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erku's picture

Do you want to know how truly effective Gene Upshaw was a union labor leader? Look no further than the fields with the GU 63 marked on them, or the single player from each team who will wear a black armband, or the moment of silence that will also probably happen, and already has at a bunch of exhibition games.

Do you know what MLB's ownership will do when Marin Miller dies? Dance. Probably lead a conga line with the mascots. Denigrate his memory in private, and maybe even in public. Continue to snub the man from his rightful inclusion into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Seriously -- if you want to list the most influential people in baseball history, the list goes Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey and then Marvin. Fifth place is probably Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Marv will go into the HoF only when he's dead, and it's kind of criminal that the players haven't raised a stink about it up to now, but that's baseball players for you.

Marv, by the way, is 91 years young today, and has outlived many of the people whose lives he made somewhat less robber-baronly. Kudos to the man. Love him or hate him, you have to respect the hell out of his service; no one ever got more for his charges.

The difference in treatment between Miller/Upshaw, some would have you believe, was because Everyone Respected Gene because He Played The Game. Um, bullshit. Gene was a great offensive lineman and a key to the Raiders' success; he also would have been more or less forgotten if he hadn't taken the NFLPA gig. Don't believe me? Quick, tell me what Conrad Dobler is up to these days. Or the last time you thought about Mike Webster. Does anyone remember Art Shell for his play, instead of his breathtakingly incompetent Oakland coach era? I'll stop here and let you continue to think that I'm not incredibly ancient.

No, the difference is that the owners of the NFL *loved* Gene Upshaw about as much as ownership can love a union. He might not have been quite as incompetent as his NBA contemporaries -- seriously, David Stern against those guys is Globetrotter v. Generals-esque -- but only just.

Unlike his baseball contemporaries, Upshaw never got his charges guaranteed contracts -- in the most violent team sports in the US. Unlike Miller, he was unable to convince the public that scab football was something that wasn't only shameful, but invalid. Unlike Miller, he didn't have a strong enough union to shut down the sport for the long-term betterment of his players. He was able to get back-door free agency in a clever fashion with union decertification, but it's a fairly limited free agency that most players will never get to taste.

I'm not saying this in the spirit of glorifying Miller; MLB's labor woes have contributed mightily to the declining fortunes of the sport, along with the persistent revenue inequity between small and large markets that makes fans in smaller cities perpetual punching bags in the long term. But keep it in mind when you hear the eulogies for him in your NFL games this weekend. If the man had truly been effective at sticking it to the owners, they wouldn't be honoring his memory now.

And the players all know it.

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