replied, "I think so, but let me add a word of caution: you should not expect them to like me. Look, we're adversaries in a certain sense of the word. If you find a time when the owners are singing my praises, you'd better fire me. This is not a popularity contest."
Miller quickly learned what he was up against. "Joe Cronin [then the American League president] had a unique way of introducing himself. He said, 'I've got good advice for you, young man'—I was 49 at the time. 'You should remember that the players come and the players go, but the owners stay on forever.' I came to realize how wrong he was. The game is the players. That's what they don't understand."