Donald Fehr

June 25, 2009

Gwen Knapp wrote about Donald Fehr’s retirement as the head of the MLB players’ association (I still can’t refer to it as a union). “The Major League
Baseball Players Association served its members very well during Fehr’s administration, with only exception. It wasn’t the strike of 1994-95, for which Fehr and his rival, Commissioner Bud Selig, were universally reviled. The union did the right thing then, showing the owners that even the relatively pampered players of that era would not be pushed around, giving in to the kind of salary restrictions that their football and basketball brethren had accepted. Fehr did his job then. (I disagree.)                                           
But when his union resisted steroid testing, Fehr failed. The stand violated the union’s fundamental responsibility to protect the players. If the union had
forcefully opposed steroids and conceded the need for aggressive testing and punishment years ago, McGwire wouldn’t have been called in front of a
congressional committee in 2005, where he declined to answer questions that might have incriminated him.     He probably wouldn’t have broken Roger Maris’ record with 70 home runs in 1998, either, but we can’t know that. If baseball had implemented testing in the late ’80s, when the A’s and their Bash Brothers hit prime time, certain players may never have peaked as high as they did. Who knows how quickly Jose Canseco, the self-styled godfather of steroids in baseball, would have washed out?                                          
Even he can’t know. Canseco had phenomenal skills, and if he’d had the guts to test them naturally and the discipline to stay focused on the game, rather
than all the ancillary rewards, he might have been one of the greats anyway. He preferred the easy route, and no one in baseball dared divert him. 
Why didn’t agents step forward and demand something akin to the testing done at the Olympics? They were enablers, plain and simple.                                                       
So were the owners, and the commissioner. But those people, let’s be honest, don’t look out for players. Their job is to protect the game, the industry. That’s why Selig kept citing growing attendance at the height of the doping scandal. If the fans didn’t care enough to pull their financial support, then the issue didn’t
matter.                               
To the union that pulled baseball employment out of the dark ages, it should always have mattered. More to the point, the union should have known that its members, not its adversaries in ownership, would pay the ultimate price if the truth about performance-enhancing drugs was ever exposed. Fehr, more than anyone, should have known that the public likes to put a face on every misdeed. That’s how his mug became a focal point of the strike.” 
Attendance at baseball games might be down as much as 10% in some locations, but that’s not saying that baseball hasn’t reached more people because of broadcast, cable, and satellite TV (because it has).  Baseball salaries averaged $300k twenty-five years ago and have since escalated to a little less than $3 million today. The owners, for as much as they want to deny it, are ultimately and greedily responsible for that increase.                                                                                                                                    
Bob Molinaro said in HamptonRoads.com, “Even the worst indictment of his administration (Fehr) – that it failed to deal with steroids – must be shared by
the owners and Bud Selig, and everyone else who turned a blind eye to the issue.                      
Labor problems that surfaced under Fehr – three work stoppages, the cancellation of the 1994 World Series – are all but forgotten now, eclipsed by the shadow of steroids.”            
Fehr opposed testing players until 2002. He considered testing a violation of civil liberties. He now admits that he was slow to come around to what was
happening, but he had a lot of company. And while he was never able to paint a pretty face on the privacy issue, making him out to be the villain is just too
convenient.                                     
What about the personal responsibility of the players themselves? What about the owners, who never really pushed as hard for drug testing as they did for ways to make more money?”
In any event, it’s as the Sports Curmudgeon said, “Fehr and Orza- indisputably- are four letter words.”

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