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Marvin Miller Newsbeat

Thursday, May 05, 2016

The 1981 Split Season Still Speaks to Us

In the end, as we know, Kuhn’s misperception of his own role and the owners’ general misreading of the players’ solidarity contributed to Miller winning, in his words, the “complete and unconditional surrender” of the owners. The owners provoked the strike by implementing a system of direct compensation, and ended up negotiating a system in which teams could lose a player without signing a free agent. (This system was abolished in 1985). It was a give-back by the players, but one that was, as Gussie Busch of the Cardinals management saw, a Pyrrhic victory: “If the Cubs lose a player to the Phillies through free agency, then possibly I have the honor of giving the Cubs my twenty-seventh-best player—marvelous compensation.”

On the cover of its May 30, 1981 issue, The Sporting News published a cover with images of Miller, Kuhn and Ray Grebey (the owners’ negotiator) on a baseball diamond that asked: “Will They Kill Baseball… Or Save It?” As Katz sees it, the strike saved baseball. It solidified the free agent system that has made players “partners, in a very real sense, with management,” in which owners can no longer make unilateral decisions over the business of baseball or players’ salaries. In the long run, he argues, the vision of Marvin Miller has won out.

But, in a telling conclusion, Katz also notes that insofar as the “players association is every bit as interested in keeping the status quo as the owners,” Bowie Kuhn has won, too. While relative labor peace has prevailed in baseball for the past two decades, the next negotiations will open with Rob Manfred as commissioner rather than Bud Selig and Tony Clark the executive director of the MLBPA rather than Michael Weiner. Moreover, there have been suggestions of player discontent with the current qualifying offer system, and, most importantly, player salaries have declined relative to league revenues.


 

 

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