As Union Leader for the MLB Players Association, Miller ushered in an era of greed in baseball with the advent of free agency in 1975 while the post-Watergate United States was reeling with 20% mortgage interest rates and high unemployment. New York City was broke and gas lines across the country were long because of the oil crisis. The most unpopular war in US history in Vietnam was just coming to a merciful end. Things were pretty rotten.
So as much as I enjoyed as an 8 year old Yankee fan watching Catfish Hunter sign with the team on New Year's Eve, 1974, even I realized that his contract was way over-the-top for a man playing a little boys' game.
But what I came to realize was Miller's genius in helping to re-energize the game like never before. Baseball was dying. The NFL was taking over as the national pastime.
At the time of free agency, the Oakland A's had just completed their third straight World Championship in 1974. Yet, despite their success, they drew just 845,000 fans that season.
By breaking up the Reserve Clause, which gave owners total control over keeping the players they wanted at absurdly low salaries, free agency allowed players to go to the highest bidder. But the pure genius of Miller was his compromise in not allowing a player to go on the open market until he had six years of service at the major league level. This was critical. The owners thought they had achieved a victory of sorts, as they controlled their players for six years. What they didn't figure out at the time was how it would limit the pool of available free agents, thus igniting bidding wars for the best players.
Free agency helped increase attendance drastically, enabling owners to pay more for the players while driving up television and radio rights. Everybody won, a very rare feat in labor negotiations.
Miller was the union chief for the players from 1966 through 1982. I know saying someone should be in the Hall of Fame is so overused, but Miller may very well be the third most important person ever connected with major league baseball after Jackie Robinson and Babe Ruth. Not only should he be enshrined in Cooperstown, there should be a special section for him.