Don Fehr, Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, is stepping down. Very few people in the history of sports have had such a massive impact on their profession. Some insist that Fehr was a blessing to the sport. Others are just as aliment that he was a curse on baseball.
Fehr was a blessing:
There is little doubt that Fehr has been the most powerful man in baseball since Bud “I see nothing” Selig took over as acting Commissioner and then had the acting removed. Someone had to run baseball. There is also no doubt that Fehr has been the most powerful sports union leader in the US. He has overseen the largest increase in earnings ever seen in baseball. He also has helped increase the guaranteed minimum baseball salary by a factor of nearly 5.
He has also strengthened the position of the MLBPA to the point that an owner can not sneeze without his permission. Selig couldn’t suspend a ball without first checking with the Union. But from the last strike in 94, there has been labor peace and great revenue growth.
Fehr was a curse:
Three things fall into the curse category. First and most important was the strike of 1994 that wiped out the World Series. That almost drove baseball to hockey status. But the sport recovered thanks in part to the next Fehr curse—steroids.
I don’t blame Fehr for stopping any reasonable testing policy in baseball. Selig and the owners were almost equally at fault. However, Fehr alone had the power to insist on a league wide testing program without the approval of the owners or Selig. He did not. Instead, it was steroids that drove the home run battle between Sammy “the cork” Sosa and Mark “the needle” McGwire. The chase to the single season HR record in 1998 brought the paying fans back to the ballparks. There are reasons to believe that the game might never have come back from the 94 strike had the juiced ball not met the bats of the juiced players so often.
The 2003 so called anonymous test to determine if a league wide testing program was necessary found that 104 players tested positive for steroids. Two of those names have leaked out include Sosa. The leaks have been the only thing anonymous about the test. New names will undoubtedly be leaked soon at a 24 hour sports channel near you.
The third reason people site is the 1985 strike. While this stoppage did not begin to do the damage that the 94 strike inflicted on the game, it was painful as well.
Fehr is leaving a year and a half before the next contract expiration. The rumor is that MLBPA general counsel Michael Weiner will take Fehr’s place. Weiner is considered to be more pragmatic than Fehr. We will see. But with the economic downturn, even the Yankees are down in attendance. Of course $5,000 a seat is a little much to watch the Yanks beat up on the underlings of the American League.
If we can get a deal that keeps the boys of summer on the field, Weiner will begin building his own legacy. If not, that will begin his legacy as well.
That’s what I think. Tell me what you think.
Bill Smith is a former coach of several semi-pro teams, has officiated both football and basketball, done color on radio for college football and basketball and has scouted talent. He is a senior writer for and edits https://fryingpansports.com. He has also published several novels on and edits .