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Wednesday 21st Feb 2018

In the fall of 1963 I was just starting seventh grade at Sam Brannan Jr. High School in Sacramento, California.

I guess it was an exciting time, though kind of a rough one for me in some ways. Music was blooming, for sure, with the Beach Boys in charge (I saw them four times) and the Beatles on the verge (with English cousins, we knew about the Fab Four in 1962, and had even seen them on Jack Paar) of dominating the world, while the Yankees were on the cusp of slipping from it.

That was the last fall I would have free of the symptoms of Crohn's disease, so in a sense it was still a time of innocence almost lost.

Third period, that year of seventh grade, was Algebra with Mr. Singer.

Aside from having a thing with Miss Kramer, the French teacher at Brannan, there are two other things I vividly remember from Mr. Singer's class.

The first was that it was indeed Mr. Singer--who would beg out of class a couple of times a week for a smoke with Miss Kramer--coming back untimely from his would-be tryst to report the assassination of President Kennedy. So, I do indeed remember where I was, and I will never forget either.

The second was when Mr. Singer was ill for a few days in January of 1964, and we had a substitute teacher for Algebra. That substitute teacher's name Cuno Barragan. And, either in 1959 or 1960, I saw Barragan catch for the PCL Sacramento Solons. Barragan went on to play for the Cubs (.202-1-14 over 69 games and 163 ab) and I had his 1962 Topps card.

So, having him as a substitute teacher was off the charts for me.

It was also a dose of reality for a ten-year old, for here was a major league ballplayer who had to augment his baseball income during the off-season. I had surely known of this, just like I knew that Willie Mays made $100,000 and that shortly Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale--in 1966-- would hold out together.

But for the grunts like Barragan, there was the life of substitute teaching, and selling life insurance and such over the off-season.

In 1966, on the heels of the Drysdale/Koufax holdout, Marvin Miller, a labor economist, became head of the newly formed Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA). Within a decade, Miller had helped direct the free agency of first Catfish Hunter by challenging Charlie Finley's contract violation, and then Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, successfully challenging the reserve clause.

As the head of union between 1966-82, the average player's salary rose from $19,000 to $326,000 (source Wikipedia) a year.

More important, the idea of free agency was introduced to sports, eliminating the complete possession of athletes as chattel by franchise owners.

There was--and has been contention--under Miller, who headed the union over three work stoppages, the first ever in baseball.

However, baseball--and football, basketball, in fact all the major sports--have flourished under the system pushed by the management busting Miller.

Now, I have had many a management job, and understand clearly the need for operating procedures and structure, and ownership control, especially over a private industry.

On the other hand, I am a hardcore Berkeley Hippie, and I also understand that a union is the only protection employees really have over management.

So, while I do sometimes shake my head at the thought of Vernon Wells making $22.3 million--more than the Athletics 25-man roster--in amazement and wonder, I also know Arte Moreno is not suffering. Essentially, along with Al Davis' tactical brilliance in pushing the merger of the old AFL with the NFL, Miller's work in baseball changed the face and nature of sports.

As with Davis, and other firebrands like George Steinbrenner, Pete Rozelle, and even Bud Selig, Miller had his share of nemesis. But, as with all those men, there is no denying the enormous influence, for better or worse, they have had on their respective games.

Miller passed away Tuesday at the age of 95 (which is really a pretty good run), thirty years removed from his tenure as head of the player's union. 

With 2013 Hall of Fame voting pending, Miller more than deserves to have his likeness in the Hall at Cooperstown.

For, like it or not, when Miller challenged, and then dragged baseball through the court system, the action did set up the mega-industry that is baseball now. That includes stadiums and city taxes and stat services, and even the fantasy industry.

Without that, players might have suffered the fate of Mr. Barragan.

Or, as Larry Hockett (David Keith in Bull Durham) notes to Crash Davis after his trade to Durham, "Sears sucks, Crash. Boy, I worked there once. Sold Lady Kenmore's. Nasty, whoa, nasty."

The players spared from a fate of Kenmore's have Marvin Miller to thank. And to acknowledge.

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