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He decided the reserve clause had to be tested. It was, when outfielder Curt Flood, traded by St. Louis, refused to report to Philadelphia in 1969.
Three years later, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the validity of the reserve clause by a 5-3 vote, keeping intact baseball’s antitrust exemption.
Still, the die was cast when Justice Harry Blackmun, in his majority opinion, wrote that baseball’s exemption from ordinary law was an "aberration" that had survived since the court ruled for the game in 1922. The reserve clause would not survive its next test.
In 1975, Los Angeles pitcher Andy Messersmith and Montreal pitcher Dave McNally, with Miller orchestrating the attack, did not sign contracts and their teams invoked baseball’s so-called renewal clause. That gave the team the right to renew a player’s contract without his approval.
Players argued there could only be a one-time renewal, while management said the renewal could be invoked in perpetuity.
Arbitrator Peter Seitz sided with the players on Dec. 23, 1975. The owners appealed his decision in federal court, saying the reserve system was not subject to arbitration. Two months later, U.S. District Judge John Watkins Oliver upheld Seitz’s decision, and teams then went to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which also upheld Seitz.
In negotiations later that year, the sides agreed to a labor contract that allowed players with six years of major league service to become free agents. Free agency became a reality nearly 100 years after the first players were put under contract.
"Marvin possessed a combination of integrity, intelligence, eloquence, courage and grace that is simply unmatched in my experience," said Donald Fehr, a successor to Miller as union head.
"Without question, Marvin had more positive influence on Major League Baseball than any other person in the last half of the 20th century."
Miller was born in New York, the son of a salesman in the heavily organized garment district. His mother was a school teacher. He studied economics at Miami (Ohio) University and New York University.
He entered the labor field in 1950 as an associate director of research for the United Steelworkers Union. In 1960, he was promoted to assistant to union president David McDonald. When McDonald lost a hotly contested election to I.W. Abel, Miller began looking for a new job.
He and his wife Terry, the parents of two grown children, carefully considered their options, and Miller accepted the directorship of the players’ association even though he had some reservations at the time. In fact, he thought his union image had "put some of them off."
"I was surprised when they called me back and asked me to stand for election," Miller said.
In the end, Miller’s reputation as a hard worker won over the players, many of whom considered him the consummate professional.
"Baseball is my racket," Pete Rose said. "When it comes to negotiating ... that’s Marvin’s racket."
Terry Miller died in October 2009. In addition to his daughter, Miller is survived by son Peter Miller and grandson Neil Satoru Miller. Susan Miller said her father, like her mother, wanted his body donated to research at Mount Sinai Hospital. She said the family had not decided whether there would be a service.
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