Listeners to Dino Costa‘s Tuesday evening Mad Dog Radio program heard the self-obsessed host holler, “good riddance” while noting the passing of former Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Marvin Miller. Miller, The Yonkers Cowboy declared, was the individual most responsible for baseball’s obscene ticket prices, competitive imbalance and destruction of a grand old game he presumably held dear when Charles Comiskey owned a team. There’s some deep hypocrisy in Costa railing against free agency during the same week he’s openly lobbying for /fantasizing about an HBO TV gig, much as the charge that free agency has ‘ruined” professional sports is laughably simplistic. Since the advent of free agency, it’s not only players and owners who’ve prospered ; the entire sports media industry has grown exponentially. I don’t mean to speak ill of the recently deceased, but you could make a case that were it not for the efforts of Marvin Miller, the likes of Chris Russo and Dino Costa would have to do something else to earn a living.
While the union-hating Costa clings to the knee-jerk notion that higher player salaries have damaged baseball, Keith Olbermann prefers to trade in facts.
You can argue that the pendulum Marvin unleashed from its artificial restraint has swung too far to the other side (and you’d be wrong – who is about to sign a six billion dollar contract? The new Dodgers owners, or Evan Longoria?) You can argue that what Marvin wrought has destroyed competitive balance and especially the small markets (and you’d be wrong – in the 18 seasons before his ascent, the Yankees had won 15 pennants and the Dodgers had won nine, and the team then in Kansas City had finished last or in the bottom four 13 times). You can argue that the freedom Marvin enabled has destroyed the continuity of players and made the one-team player nearly extinct (and you’d be wrong – there are 41 Hall of Famers who played for only one team, and a disproportionate number, 11, are from the Free Agent era. The only thing that’s changed is that the players can now initiate their own jarring relocation, not just the owners).
Marvin Miller’s original goal as the head of the players’ union was freedom – to eliminate the nonsensical conclusion (improbably upheld by the Supreme Court) that because baseball players “played,” their bosses were not truly running interstate commerce. And thus, a 17-year old kid who signed a one-year contract with, say, the Philadelphia Phillies, was actually signing a 25-year contract. Each “one-year” agreement had a proviso allowing the owners to “renew” the contract for another year. And in the renewal year, the proviso re-set, and the contract could be “renewed” again.
It wasn’t actually slavery, but it sure as hell wasn’t freedom.