Following-up on the story I did a few days ago celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Andy Messersmith/Dave McNally/Peter Seitz decision, here is the transcipt of a conversation I had about the topic with the former executive director of the Players Association, Marvin Miller, early last week:
A Chat with Marvin Miller
Bronx Banter: When did you first become aware that Andy Messersmith might be the case you were looking for to challenge the reserve clause?
Marvin Miller: We always kept one eye on newspaper clips about players who had not signed contracts, or so-called ‘hold outs’, and usually follow along to see what would happen. Somewhere during the season, I don’t remember exactly when, I began to have conversations with Andy. Mostly asking where his negotiations with the Dodgers and O’Malley stood. And you know, things happen and his answers weren’t always the same because there’d be developments in their negotiations. I think somewhere around the late part of the season I’d had a rather crucial conversation by telephone. I think he had called me. And because he’s an upfront guy, he called me because he said that O’Malley and the Dodgers had met his salary proposals. And he just wanted me to know that the only thing that stood in the way at the moment was his feeling that he would have liked to have finished his career with the Dodgers and he therefore wanted a no-trade provision that so far the Dodgers refused to give to him. And he was a little disturbed because they were giving him different reasons. Like Busch…he-heh, first it’s weapons of mass destruction, and then it’s connection with Al-Qaeda, and then it’s, ‘Oh, I forgot, it’s not really any of those things. It’s because we wanted Democracy over there.’ Well, he was getting those kind of answers about why they couldn’t give him a no-trade clause.
But he said, you know, negotiations change things and he wanted me to know that if they met all of his proposals including the no trade clause, he would feel honor-bound to sign. And I understood. He had made proposals in good faith and if they were going to meet them, I agreed with them. After that happened I discussed the matter with Richard Moss and we knew that McNally was really in the same category even though he wasn’t playing anymore. He had left the team in the early part of the season because he wasn’t happy with his own pitching, nor was he happy with the Montreal management. So, after discussing it with Rick I decided to call Dave McNally and I did. And I explained the situation to him in some detail. McNally was a bright man and understood things about the union and before I could elucidate on what I was proposing to him he said, ‘OK, you think I ought to be part of this grievance in case Messersmith signs.’ And I said, yeah I do because I think the basis for this is important and since you have decided that you are not going to play anymore anyway, it didn’t matter to you. And he said, ‘Well, if you think I can help, you got it, okay.’ And that’s Dave became part of the Messersmith/McNally grievance.
BB: McNally was your insurance run.
MM: Yes, and we were frank with him and he understood it. He had been a player rep at Baltimore.
BB: With Brooks Robinson?
MM: No, this was before Robinson was a rep, this was in the early days of the Players Association. Early days after I came.
BB: So you were familiar with him when you approached him in this case.
MM: Oh yeah, oh yeah.
BB: What kind of a man was he
MM: I think he was a man of great integrity. Bright. I’m trying to remember the circumstances…he became player rep…he had been, if I remember correctly the alternate player rep. When their second baseman–who was the player rep got traded?
BB: Davey Johnson.
MM: Right. Traded to Atlanta?
MM: And that’s how McNally became player rep. And I don’t think he was a player rep for a long time, I’ve forgotten the circumstances of when it was…Andy was, well, Andy was Andy. Andy was a very serious guy. He has a good sense of ethical principles. He called me and wanted me to understand if he did sign it was because he felt honor-bound to do so. I go back a little further with Andy than that. Are you familiar with the Alex Johnson case? Well, Andy was with the Angels at the time that the Johnson case came up, and he was, according to Alex, one of the few players on the Angels at that time that was at all sympathetic with the things he was going through. He said he hadn’t known Messersmith particularly well but Andy went out of this way to talk with him and sympathize with him and discuss the whole thing. So I knew about that too, and I just think he was a great guy.
BB: Though they might be different I can’t help but notice the similarities between Messersmith and a guy like Curt Flood, both thoughtful, sensitive guys.
MM: Right, that’s true.
BB: Okay, before I let you go, I have to get your take on what has transpired in the last year between the Players Association and MLB.
MM: Well, it’s almost like we’re in a different country and a different century from that. The actions, and what’s going on…It’s interesting that you bring up the steroids thing in the same breath as Messersmith/McNally because the approach of the union in each case could not have been more different. The Messersmith/McNally period was one of great principle. And I include Flood in that, and I include Catfish Hunter in that—
BB: And Ted Simmons…
MM: And Ted Simmons, and all of them. I think that there was a greater tendency to understand what the relationship with the owner was.
BB: Is that because the players of that generation never knew anything but the reserve system and were involved in the fight for players rights, where as the modern player has come after the boon, when they don’t know anything but the rights that the previous generation fought for.
MM: It’s an interesting theory and I don’t have any facts on that, but it’s I agree that that’s a possibility. I have said a number of times now that I’m not trying to minimize the problem because it’s a problem that I did not have, but one that Don Fehr has had to wrestle with. Staring a few years back, I forget exactly when, Don has not had a single player in the union who had any major league playing experience before the union. Not one.
BB: Do you remember the last to go?
MM: (laughing) I don’t. But in my time, there was no such thing. Sure there was turnover, there were some that were leaving and rookies coming up all the time, but
BB: There was the consistency. Now, it’s a different generation.
MM: Yes. And I don’t minimize that problem. To have a membership that doesn’t fully understand what the union had meant and does mean. There is a terrible problem.
BB: So you feel real disappointment when you think about the union these days?
MM: I do.
BB: Have you expressed that to Don Fehr?
MM: I have, but I don’t go around lecturing him either. He knows how I feel.