Marvin Miller, the longtime head of the Major League Baseball Players Association who died Tuesday at 95, was no visionary. That was what made him a great man. As he described his own career, in his terrific autobiography A Whole Different Ball Game and in a series of cantankerous interviews in his later years, the revolution he led in American sports was premised on nothing more than an eye for detail, a willingness to let his enemies hang themselves, and a basic sense of right and wrong.
“There was nothing noble about what we did,” he told Yahoo’s Jeff Passan earlier this year. “We did what was right.”
The scope of Miller’s achievements mark him as one of the most significant figures in baseball history, right there with Alexander Cartwright—the closest thing there is to an identifiable inventor of the game—and Branch Rickey, who led the sport’s integration and created the farm system. As outsized as his greatest triumphs were, though—he was more or less directly responsible for the creation of free agency, led the only really successful strikes in the history of American sports, and built what is often described as the most powerful union in the country—his impact is in some ways best described by his smaller victories.