Fehr to step down

This is pretty major:

Don Fehr is stepping down as executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, a position he’s held since the mid-1980s, a source tells ESPN.

Fehr will be replaced by general counsel Michael Weiner, pending board approval, the source said. An announcement is expected to be made later on Monday afternoon.

Fehr, who will turn 61 in July, was voted in to lead the players’ union in December 1985.

Love him or hate him — and as the reaction starts to come out about this, be assured that it will run about 10% love, 90% hate — you can’t say the guy didn’t generally do a good job. In terms of working conditions and pay, baseball players are amazingly better off now than they were when he took over in 1985, and it was largely through Fehr’s leadership that the union was able to fend off ownership tactics which bordered on criminal at times, and which could have meant the end of the union if not successfully combatted. Here I’m talking about Collusions I, II and III and the 1994 lockout. If you want an example of how these episodes could have gone without better leadership, you need look no further than the NFL, whose union has repeatedly rolled over for ownership, and the umpires, who were absolutely destroyed by Selig and his friends.

The big exception here is PEDs, where Fehr’s instincts to fight tooth-and-nail against ownership ultimately did the union’s membership a disservice in my view. Yes, many were responsible for that mess, but it strikes me that it took Fehr too long to recognize that, unlike the often boring minutiae of the usual collective bargaining fodder, there were (a) competing interests within union membership on this issue; and (b) a strong public interest in its resolution. Fehr misread both of those things, and because of it, the players remain stuck in something of a P.R. nightmare and will for some time. I think that angle will be overplayed in the Fehr commentary that will follow in the coming days, but it’s not something that can be ignored either.

Finally, I note that the union’s general counsel will be taking over. That must mean that there will be an opening for general counsel. While I have no real labor law experience, my Exile post this morning establishes my familiarity with The Grapes of Wrath, so I do have something of a head start when it comes to issues facing working stiffs like fruit pickers and utility infielders and stuff. As such, I’d like anyone from the MLBPA who may be reading this to consider me an applicant for the job. If you must, I’ll provide a resume, but I prefer you just judge me by my firm handshake and my unwavering belief in my own abilities.

UPDATE: Via Pete Toms, here’s Rovell’s take. As I suspect, it’s all PEDs, no mention of the fact that a rookie made $60,000 a year when he took over and that the game’s biggest stars are now making ten times what they made back then. You may not like it, but that was a major part of Fehr’s mandate, and he did his job very very well.

(Thanks to Jason for the heads up)

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Comments

  1. Drew said...

    It’s the Scott Boras argument all over again.  You may not like the man and you may not like what he does, but it’s hard to argue he didn’t serve his constituency well.

    And while he may not have done a great job on the PED issue, it’s worth noting that he didn’t do demonstrably worse than anyone else who’s involved in that mess, either, since everyone dropped the ball.  Doesn’t make him look any better, really, but it’s worth mentioning that it wasn’t exactly all Fehr’s fault.

    Wonder if the new union leadership will be as strong, or if we’ll start to see some cracks in the MLBPA.

  2. Craig Calcaterra said...

    That’s an excellent point, Aarcraft.  MONSTER blunder on the part of the union in my view. I know they tried to explain it away, but it didn’t strike me as at all convincing.

    I think that was a symptom of the union’s desire to fight like hell against the owners (my impression was that they were dickering to lower the positve test results before destroying it) while losing sight of the bigger PED picture. Only that time, it went further than mere PR and, for maybe the first time in union history, threw the membership under the bus.

  3. Simon DelMonte said...

    If I were in a union,I would want someone like Fehr fighting tooth and nail to protect my rights.

  4. Jason @ IIATMS said...

    That IS a great point, Aarcraft.

    We can only wonder if there was some major pressure behind this move.  Good call!

  5. Wells said...

    This sounds crazy even as I type it, but isn’t the length, breadth, and, well, seeming success of the PED era really a credit to Fehr, in terms of labor rights? What I mean is that he was able to fend off invasive testing which the people he represented did not want. It was not his place to fight for the integrity of the game, it was his place to do the best by his “workers” (not sure why I put it in quotes, they are workers indeed), and he seems to have done that. The blame should largely be the players themselves, not Fehr.

  6. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Michael—that’s it; you’re banned.  Simply awful.

    Wells: I’m thinking about your point, but I’m inclined to think that, in this instance, the players’ long term interests in terms of fairness, P.R. and the creation of a PED-free workplace were trumped the short term interests against the imposition of testing.  Maybe we can’t expect the players to vote their long term interests at the time without prompting, but I think Fehr had a responsibility to explore the issue with membership more than he did and to try to persuade them to listen to the vocal minorities who were for testing several years ago. I’m thinking of guys like Rick Helling and others.

  7. Tripon said...

    If we’re going to credit with Fehr raising salaries in baseball, we should also criticize him for his missteps this past off season, primarily Fehr and the MLBPA recommending to the majority of Free agents with Type-A tags to decline, and help flood the market with talent that suppressed salaries.

  8. Ron said...

    Sure, the players are better off.

    Some might even say the owners are better off.

    But what about the fans? I don’t see how we’re better off, and without the fans, there really isn’t a game.

    Both sides have ignored the fanbase all along and gotten what they’ve wanted. What we’ve gotten is rediculous prices on everything. That should be the legacy of all of them.

  9. Simon Oliver Lockwood said...

    Minor quibble—1994 was a strike, the lockout was 1990.  I’m not saying that 1994 wasn’t a justified strike—the owners would have locked them out in 1995 and tried to unilaterally impose a salary cap etc.

  10. Jason B said...

    Rob x 2, can I get that in the form of a motion?  I second it.  Baseball nostalgia, like every other form, tends to fuzzily remember the “grand old days” while glossing over the apparent (or not-so-apparent) problems of the day.  Too, I think the problems in the modern-day game are somewhat inflated by the 24-hour non-stop news and analysis cycle, which wasn’t running full bore circa 1970.

    It’s so easy to focus on Manny, Roger, Barry, and the rest of the PED patrol; the pricey, empty seats behind home plate at the bandbox that is new Yankee stadium; and Rick Sutcliffe negatively impacting the IQ and/or blood pressure of everyone within earshot, and forget all of the wonderful things that are right and good about the game. 

    Which you summarized quite nicely. 

    Well said.

    And the Orioles are a *fantastic* organization.

  11. Rob² said...

    @Ron – I don’t buy it.  The ridiculous prices are completely caused by the popularity of the game.

    Have the PED-infused successes of the past 20 years tarnished the game?  Perhaps.  But if so, it’s sure not showing up at the ticket offices (or the souvenir stands, or the web sites, or the cable packages, or the broadcasting rights, or the advertising deals).

    The bottom line is that prices are an effect of high demand.  Do we really want to go back to $10 box seats and half-empty stadiums?

    Is the game perfect?  No, and it never will be.  But it’s a hell of a lot better today than it was 20, 15, or even 10 years ago.

  12. Rob² said...

    @Simon – The 1994 strike became a lockout, although I believe that wasn’t until spring training 1995.

  13. Ron said...

    I’m sorry, Rob, I thought you were talking about the game. You know, the action on the field. The interataction of players?

    Sure the periphials of the game are better. If your a style over substance kind of person. You probably go to a music concert of the laser show.

    But back to the game. You know, throw the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball? How is better now than it was 20 years ago? I don’t care about the periphials. I don’t go to a game for the menu, the organ music, the video scoreboard and the mascots. I go for what happens on the field.

    Which is why the situation is the way it is. People are more concerned about the periphials than the game itself.

    But you specifically said the game was better now than it was 20 years ago. You still haven’t addressed that. How exactly is the game better now that it was 20 years ago?

    References to players, teams, and actual events are always helpful.

  14. Jason said...

    “I started watching the game in 1972, and it was pretty good back then. Ticket prices were lower per averager than they are today, parking was lower, concessions and soveniers were lower.”

    Ron, aren’t these periphials?

    “But back to the game. You know, throw the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball? How is better now than it was 20 years ago?”

    In general, players are bigger, faster, and stronger.  They throw the ball, hit the ball, and catch the ball better than they did 20 years ago.

  15. Ron said...

    Rob, saying the game is better today than it was 20 years ago doesn’t mean it is just because you want it to.

    I started watching the game in 1972, and it was pretty good back then. Ticket prices were lower per averager than they are today, parking was lower, concessions and soveniers were lower.

    There were lots of great players. The stadiums all might have been cookie cutters, but they weren’t bandboxes designed to artificially inflate the offenset to cater to a clientele who go for the ‘experience’ and not the game itself.

    There was great hitting, great pitching, great speed, and great defense, and there were some pretty good pennant races, playoff series and World Series.

    I’ll concede the point if you can provide a few examples of exactly how the game is better today than it was 20 years ago. You might be 100% right. But can you offer something to back that up?

  16. Rob² said...

    @Ron – Are you kidding?  Let me take a crack at this:

    - I can watch or listen to just about any and every baseball game I want over just about any and every broadcast medium I choose.

    - There are nationally broadcast games 4 or five days a week.

    - I can read about (and get the latest scores, statistics, and standings for) my favorite team anywhere in the world.  On my phone, no less.

    - Box scores, statistics, and standings are updated with virtually every pitch.

    - No more waiting three days to get the west coast results.

    - There are millions of words printed every day on the subject of baseball, from ESPN to SI to my local paper to Shysterball to however many hundreds of other well-written, intelligent blogs that are also out there.  For free.

    - Baseball-Reference.com has statistics for every player in every season for every team that ever existed, and I can look that all up for free.

    -  Retrosheet.org has the play-by-play for almost every game ever played.  Again, for free.

    - There are oceans of new data being analyzed every day to piece together new understanding about how the game works (e.g., DIPS, PECOTA, etc.)

    - Food and amenities at the ballpark are way better than they were 20 or 30 or 40 years ago.  Sushi in San Francisco.  Fish Tacos in San Diego.  Guinness in Boston.  Microbrews in New York.

    And this is just the fans’ experience.  I haven’t even mentioned the fact that the players are simply better.  They’re better conditioned.  They’re better prepared.  They’re better treated.  They’re better compensated.

    There are great hitters, great pitchers, great basestealers, and great defenders.  And for all the complaining about the impurity of the wild card, its introduction has created both great pennant races AND great playoff runs.

    So spare me the “good old days” argument.  The 1970s were a great time for baseball, so were the 80s.  And yes, things are more expensive today than they were 30 years ago.  And yes, players get paid many more times what they did 40 years ago.  But all of this is driven by the fact that attendance is up, people love the game, and they’re willing to pay for it.

    And in turn, that demand has spawned all of these wonderful advances in how we watch and follow the game.

  17. Rob² said...

    @Ron – Are you kidding?  Let me take a crack at this:

    I can watch or listen to just about any and every baseball game I want over just about any and every broadcast medium I choose.

    There are nationally broadcast games 4 or five days a week.

    I can read about (and get the latest scores, statistics, and standings for) my favorite team anywhere in the world.  On my phone, no less.

    Box scores, statistics, and standings are updated with virtually every pitch.

    No more waiting three days to get the west coast results.

    There are millions of words printed every day on the subject of baseball, from ESPN to SI to my local paper to Shysterball to however many hundreds of other well-written, intelligent blogs that are also out there.  For free.

    Baseball-Reference has statistics for every player in every season for every team that ever existed, and I can look that all up for free.

    Retrosheet has the play-by-play for almost every game ever played.  Again, for free.

    There are oceans of new data being analyzed every day to piece together new understanding about how the game works (e.g., DIPS, PECOTA, etc.)

    Food and amenities at the ballpark are way better than they were 20 or 30 or 40 years ago.  Sushi in San Francisco.  Fish Tacos in San Diego.  Guinness in Boston.  Microbrews in New York.

    And this is just the fans’ experience.  I haven’t even mentioned the fact that the players are simply better.  They’re better conditioned.  They’re better prepared.  They’re better treated.  They’re better compensated.

    There are great hitters, great pitchers, great basestealers, and great defenders.  And for all the complaining about the impurity of the wild card, its introduction has created both great pennant races AND great playoff runs.

    So spare me the “good old days” argument.  The 1970s were a great time for baseball, so were the 80s.  And yes, things are more expensive today than they were 30 years ago.  And yes, players get paid many more times what they did 40 years ago.  But all of this is driven by the fact that attendance is up, people love the game, and they’re willing to pay for it.

    And in turn, that demand has spawned all of these wonderful advances in how we watch and follow the game.

  18. Seattle Zen said...

    Donald Fehr himself made the MLBPA not only the strongest union in sports, but most people in labor law believe them to be the strongest union, period.

    In the history of professional sports labor relations, there are only two names to know, Marvin Miller and Donal Fehr. The rest are no where close.

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