Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Jim Bunning was a union organizer when it suited his needs

Jim Bunning was a union organizer when it suited his needs

By Evan Weiner

March 3, 2010

(Cortland, N. Y.) -- Kentucky Republican Jim Bunning certainly caused a lot of political discussion after he decided to hold up Senate passage of an unemployment benefits bills. Bunning’s holdout ended on Tuesday and the Senate passed the bill but the story about Jim Bunning should not end with the image of an old man holding up financial help for those who were fired and cannot find employment.

If there was an honest effort by the news media and specifically the American three cable TV networks, the hypocrisy of Senator Bunning’s actions were have been pointed out. Bunning has a record of being pro-labor, pro-employee. In fact Jim Bunning was a major union advocate in a previous professional life.

You see, Jim Bunning help build the strongest workers association in America and reaped the benefits in terms of a solid pension long after he was done was a Major League Baseball pitcher. Jim Bunning brought Marvin Miller into the world of baseball and help set Miller up as the Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association primarily because Bunning was looking after his own hide after his right arm gave out.

Marvin Miller came to baseball industry almost by accident. Robin Roberts, Harvey Kueen and Jim Bunning were looking for an Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association when Roberts decided to call George Taylor, an economics professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Roberts read that Taylor was a mediator who was called into the White House when a labor situation arose and needed to be discussed and felt it was worth his time to invest a call into Taylor.

That was in 1965. Ironically, Roberts never met Taylor face to face, but it was Roberts and Taylor who changed the game of baseball.

"We were talking about getting an Executive Director and we had thought about different guys but none of them really rung a bell with me," said Roberts. "So I asked a professor at the Wharton School and I called him on the phone and told him what we wanted and he said he'd call me back. He was going to a labor meeting out in California.

"He called me and said he had two guys in mind. Lane Kirkland and Marvin Marvin. He said I haven't talked to either one of them, but I will call you when I do."

True to his word, Taylor called back Roberts and delivered mixed news.

"Lane Kirkland isn't interested, but Marvin might be, he'd like to talk about it," said Roberts.

Through George Taylor, Robin Roberts got his man. Marvin Miller, an economist and negotiator from the Steelworkers Union.

"When I called George Taylor, I told him who I was and he said, I know who you are, I follow baseball. That's how Marvin Miller was initially contacted. For Marvin to have be chosen and everything, he had to go through all the clubs. He did that all on his own.

"But I was probably his biggest backer because I knew the importance of having him and I was basically concerned about the television contract because that was the player's pension money. Also, the licensing thing that was staring to blossom.

"And Marvin didn't really understand the licensing business, but he was smart enough to get somebody to help him and set it up right."

The introduction of Marvin Miller on the baseball scene was not well received by the owners, but interestingly enough, players had some questions about bringing in someone to head their union who might have a difficult relationship with the owners.

"I got out of baseball, Marvin was fully accredited in 1966, maybe 1967 but I got out of baseball nobody would sign me. I went to work in 1967. Jim Bunning was on the original committee that were talking about these directors. Jim, Harvey Kueen and I met with Marvin in Cleveland with our initial contact.

"But Jim Bunning called me, I was in the investment business in Philadelphia and said we are having a meeting in New York and some of the guys are after your boy.

"I said well what do you want me to do Jim? He said would you come and attend the meeting, now I was out of baseball. So I rode the train over in the morning on a Saturday. The meeting was going to be at the Biltmore Hotel, so I went in and sat in the back.”

Jim Bunning was a union activist and pushed hard for a strong executive director and that cannot be expunged from his record. Serious journalists can easily get information about Bunning’s union activities if they so desired.

"There was some conversation. I think there were a couple of clubs that were convincing their players that Marvin wasn't going to be good for them. I was listening to the discussion and I was sitting next to Milt Pappas who had been a teammate with Baltimore and I asked Milt to introduce me to the group. He said Robin would like to talk to you."

It was Roberts speech that convinced the players to stick with Robin and Roberts pitch was simple. The pension and the licensing monies were too great and the players needed someone they could trust to manage the monies.

"I explained how the pension idea and the licensing thing were two big things for the ball players," Roberts said. "There was no way this was going to interfere with anything as far as club owners were concerned, you can still have a relationship individually. What happened, a lot of guys had a good relationship with their club owners and they thought this was wrong because they were making nice money, but they were on friendly terms with club owners.

"A lot of club owners were that way. If a guy played well for them, they treated them nice.

"After I got up and spoke and I left and I went back to the train station to go back to Philly. Davey Johnson was Baltimore's rep. He had come running into the train station, I had known him and I had played with Baltimore. He said, well that meeting is over, you ended that meeting.

"Evidently that was the only time there was an attempt by some players to get rid of Marvin. After that, he was in charge the rest of the way.
His influence on baseball was fantastic."

Roberts thought baseball was made up of three parts, the owners, players and commissioner with the commissioner having the absolute last say on all baseball matters. He admitted that he was rather naive in that thinking.

"I assumed the Commissioner was in charge and in fact when we picked the six guys in meetings about the Executive Director, I sent the list to William Eckert, who was the Commissioner and I said we are talking about hiring an executive director and here are the six guys being considered. If there is anybody on this list that you don't think we should be involved with, you let me know. That's how much I much I was involved with thinking the Commissioner ran baseball. The reason was because Happy Chandler in 1950, the only World Series I was ever involved in and the first big TV contract, he turned it all over to the pension plan.

"That was the commissioner and he got fired later on and may have been one of the reasons. He took all of the money and put it in and solidified it. It was on shaky grounds. They (the owners) were paying money out of their gate receipts and some of them weren't doing it. Happy Chandler took that money and that's when I assumed the Commissioner was in charge. That might have been the last Commissioner that may have been in charge.

"They never had anybody between the players and the owners," Roberts continued. "When you are a seasonal business like that and start missing games that just turned me off completely. I felt bad that they weren't able to resolve that. But Marvin played the Commissioner, he was able to convince the players and rightfully so that the Commissioner represented the owners. He wasn't an unbiased judge.

"Because of the way the ownership was set up, it became obvious that it was true. Marvin was from the union side of things and he never anticipated working with a Commissioner who was overall for both sides. I was naive enough to think you have an owners group and a players group and if by February 1, it's not resolved then the Commissioner comes in and resolves it. Then you can start Spring Training and you can play."

Roberts thought when he brought Miller to the players, there would be three sides in a dispute. The players, the owners and the finally a commissioner would act as an independent agent and had the ability to rule as an arbitrator in a dispute between the two sides.

Roberts does have some regrets that bringing Marvin Miller into the game
did not produce a mechanism that had the Commissioner acting in something of an impartial way in dealing with labor issues.

Miller had replaced Judge Robert C. Cannon who had been the Players Association advisor and legal counsel for six years. On March 5, 1966, the 48 year old Miller was nominated to become the Executive Director of the association. By July 1, Miller was in a two year position at a $50,000 a year salary with an additional $20,000 in expenses. The Players Association annual budget was $150,000. Cannon had been re-elected to a new six year term on the Circuit Court bench in Milwaukee adding to the Players Association dilemma.

"We had a guy named Judge Cannon, who was the legal advisor for the players group," said Roberts. "The Judge was originally voted that job and I had backed Marvin. There were two things we originally agreed to, a five year contract at $50,000 a year and an office in New York. But Judge Cannon was a Judge in Milwaukee and the vote was taken. Marvin got about seven and the Judge got about 13, I said to Bob Friend, who was a big Judge Cannon guy at the time.

"After this meeting when we elected Judge Cannon, it was ironic, I said after the meeting, Bob the moment you find out the Judge isn't going to follow through about what he said about moving the office, and Bob went out to dinner with the Judge that night. It was a Saturday. Sunday morning he had called me, Bob said how'd you know that.

"We agreed that the office was going to be in New York, well (Judge Cannon) said I can't move my office. Bob said to me, what are we going to do? I said let's start over and we had another meeting and Cannon wasn't considered.

"I called Eckert and told him I wanted him to attend because we were voting again on it. He didn't come but sent Lee MacPhail as his representative, that's when the players officially voted Marvin."

Miller immediately got to work and convinced the players that they were naive in their dealings with the owners.

"We were," said Roberts. "I knew it was a difficult thing for ballplayers to have that responsibility. But once they got there, Marvin got them involved too. He made them feel like they were really a part of it."

The Players Association had been around since 1953, but it achieved very little in terms of benefits to the players other to make sure that TV monies went into the pension plan.

Miller had two problems immediately. Financing the Players Association
office and more importantly, funding the pension plan. The players approved a voluntary dues check off to fund the office and Miller eventually struck an agreement with the owners through April, 1969 that $4,100,000 of the National Broadcasting Company's licensing fee for the Game of the Week, All-Star Game and World Series in 1967 and 1968 would go to the pension plan.

Once Roberts left, the players did rally behind Miller's lead and significant gains were made.

"Actually, the central issue that Marvin went after was always the pension plan,” said Jim Kaat. “Nowadays, you would not think that but the pension plan in the 1960s was much more important to the players than salary. Because in those days, if you projected to when you were 55 or 60 years old and you could draw $30,000 a year in a pension plan...a lot of players weren't making that much money in salaries.

"That's how he kept everyone together. If you talk to Marvin, he will reiterate that. It was a big issue."

Kaat came up to the major leagues with the Washington Senators in 1959 and was with the Twins when Miller entered the picture in 1966.

In 1966, the players were tied to their teams because of the reserve clause, the maximum salary was about $100,000 and that was doled out to the Mickey Mantle-, Willie Mays-type players. There was no salary arbitration, and there was no free agency.

The owners controlled the game and the players had little say in their careers.

Today, the players have free agency as well as arbitration, and the rise in salaries has been astronomical. But in 1966, getting all of those benefits seemed as likely as man reaching the moon by the end of the sixties.

"It was a combination of getting organized as a players association with all the television revenue that came into the game," said Kaat. "It gave the players an awful lot of strength. The owners didn't have a lot of foresight in what this was going to be."

The players got financial guarantees and fought with the owners on numerous occasions. Jim Bunning had a lot to do with getting significant pensions for players and getting players the right to shop around their services. The Bunning of 1966 was pro employee, pro union. As the ol’ Professor and Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel who watched Bunning throw a Father’s Day 1964 perfect game against his New York Mets at Shea Stadium once said, “You can look it up.”

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