Marvin Miller, the first head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, died Tuesday morning. He was 95 years old.
Miller helped major leaguers form a union in the late 1960s and served as its leader until 1982. He guided players through three strikes and a pair of lockouts, forging what is considered today to be one of the strongest unions in the United States.
"It is with profound sorrow that we announce the passing of Marvin Miller," said current MLBPA chief Michael Weiner in a statement on Tuesday. "All players -- past, present and future -- owe a debt of gratitude to Marvin, and his influence transcends baseball. Marvin, without question, is largely responsible for ushering in the modern era of sports, which has resulted in tremendous benefits to players, owners and fans of all sports."
Baseball owners held an iron fist over players with the "reserve clause" before Miller helped transform the game. Prior to Miller's arrival, players were tied to their teams, as every contract had provided for an automatic renewal.
Miller led a committee of players that negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement with management in 1968. The agreement raised the minimum salary in baseball from $6,000 -- the level at which it had been stuck for two decades -- to $10,000 and set the tone for future advances.
Free agency began in 1975 when pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally played out the option year of their contracts and challenged the "reserve clause" before arbitrator Peter Seitz. The arbitrator's decision in favor of the players was later upheld in federal court.
Miller led the players through contentious strikes in 1972, 1980 and 1981, as well as lockouts in 1973 and '76.
"Marvin Miller was a highly accomplished executive and a very influential figure in baseball history," said MLB commissioner Bud Selig in a statement Tuesday. "He made a distinct impact on this sport, which is reflected in the state of the game today, and surely the major league players of the last half- century have greatly benefited from his contributions."
The labor issues continued under Miller's protege, Don Fehr, including a loss of the 1994 postseason. However, there has been labor peace in baseball for nearly 20 years, while the NFL, NBA and NHL have battled through their own labor struggles in recent years.
"Marvin possessed a combination of integrity, intelligence, eloquence, courage and grace that is simply unmatched in my experience," said Fehr, now battling through a lockout in the NHL as its union head. "Without question, Marvin had more positive influence on Major League Baseball than any other person in the last half of the 20th century."
The average salary in baseball is now $3.4 million. Players also enjoy healthy pension and medical benefits thanks to the work of Miller and his successors.