Donald Fehr Steps Down as Executive Director of Major League Baseball Players Association
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Donald Fehr made his big announcement yesterday, that he was stepping down as executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, without the slightest hint of emotion. He answered questions with three-part answers -- full of legalese and subordinate clauses -- that doubled back on themselves. He acknowledged no regrets. He revealed no secrets. It was vintage Fehr.
Fehr, who steered the most powerful union in sports through an extraordinary quarter-century of exploding salary growth and steroids-related scandal with a cold single-mindedness, remained on message even as he declared his intention to resign by the end of next March, and most likely much sooner.
"I had an extraordinary opportunity," Fehr said, "and I hope I was a credit to the organization, and I hope the players believe they were better off for my having been here than not. . . . To the extent that we've had success over this period of time -- and I think we have -- the responsibility for that rests primarily with the membership."
Fehr, who turns 61 next month, is expected to be replaced by longtime heir apparent Michael Weiner, currently the union's No. 3 official. When the sport's current collective bargaining agreement expires following the 2011 season, Weiner, 47, would become just the third union head to preside over a bargaining session in the last 40-plus years, joining Marvin Miller, who headed the union from 1966 to 1982, and Fehr.
Fehr said he chose to step down now to give his successor time to prepare for the 2011 negotiations.
"It's been a pleasure working with Don over the last several years," said Chicago Cubs reliever Aaron Heilman, a member of the subcommittee that is expected to recommend to the full executive board that Weiner be promoted. "We're in a good spot because of him, and I think we're going to be moving forward in a good direction afterwards, and that's largely because of the things Marvin started and Don has continued."
Under Fehr's watch, the sport's average salary increased tenfold -- to just less than $3 million -- though achieving that required many confrontations with management, including work stoppages in 1985, 1990 and 1994-95; a collusion charge against management in the mid-1980s that resulted in a $280 million settlement; and repeated resistance toward steroids testing before a drug policy was finally implemented in 2003 -- resistance for which Fehr has been widely vilified.
"I was comfortable with the decisions we made at the times we made them," Fehr said yesterday, when pressed about the steroids issue. "We were often criticized because we seemed to pay attention to the privacy and other kinds of issues which run through this kind of a matter, and I'm confident that taking those things into account was the right thing to do. . . . Other people can say whatever they want to say. I didn't represent any other constituency except the players."
The last 16 years have marked an unprecedented run of labor peace within the sport, with the last two bargaining agreements achieved without work stoppages, or even the serious threat of one, with the current 2006 agreement reached before the previous one expired.
"For more than 25 years, Don has represented his constituency with passion, loyalty and great diligence," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.
"Although we have had our differences, I have always respected his role. In recent years, we have worked together to find common ground for the betterment of the game. . . . We hope to continue to build upon the game's prosperity as we work with the [union's] new leadership."