Sunday, June 28, 2009

Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead

Don Fehr, the soon-to-be former executive director of the Major League
Baseball Player's Association is calling it quits after more than 25
years at the helm of the strongest players union in professional sports.

Fehr will no doubt be anointed soon. Not to the Baseball Hall of Fame,
mind you, but by some sportswriter who will say that Fehr should be in
the Hall, much like sportswriter Bob Ryan has said that former baseball
union chief Marvin Miller should be enshrined.

But aren't honors like the Hall of Fame reserved for people who made the
game better?

Fehr's legacy is hard to pinpoint just yet, given that he presided over
two work stoppages in baseball, the loss of a World Series, and well,
all that pesky drug business.

I know what you're thinking, and yes, if the job of a union leader is to
get the best deal for his constituents, then Fehr did a great job since
taking over the union in 1983 from Ken Moffett.

But at what price? Fehr's hard stance led to an almost predictable,
quadrennial fear by fans that baseball would not get started in the
spring, would have to stop somewhere in the middle of the season, or
worse yet, not finish a season.

Not even two World Wars could stop the World Series. But Donald Fehr

In 1994, the player's strike and contentious labor situation led Major
League Baseball to cease play on August 12th. The playoffs and World
Series were cancelled when a collective bargaining agreement could not
be reached. That strike damaged the entire history of baseball. While
there is lots of blame to go around for that, Fehr should have his.

That 1994 strike continued well into 1995, causing the 1995 season to be
reduced to a 144 game schedule. There was also the "forgotten" strike in
1985. It only lasted 2 days, but it was no fun for those of us working
in baseball. I was part of the front office staff for a National League
baseball club in Flushing, New York, and it was a difficult few days, as
we had no idea what was going to happen to our lives or the game of
baseball that we loved.

Players, on the other hand, had no such fears. Unlike their blue collar
union brethren who walk picket lines, the players lost precious little
salary. The season was extended or games squeezed in, to make up for
lost games due to work stoppages. The players got paid, and paid well.

When $1 million wasn't enough of an average salary, Fehr got it up to $2
million. When that wasn't enough, he got the players to more than $3
million, and still climbing.

Climbing like the price of that ticket to Yankee Stadium. So Fehr's
outstanding representation of the owners was at the cost of higher
ticket prices and crass commercialism in baseball.

And then there was the drug testing. Fehr stonewalled on the issue as
long as he could, even as his own constituents were shooting more and
more junk into their butts. The players, the game, and the integrity of
its statistics all took a hit.

But Fehr insisted the problem wasn't all that big a deal, until the
evidence mounted. Then he claimed that he had underestimated the extent
of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs in baseball. To be
fair, there is some subtle evidence that he really did not know. He was
so confident that steroid use was minimal, that he agreed to a deal
whereby limited drug testing of ballplayers would occur, and a higher
level of testing and punishment would kick in only if the random testing
reached a 5% plateau. That level was reached, meaning that AT LEAST 1
in 20 players were cheating.

So Fehr was either ignorant of the extent of drug use in Baseball,
stupid for allowing wider drug testing if the 5% threshold was reached,
or criminal in trying to block further testing if he knew what was going

And Fehr left Baseball as the only sport without a salary cap.

So Don Fehr leaves his post having made the lives of baseball players
better. We're just not certain that the game of baseball is better.

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