I remember the first strike: March 31, 1972. I was covering my first Spring Training for The Boston Globe, and Bud Collins and I were at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla., for a night game that was to be the last one played before the midnight strike over pension benefits -- the last game played for at least 20 years without the cloud of labor/management relations hovering over the sport.
The Messersmith Decision, which declared that MLB players who play for a year without a contract automatically become free agents, came in December of 1975. That was followed by a Spring Training lockout that was ended by Bowie Kuhn and eventually forced a deal on a new system allowing teams to hold players for six years of Major League service before they become free agents. Salaries and revenues began skyrocketing, and understandably the owners wanted to maintain control, so there was a lockout in 1980 that almost led to a strike. Then, the '81 strike cancelled 713 games -- 38 percent of the schedule.
Negotiations during the strike of 1981 were at times ugly and bitter -- so bitter, in fact, that when a new agreement was reached on July 31, Players Association director Marvin Miller and the owners' negotiator, Ray Grebey, refused to pose for pictures with one another.
Miller was a central figure in cultivating the salaries that today's players make. Two pitchers who eventually would become Hall of Famers -- Sen. Jim Bunning and Robin Roberts -- drove the push for Miller's election as head of the MLBPA. Once appointed in 1966, Miller never relented. To Miller, baseball players were no different than the steelworkers he had previously represented.
The Players Association, which Miller handed down to two similarly intense, intelligent labor lawyers named Donald Fehr and Gene Orza, always stuck to the same principles. Which is why they had always won, until the work stoppage in 1994 that cancelled the World Series and left scars on the game. In the next 15 years, Bud Selig's commissionership helped skyrocket revenues to the point that the union has come to accept that everyone can make money.
The Basic Agreement is up again after the 2011 season, and alarmists warn of another labor showdown. Owners want vast changes in the First-Year Player Draft and think Selig can get other givebacks.
But these are different times. Virtually everyone is making money, and while Selig has masterfully helped owners make boatloads, he doesn't want another labor stoppage.
Understand, the days of Miller vs. Grebey and MLB vs. Fehr are past. New MLBPA chief Michael Weiner and MLB labor executive Rob Manfred have proven they can work together, and will, and understand that too many threats and too many cries of impending labor gloom will drive away the public, which doesn't sympathize with billionaires fighting millionaires.
This past week, Amherst College economist and highly regarded sports business expert Andrew Zimbalist forwarded a letter from Grebey. It is Grebey's endorsement of Miller for the Hall of Fame, which many of us believe is inexplicably overdue. This is the letter:
December 9, 2009
To: BOARD OF DIRECTORS
BASEBALL HALL OF FAME
COOPERSTOWN, NEW YORK
I am writing to you to urge your cooperation and support in having Marvin Miller inducted into the Hall of Fame: An honor he has earned and deserve. From 1977 through 1983, I spent more time with Marvin than any other representative of Major League Baseball. I know him well. Thus, I feel qualified to address this subject.
No other individual played a more prominent role in creating the structure and process within which today's game is played. From the Curt Flood Case, the Peter Seitz arbitration to free agency, Marvin's leadership and resolve cannot be ignored. Today's game is successful and remains our National Pastime.
Marvin was a tough and unrelenting adversary at the bargaining table, he came well prepared at all times. Marvin was an excellent strategist, and he unified his constituency: the players. And, he understood the owners and their inability to unify and speak with one voice, particularly in the press and with the players. A chapter was created in the long history of the game.
Surely animosity and prejudice may still linger with some. This should not prevail in elective Marvin Miller to the Hall of Fame. In my often difficult bargaining sessions, Marvin was always a gentleman. History will not ignore Miller's role in reshaping the game of baseball. To those of you in yesterday's election, I say put the animosity aside and look at the record.
I took my share of criticism and insults. But the history of the game must prevail. Therefore, I am asking the full board to consider a special election to place Marvin Miller in the Hall of Fame. I trust that this letter will be forwarded to each of you, by the Hall to all members of the board. Thanks to each of you.
Best regards for a very happy holiday and a great 2010 season.
Former Director of Player Relations
I realize that most rookies making $400,000 believe that is an entitlement and have no idea who Miller is or was, and how he impacted that luxury SUV parked in the lot. We know that Cooperstown leaders like Bunning, Roberts, Tom Seaver and Joe Morgan understand how tough it was when owners dominated them. Everyone who has played in a Major League game should have the good fortune to spend a few minutes with Bunning, Roberts, Seaver and Morgan to understand why Miller has such a hallowed place in baseball history.
A place similar to that of Bill James, who like Miller, belongs in the Hall. Today, as teams analyze their sport through the lens of statistical data, most of the best and the brightest know that little of this would exist were it not for James. It doesn't matter if it's management, agents, media or those millions of fans for whom the statistical aspect is so appealing, when we scroll through any of the hundreds of interesting sites that tweak the way we watch the game, they are all the children of Bill James and the Elias Sports Bureau's Hirdt family.
So now we have Grebey endorsing Miller for the Hall of Fame, and OPS, OPS-plus, UZR and WARP are all part of the daily baseball jargon.
When Manny Acta was a rookie manager with the Nationals in 2007, we were discussing two players in his office when he dropped a VORP (value over replacement player) on me. That was the day I knew James would get to Cooperstown. This week, Grebey's letter signaled the global warmth of baseball's Cold War, embarrassed the players who have not pushed for Marvin's election and re-emphasized that they don't need to break the union or rig the system for millionaires and billionaires to live in peace, love and understanding.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.