SBD/Issue 191/Leagues & Governing Bodies

MLBPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr Stepping Down From Influential Post

Fehr Will Step Down No Later Than March '10
MLBPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr yesterday said that he will step down from the position "no later than the end of March 2010," ending a 26-year run in which he "won immense riches for the players but drew increasing criticism for his handling of the sport's involvement with performance-enhancing drugs," according to Michael Schmidt of the N.Y. TIMES. Fehr recommended MLBPA General Counsel Michael Weiner, who has "effectively run the union's day-to-day operations over the past decade," to succeed him. Fehr has "often been described as the most powerful man in his sport and for many years was widely depicted as one of the most successful union leaders in the country." Fehr led the MLBPA in negotiations over franchise expansion, interleague play and revenue sharing, "all of which helped industry revenues expand at fantastic rates," but his image was "tarnished in recent years as the use of performance-enhancing drugs among players cast a cloud over the sport." MLB Network's Bob Costas said Fehr was a "brilliant negotiator" who "won more battles than he lost and did incredibly powerful things for players and the game." But he added, "When it came to steroids, he and the union were 100[%] wrong" (N.Y. TIMES, 6/23).

THE TIME IS RIGHT: Fehr said of leaving his position, "Whenever you’re in a situation like I have been in in which you’ve been doing the same job as the boss, as the director, for 25 years, there comes a point in time in which you say to yourself, ‘Is it time for a change? Is it the right thing for you to do? Is it the right thing for the organization?’ And the conclusion I came to some months ago was yes that this was the right time” (ESPN.com, 6/22). Fehr said that he is "in good health and simply wanted to explore other things 'before I got too long in the tooth.'" Fehr said that he "decided to leave now to give the union an opportunity to select a new leadership team for the next round of labor negotiations." MLB Commissioner Bud Selig in a statement said of Fehr, "Although we have had our differences, I have always respected his role" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 6/23). USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale notes Fehr's resignation "will take effect once the players association executive board approves Weiner." Fehr: "It's not to say I lost my taste for it, but I've done it for a very long time." Fehr added that the timing of the announcement "coincides with preparations to begin soon on the next labor agreement" (USA TODAY, 6/23).

LOOKING BACK TO HIS GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Fehr said there are two things he is most proud of during his tenure heading the union. Fehr: "On a very large-scale basis, this has been a period in which unions in general and the union movement in general have been in sort of a slow, steady decline for most of the last 30 years almost. We’ve been able throughout that period to maintain a strong, vibrant, cohesive union, and we’ve been able to represent the players very well and negotiate what we think are appropriate and fair terms and conditions of employment. That takes a lot of work and it takes a very resolved, committed and united membership. To have been able to accomplish that and to have been able to continue the work that Marvin Miller began so many years ago really gives one an enormous sense of satisfaction." He added he also will remember that after "close to 40 years of labor strife in baseball, we were able to negotiate two successive agreements without a work stoppage. One went to the edge; that was 2002. But in 2006, we were able to get it done even without the threat of a strike or a lockout. ... The biggest part of that agreement was the ability to work with the commissioner’s office and the clubs on the revenue-sharing arrangements and the effects that those have on free agency and salary arbitration and so on” (ESPN.com, 6/22).

Selig (l), Fehr Have Often Disagreed On
Performance-Enhancing Drug Issues
IMPERFECT RECORD: In N.Y., Madden, Rubin, O'Keeffe & Vinton write as much as Fehr's tenure will be "marked by his cold-blooded resolve on salary issues, his baseball legacy will also be noted for his fierce opposition to anti-doping policies" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 6/23). Fehr said that he "understood criticism of his stance" on performance-enhancing drugs in MLB but that he "did what he could for the union." Fehr: "I didn't represent anybody but the players." Test results for Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez and former MLBer Sammy Sosa from MLB's survey testing in '03 have been leaked in recent months, and Astros P and MLBPA Exec Board member LaTroy Hawkins said, "The only nick in his armor for 26 years were those tests. No one's happy about it. He didn't have the luxury of hindsight" (USA TODAY, 6/23). USA TODAY's Nightengale notes Fehr was "widely criticized by Congress and owners for the union's resistance to drug testing," and Fehr yesterday reiterated that he "didn't realize the extent of steroid use in baseball" (USA TODAY, 6/23). Fehr "preferred to point to the recent improvements made to clean up baseball, although he admitted if he had better understood the circumstances he would have 'moved sooner' to clean up the game" (N.Y. POST, 6/23).

PLAYERS REACT: Marlins 3B and assistant player rep Wes Helms said MLB is "set up for the future" thanks to Fehr. Helms: "We've built a foundation where we've basically been taken care of. Don has been a great contributor to that. He's done exceptionally well. I think all the players in the game today owe him a lot. We've been taken care of very well." Former MLBer Orel Hershiser: "He worked very hard for us. I thought he was a good listener. As skilled as he was as a negotiator, his real skill was keeping things together and not panicking when things got tough." Former MLBer Norm Charlton: "He had to bite his tongue and not say things when he wanted to, but he was a great leader for our union and will be missed dearly" (MLB.com, 6/23). Mets P and player rep J.J. Putz: "Don was so great for us, done so many good things for the game and the players" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 6/23). Yankees LF Johnny Damon: "He helped shape what baseball is today. He helped a lot of players have great lives through his knowledge and persistence. I'm happy he was in charge" (BOSTON GLOBE, 6/23). Cubs P and MLBPA Exec Board member Aaron Heilman: "We're in a good spot because of him, and I think we're going to be moving forward in a good direction afterwards" (WASHINGTON POST, 6/23). Cardinals P and player rep Adam Wainwright: "There's no question about what he's done for our union. He's been through thick and thin. (And) he held fast to what he believed in. That's his job and that was the best thing for the players" (STLTODAY.com, 6/22). Former MLBer Barry Larkin: “All players owe him a great deal of gratitude. I’m very proud to have been able to serve with him. His leadership was just incredible" ("Quick Pitch," MLB Network, 6/22). Cubs 1B Derrek Lee: "He did a great job. It's sad to see him go" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 6/23).

Weiner Has Played Pivotal Role
In Recent CBA Negotiations
NEXT IN LINE: ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick noted Weiner has been a "pivotal figure" in recent CBA talks and the union's "point man on everything from player grievances to salary arbitration preparation." He has "gained credibility across the board -- with players, agents, baseball executives and people in the commissioner's office -- for his evenhandedness and lack of ego." Players "think highly of Weiner because he has their best interests at heart and doesn't talk down to them." Meanwhile, agents "appreciate him because he values their opinions, and the people at MLB respect him because he doesn't need to see his name in the paper or engage in saber rattling for the fun of it." Crasnick: "The consensus is that Weiner will continue to find a way to reach out and find common ground with the commissioner's office on issues ranging from the game's economics to drug testing to the World Baseball Classic." Weiner and MLB Exec VP/Labor Relations Rob Manfred have "spent years cultivating a more constructive, respectful tone, and that's likely to remain the case moving forward" (ESPN.com, 6/22). As part of the succession plan, Weiner yesterday met with Fehr and Miller in the union's conference room. Miller said of Weiner, "He's a bright guy. He's certainly not lacking in experience. He's got the background for it" (AP, 6/22). 

EASY TRANSITION: A's P and player rep Brad Ziegler said of Fehr recommending Weiner as his successor, "They're allowing everybody to kind of sit and think about, 'Is this the direction we want to go? Do we want to consider other names?' But I think that's their strong recommendation. ... As far as an easy transition goes, it's very likely that there would be no easier transition than having him step in" (Sirius XM, 6/22). MLB Network’s Sean Casey noted Weiner has "really kind of started taking over" meetings with teams during Spring Training in recent years, so players "could see the change of guard coming” (“Quick Pitch,” MLB Network, 6/22). In Chicago, Rogers & Van Dyck write MLBPA COO Gene Orza "seemed to have been in line to replace Fehr, but Weiner is more likely to provide a new direction." The change is "targeted to come March 31, 2010, but could happen sooner" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 6/23).

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