Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fehr to Step Down as Head of MLBPA

As has been widely reported Donald Fehr, Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, announced his retirement Monday, June 22, effective no later than the end of March 2010. Fehr’s retirement paves the way for his successor, Michael Weiner, to lead negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement. The current CBA expires with the 2011 season.

Fehr’s quarter century tenure, during which the MLBPA maintained it’s reputation as the most powerful and effective of the professional sports unions, is marked by three milestones. Fehr managed the union’s successful efforts in the court victories over the owners in the collision cases of the late 1980s. He led the resistance to the owners’ brazen attempt at union busting in 1994, calling for the strike that cancelled that year’s World Series, but restored the terms of the collective bargaining agreement sans salary cap. His final decade is marked by the reluctant inclusion of incrementally more rigorous drug testing into the CBA. The first two, especially from the perspective of the players who hired him, will be considered feathers in his cap and bolster his reputation as a highly skilled lawyer and formidable negotiator. Fehr’s handling of the union’s position on performance enhancing drugs is more ambivalent.

Initially Fehr maintained a staunch civil liberties posture toward drug testing—a holdover from the union’s position on recreational drugs. Protection of civil liberties and privacy rights is laudable and has extensive legal justification. However, it provides some cover for the cheaters and criminals at the expense of the other "clean" players. Moreover, because performance, and therefore compensation in baseball is relative, the dimensions of damage to the rank and file are quite different than with recreational drug use. It’s with this balance that Fehr has struggled, and his reluctance to more aggressively address testing and performance enhancing drugs, whether admirable or misguided, will doubtless haunt his legacy.


  1. Fehr has come under a lot of criticism in the last week (and more) for his stance on drug testing and the whole PED issue. (Including on this blog.)

    My question is, to whom was he responsible?

    Not to the owners, not to the fans. But to the players who employed him. He is the representative of the players. And, like Marvin Miller, he has been very careful to make sure that his actions have represented the desires of the players.

    I'd bet that there was not a lot of pressure from the players for the MLBPA to get out in front on the drug issue. And so Fehr didn't.

    What we do not know (with certainty) and may never know (with certainty) is what position Fehr took in private, with the players. I rather suspect he DID NOT try to get the players and the Association out in front, and that might be where one can criticize him.

    But his job was (and still is, for a while) to represent the interests of the players, not as he sees them, but as the players direct him to do.