Don Fehr should resign.
Make no mistake, he’s done a great deal of good for the players. Major league baseball players enjoy guaranteed contracts, a lucrative pension, the freest free agency system in professional sports and the list goes on.
However it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Major League Baseball Players Association needs to both reinvent itself and paradoxically, get back to its roots.
Right now, Bud Selig looks like the cowardly member of a gang of bullies who pushes someone who could clean his clock because of the gang of thugs he has at his back. Selig, emboldened by Congress, has started shoving Fehr backwards in effect sneering: “So what are ya gonna do about it huh? Are ya scared? Go ahead, start something, I dare ya!”
It’s not just the steroid issue either. The U.S. government, for reasons only known to themselves (although the commander-and-chief being a former owner of the Texas Rangers may be a partial explanation), felt obligated to ask about the economic structure that pervades the sport.
The owners got a stiff luxury tax which many teams treat as a salary cap, onerous team debt rules, the right to unilaterally contract and drug testing wrung out of the MLBPA during the last round of collective bargaining. Then they succeeded in getting the union to re-open the CBA to stiffen drug testing and penalties and are on the verge of getting the MLBPA to do it again.
“So what are ya gonna do about it huh? Are ya scared? Go ahead, start something, I dare ya!”
The CBA is set to expire, and management has a big club they can wield over the head of the Players Association to wring yet more economic concessions out of their collective hides — contraction.
‘We’ve got 50 jobs — how bad do you want to save them?’
How did Don Fehr and the MLBPA end up on the defensive?
Largely, it is the fault of Fehr and Gene Orza. They didn’t do their jobs. The MLBPA didn’t represent the interests of all the players and apparently focused on the superstars — the ones who push up the salary bar. This is a mutation of one of Marvin Miller’s ideals: Let the best set the salary scale. It morphed under Fehr in that rather than being on tool in the union’s belt, it became the tool, the whole raison d’etre of the MLBPA.
Of course, the rising tide lifting all boats seems to on the wane for the players in that an increasing number of clubs have (I can’t believe I’m typing this) been getting smarter. We’re seeing more and more non-tendered free agents/players not offered arbitration which is flooding the market [with players]. Teams are saying: “Why should I offer arbitration to lefty setup man/slick fielding-light hitting middle infielder if he’s going to file for $2.5 million when I can get a comparable player (via non-tenders/farm team/somebody else’s AAA club) for 20% of that?” Owners are starting to come to grips with what is a fungible commodity and what is not. So if a player sets a new market value in free agency for a certain skill-set that’s reasonably easy to replace, teams will just cut loose players who might benefit from the new market values.
What has happened is that Fehr has led his troops into the position that allowed the MLBPA to achieve such great gains against ownership — stratification and splintering of economic interests.
Further undermining the union’s solidarity has been drug testing. It appears that Fehr and Orza had been ignoring the majority of their constituents’ wishes to get performance-enhancing drugs out of the sport. Who was Fehr listening to before then? Marvin Miller? The superstars? His ingrained intransigence against anything that emanated from the other side of the bargaining table? Miller made the union stronger by building consensus whereas Fehr and his inner circle seemed to be formulating strategy and hoping that the silent majority of players would fall into step.
Miller was downright prescient when he wrote in his autobiography that when one side becomes complacent, the other side grows bolder, and that holding your place, marking time, attempting to maintain the status quo was an invitation to be shoved backwards. The MLBPA has been content to do little more than see how high the salary bar could be pushed while leaving its flank unguarded.
Fehr left gaps in the union wide enough to drive a light destroyer through. Selig and his cronies have taken advantage and will continue to do so.
Further complicating matters for the MLBPA is the changing face of its own membership. Players from around the world are coming to the big leagues and the numbers figure to increase. Two choices have to be made, educate them in the importance of union solidarity and bring them into the loop or roll the dice and hope for the best.
Hence the need for the MLBPA to re-invent itself. Fehr has shown little flexibility over the years. Like ownership in the early years of Marvin Miller, Fehr has relied on the blunt power of the union to maintain the status quo much the same way as ownership did under the old reserve system. When Miller started bringing the subtle nuances of labor relations and collective bargaining into MLB, management had no idea what to do for years and simply used the anti-trust exemption and the reserve clause as a blunt instrument to try to keep the status quo in place.
History tells us exactly how well that turned out.
The MLBPA needs a leader willing to look at MLB circa 2005 and adapt to the changing face in baseball. It needs someone who can build a consensus among scrub and superstar; American, Asian, Latino and eventually other parts of the globe who will come to entertain us with their talents.
They need an educator, a consensus builder, a creative thinker as well as someone who understands the importance of union. Without solidarity, the union stands to lose the ground that so many players sacrificed to gain. Make no mistake Selig and company will not treat the players fairly out of the goodness of their hearts. Ownership will take as much as they possibly can out of the MLBPA. Unless they can close ranks and bar the door, the players union will have found they have gone from Curt Flood to Curt Lemay in less than four decades.
As you know, back on May 2nd, the Reds bullpen had a serious meltdown against the Cardinals as Cincinnati relievers David Weathers and Danny Graves snatched defeat from the jaws of victory coughing up seven runs in the ninth turning a 9-3 lead into a 10-9 loss.
My life would be a lot happier if relievers had never been invented. As a Blue Jays fan I have been subjected to some amazing late inning histrionics which have left me scarred for life. I still wake up screaming in a cold sweat as the memories of Bill Caudill, Joey McLaughlin, Tony Castillo, Mike Timlin etc. etc. etc. intrude upon my otherwise sweet repose. I swear to God that they’ve left me so angry that I could see through the space-time continuum and speak in tongues.
I’ll never forget Opening Day, 1997. Mike Timlin had been anointed the Blue Jays closer. Pat Hentgen pitched eight gusty innings and going into the ninth the Jays led the Chicago White Sox 5-4. Timlin comes in to pitch the final frame for his first save opportunity as the “official closer.” On his very first pitch he coughs up a home run to Norberto Martin to blow the save. Norberto FREAKING Martin. The same Norberto Martin who hit a whopping seven home runs in his major league career.
If there were such a thing as the Force, some of these guys not only would’ve turned me to the Dark Side, but I would’ve curled my fingers and, through the TV screen, choked the life out of them. As it was, I simply sat by helplessly as they choked the game away.
I know I’m not alone in my misery. Other teams have had relievers who were to fire-fighting what Jeffery Dahmer was to vegetarianism, the guys who came out of the bullpen with a can of gasoline, an acetylene torch, a butane lighter and a bellows. Pitchers who couldn’t buy fire insurance if they lived in Atlantis, relievers who could be counted on to go up like Johnny Torch and were baseball’s answer to Thich Quang Duc.
So I went to the staff at The Hardball Times to ask them about late inning/ninth inning disasters. As usual, they didn’t let me down. Here are some of the best:
May 1, 1973, Giants/Astros (SF)
Giants 8, Pirates 7
Bob Moose pitches 8 2/3 innings and leaves the game with the bases loaded and a 7-1 lead. Ramon Hernandez relieves Moose. Pinch hitter Chris Arnold hits a grand slam off of Hernandez, who gives up three more runs without getting an out. This may rank as the greatest single act of baseball arson ever perpetrated by a single reliever.
April 15, 1994 Jays/Angels (ANA)
Angels 14, Jays 13
Jays lead 13-7, and the Angels notch seven runs in ninth off of firebugs Mike Timlin, Todd Stottlemyre, and Scott Brow. I stayed up late to listen to this contest on the radio. Being a west coast game, I was up to the early morning hours. Suffice it to say, there wasn’t enough caffeine in the world to change my surly attitude that day.
June 8, 1998 Red Sox vs. Braves (ATL)
Red Sox lead 6-1 going into the final frame and Tom “Flash[point]” Gordon and John “Way-Back” Wasdin give up six runs and only get one out to lose 7-6.
May 22, 2000 Astros vs. Brewers (MIL)
Astros lead Brewers 9-2 heading into the ninth, Doug Henry, Jose Cabrera, and Billy Wagner do the honors to the tune of seven runs. Lose 10-9 in 10.
August 5, 2001 Mariners/Indians (CLE)
Seattle blows 14-2 lead as Indians score 12 runs in the 7-8-9 off of John Halama, Norm Charlton, Jeff Nelson and Kazuhiro Sasaki. Indians win in 11. It was truly a group effort. There is no “I” in team but there’s a couple in “immolation.”
August 1, 2003 Pirates/Rockies (PITT)
Pirates 12, Rockies 11
Rockies lead 11-6: Justin Speier and Adam Bernero surrender six runs in the ninth. Justin Speier is now with the Blue Jays attempting to do what Freddy Kreuger did so well — kill me in my dreams.