Marvin Miller: champion of free markets

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Marvin Miller
  • AP
  • Marvin Miller
When I was an impressionable high school scholar, I don't believe I fully appreciated the ideological implications of Marvin Miller's crusade on behalf of professional baseball players.

In fact, I'm pretty sure I didn't appreciate them at all.

It was more like Miller—who died a few days ago—was this cool-looking cat who looked a little Paul Newman and was sticking it to the robber baron owners of the baseball players I worshipped.

So I added him to my list of childhood heroes, an eclectic group consisting of Mike Royko, Norm Van Lier, Foxy Brown, and assorted other characters, real and fictional, who were sticking it to the Man. Even if in some cases—i.e., Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry—they were the Man.

It wasn't till much later in life when, putting one and one together, I realized Marvin Miller's fight spotlighted one of the great double standards of our time. Baseball's owners—self-professed champions of free-market capitalism—had, in fact, rigged the market of baseball for their exclusive benefit.

That is, they turned baseball players into relatively well-paid indentured servants, who were unable to sell their services to the highest bidder on an open market. As if the Sun-Times were to announce that columnist Royko could never, ever, ever jump to the Tribune. As he did way back when.

To ensure their control over baseball players, the owners convinced the U.S Supreme Court to give them a special exemption from antitrust laws. Which just goes to show you, then as now, we have the best judicial system that money can buy.

Well, Marvin Miller changed all that when he took control of the baseball players' union back in 1966. He led the players to one victory after another before various judges and arbitrators and eventually the walls of baseball's socialism fell, so to speak, and free markets ruled.

Now players are free to go wherever they want after six years of servitude to their original team. Which explains how Greg Maddux left the Cubs for the Braves. And Albert Belle left the Indians for the White Sox. Proving that no matter what ideological system rules the game, Chicago's baseball owners will still mess things up.

So the great irony of Marvin Miller's life is that it took a left-of-center trade unionist to force baseball's right-of-center capitalists—kicking and screaming, all the way—to live up to a semblance of the free-market ideologies they professed.

I wish we had a few Marvin Millers around town to get the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, United Airlines, the University of Chicago, and other free-market capitalists to do the same in regards to feeding from the public TIF trough.

But, as we all know from living in Mayor Rahm's Chicago: there are no true ideologists, just a bunch of hustlers, scrambling to look out for number one.

By the way, Miller didn't make it into baseball's Hall of Fame, even though his legacy ranks up there with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson.

That's because entrance to the Hall is not a meritocracy open only to the truly deserving. It is, instead, yet another rigged system—in this case controlled by the very owners whose collective booties Marvin Miller whooped.

So they keep Miller out of the Hall while letting in an assortment of commissioners and owners, who would be on no high-schooler's list of cool cats. Except for maybe, oh, a young Paul Ryan.

Rest in peace, Marvin Miller. You exposed their hypocrisy until the end.

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