FORT MYERS, FLA. – Marvin Miller was elected as director of the Major League Baseball Players Association in spring training of 1966. That summer, he was able to turn the MLBPA into an actual union, and what became the greatest negotiating force in the annals of American professional sports.
To win these rights for the membership and riches for many, the MLBPA hung together through eight work stoppages — strikes and lockouts — from 1972 through 1995. Miller was the leader for five of those, and then his protégé and successor, Donald Fehr, for the final three.
“Unity; that was always the theme, with Marvin,” said Rod Carew, the Hall of Famer. “If the players stayed together, we could win on the issues, we could get a favorable result.”
The unity went beyond walking out when the leadership said to walk, and staying out when leadership said not to cross. The unity also came in mostly keeping criticism of other players at a minimum in time of embarrassment.
There was a cocaine scandal in the mid-1980s, fueled by the Pittsburgh drug trials featuring Curtis Strong, a former clubhouse caterer. There were 11 players suspended for a year, and others implicated — including future Hall of Famer Tim Raines.
There was the steroids scandal that included the humiliation that went with a Congressional hearing in March 2005, and peaking with the release of the Mitchell Report in December 2007.
Torii Hunter wasn’t around for that first mess. He was a competitor when the steroid users were being revealed.
“We had our feuds on the field,” Hunter said. “We might have said nasty things about other players in the clubhouse, when the doors were closed. But calling out other players to reporters, burying them in the media every day … we weren’t doing that.
“It’s terrible what the Astros did, the way it looks, but I also believe in second chances. In the end, they are ballplayers, they are our brothers.”
Hunter shook his head.
“They have some great guys on that team,” he said. “They’ve learned from this. The media isn’t going to stop, but the players … it’s time to start keeping this in-house.”
Hunter has been in Twins spring training this week as a special instructor. Michael Cuddyer also has been here. He was the Twins’ player rep for several years, carrying the message — unity equals strength — to new arrivals in a big-league clubhouse.
Cuddyer played 15 big-league seasons. Has he ever seen players taking shots as viciously at other players as the Astros are receiving — and from the biggest names in game, in this case Mike Trout and Aaron Judge?
“No, not even close,” Cuddyer said. “Membership calling out players to receive punishment. We haven’t had that before, not in these numbers, not this loudly. It’s going to be hard to get everyone back together.
“This might be the grieving period for opposing players; grieving what they see as a loss in their careers. But at same time, it’s going to have to end.”
The current basic agreement between management and the MLBPA expires after the 2021 season. Tony Clark is the first player to head the MLBPA since Hall of Famer Robin Roberts found Marvin Miller as a candidate in 1966.
Fifty years later, Clark’s first contract deal with management was deemed to be a setback for players, and now he is talking tough as negotiations take place for a post-2021 deal.
As he’s in the midst of this labor showdown, more players bad-mouthing other players — specifically, Astros — than at any time since Miller sold the players on the kumbaya needed to exert negotiating power.
“This isn’t a good time for the players to be this split,” Cuddyer said. “You have to let it end.”
The “it,” as in Astros bashing.
Clark’s problem is he has so many players upset over the Astros’ cheating that he now has to claim Commissioner Rob Manfred unilaterally gave immunity to Houston players, without consulting the union.
That tells you that Clark knows he has a problem that goes beyond trying to reduce free agency by a year and get rid of the qualifying offer in this negotiation.
The Twins are in need of a new players rep, with Kyle Gibson and assistant Jason Castro gone. Taylor Rogers wants the job — and is likely soon to be elected at a team meeting.
“I told Gibby at the end of last season that, if he were to leave, I might want the job,” Rogers said. “I didn’t know at the time the Astros situation would be coming up.
“It’s a problem that has to be addressed. We all have to be reminded what unity has meant to the players’ association. Unity created us.”
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