MLB executives and owners feared Marvin Miller, but they weren't the first. FBI documents reveal that the federal government, at the height of the Red Scare, undertook an embarrassingly extensive investigation into Miller's liberalism to determine whether or not he was a loyal citizen of the United States.
When Miller, who died last year at age 95, became the union's executive director in 1966, players were underpaid and bound to their teams for life. By the time he left in 1982, the reserve clause was dead, the MLBPA had become one of the strongest unions in the country, and the landscape of professional sports labor had been transformed.
It didn't come easy. Miller was vilified by owners and coaches—those who stood to lose something if players ever realized their value. When Indians manager Birdie Tebbetts called a team meeting to repeatedly denounce Miller as a "communist" and urged players not to vote for him, it was an echo of an older witch-hunt that had set its sights on Miller just after the war.
We've obtained Miller's FBI file through a Freedom of Information Act request. You can read the entire thing below, 82 pages of information gleaned from Miller's co-workers and friends, from FBI informants, from the trash of someone Miller may or may not have even known. All of this was done with the goal of determining if Marvin Miller was working toward the overthrow of the American government. Spoiler alert: He was not.
In 1949, Miller was being considered for a job at the Department of Labor. L.V. Meloy, the executive secretary of the Orwellian-named Loyalty Review Board, contacted the FBI to request an investigation into Miller's background.
Four years earlier, the FBI had looked into Miller under the provisions of the 1939 Hatch Act, a proto-McCarthyite law that prohibited civil servants from engaging in partisan activity and, more significantly, denied federal employment to any member of an "organization which advocates the overthrow of our constitutional form of government in the United States." That 1944 probe had turned up "considerable disloyal data," including one snitch's belief that Miller's politics were "APPARENTLY IN LINE WITH CP THEORIES," as one memo later put it. "HE PRAISED EQUALITY OF RACES, FAVORED STATE NURSERIES FOR CHILDREN AS THEY WORKED WELL IN RUSSIA AND DEFENDED RUSSIA'S POSITION IN ATTEMPTING TO SPREAD COMMUNISM IN EUROPE."
But now, in 1949, the FBI was able to launch a full "loyalty investigation." The bureau was empowered by Harry Truman's Executive Order 9835, designed specifically to root out the Commies. ("[M]aximum protection must be afforded the United States against infiltration of disloyal persons into the ranks of its employees ..." the order read. As Murray Kempton once put it, "McCarthyism was only Trumanism carried to its logical conclusion.")
Much of the scrutiny centered on Miller's wife, Theresa (née Theresa Morgenstern), who died in 2009. In 1944, according to the FBI's informants, Theresa had been the "literature director" for Philadelphia's Olney Club, which is described by the G-men as a branch of the Communist Political Association, aka the Communist Party USA. In 1948, she ran for the New York State Assembly on the American Labor Party ticket. This, combined with Miller's own pro-worker and anti-discrimination statements, was more than enough to raise red flags.
What evidence the FBI found on Miller was thin. He had attended benefits for Russian war relief organizations. He was a staunch supporter of Progressive Party nominee Henry Wallace's 1948 presidential campaign. He supported the rights of workers and talked up the potential power of trade unions. He was a conventional labor liberal, by all accounts. Nevertheless, one former co-worker described him to investigators as a "radical left-winger." Another acquaintance considered him a "fellow traveler."
Radical means were used to tie Miller to supposed radicals. One FBI special agent's report mentions a guy named Leonard Seitchik, described as the president of the local lodge of the Jewish People's Fraternal Order. (The JPFO, which appeared on the attorney general's list of Communist fronts, was a harmless collection of Yiddish-speaking left-wing Jews that grew out of the International Workers Order, which also appeared on the attorney general's list of Communist fronts.) Seitchik's Commie bona fides are only lightly established. According to "Philadelphia Confidential Informant T-4," Seitchik had been invited to a meeting of "Communist Party members." The report isn't clear, but a different FBI source apparently indicated that Seitchik at one point may have considered taking a class taught by Marvin Miller at the Philadelphia School of Social Science and Art, allegedly an "adjunct" of the Communist Party. We can't find any other reference to Miller having taught there.
The implication, so far as we can tell: The IWO was Commie, therefore the JPFO was Commie, therefore the president of a local lodge was probably Commie, therefore any teacher of any class he might've wanted to take at a putatively Commie school was possibly Commie, too.
"Philadelphia Confidential Informant T-4" had more to spill, this time on Miller himself:
Who was Philadelphia Confidential Informant T-4, the gimlet-eyed source who saw "Marv Miller"'s name on a list of people he "believed" to be Commies?
Philadelphia Confidential Informant T-4 was, quite literally, trash.
One thing that did repeatedly come up in interviews with Miller's associates: his views on race. As one FBI source put it, Miller was "violently vehement" in his opposition to any kind of discrimination.
In the minds of investigators, this was a mark against his Americanism. We mentioned the memo about the Hatch Act investigation above:
There were other mentions of Miller's suspicious concern for racial equality:
Miller never lost that sensibility:
Miller, a refined, thin-mustache type (and a very knowledgeable New York baseball fan), had a keen sensitivity of how vestigial racism among owners, the press, and various regions of the country poisoned the experience of black and Latino ballplayers. His great memoir, A Whole Different Ball Game: The Sport and Business of Baseball, is filled with poignant anecdotes about vilified black players such as Alex Johnson, Dick Allen, and Curt Flood, reminding us that with newfound economic liberty came the ability at long last to speak, act, and even dress like free men.
The investigation passed its deadline. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover personally asked for an update:
The FBI continued probing deep into Miller's past for any signs of subversion. They consulted administrators at every school he ever attended. They examined records from every job he ever held, back to when an 18-year-old Miller spent a semester working as a soda clerk in a Brooklyn Walgreens.
Again and again, to dozens of people who had known him, however briefly, investigators posed the question: Is Marvin Miller a loyal citizen?
A small selection from the testimonies:
In 1950, the investigation was closed.
In all the FBI files, there is only one page that contains Miller's actual words. It is a scrap of a transcript that predates the "loyalty investigation." It is from 1945 and the smaller, Hatch Act probe. Miller was sworn in and interviewed at the FBI regional office in Philadelphia:
In the files of a younger Marvin Miller, there are glimpses of the man who would help drag professional sports out of its feudal period, one of the few great labor triumphs in the latter half of the 20th century. Today, baseball has free agency, no salary cap, and no collusion among owners. It's the closest thing to capitalism in all of pro sports.
Additional reporting by Doug Brown