55 years ago, Marvin Miller became MLBPA Executive Director

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March 5 is a pretty nifty day in baseball history — really, sports history — if you’re into labor at all. And you’re here reading this newsletter, so unless you’re one of those sad people who hate reads in between posting comments where the cringiest part always comes after the “however,” you’re probably into the labor aspect of things. Anyway, March 5, 1966: that’s when Marvin Miller was elected to be the first official Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association.

Miller wasn’t the first choice of the players: that would be Judge Robert Cannon, who, despite his desire to be the commissioner of MLB and his willingness to do what the owners wanted, despite his advice to the players being to “make no demands, no public statements,” remained popular with the players. As his SABR bio points out, Cannon never even broached the subject of raising the minimum salary for players during his time as their legal advisor. He did not care about what the players wanted, nor did he ask. Cannon thought the players were lucky to work in the industry they did, and that what the owners gave them was what was right, so, from his point of view, his advice was to not blow that situation.

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The History of Baseball Unionization: The MLBPA before it was the MLBPA

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Major League Baseball players had few rights before the signing of the first collective bargaining agreement in professional sports in 1968. They didn’t get all of their current rights all at once, either: the battle was, and is, an ongoing one. Before the Players Association, before Marvin Miller, there were other attempts to organize baseball players against the bosses. In this series, we’ll investigate each of those attempts, and suss out what went wrong. Here’s part 1part 2part 3, and part 4

You would think the formation of what we know now as the Major League Baseball Players Association would be something to celebrate without the caveats of the previous entries in this series, but that proto-MLBPA was a mess. Obviously, things improved — thanks, Marvin Miller — but that all took time. The initial version of the MLBPA formed back in 1953, and it wasn’t actually officially recognized as a union for another 13 years after that. And it wouldn’t have its first collective bargaining agreement for another two years, right before the 1968 season began.

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