Donald Fehr Departs with a Complicated Legacy

Bleacher ReportSenior Analyst IJune 23, 2009

Major League Baseball announced yesterday that Donald Fehr, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), would be retiring.

Fehr issued his nine-month notice to player representatives; the notification requires him to step down from the position no later than Mar. 31, 2010.

For over a quarter century, Fehr has served in the same position. He had taken over in 1983 for former executive director Ken Moffett and was elected full-time in December '85.

Over that period of time, the fans, the media, the owners, and the players have developed a different understanding of the type of legacy that Fehr left behind.

The players know that he fought long and hard for their benefit.

Players are paid so much more now than when Fehr took over. The average player salary increased during Fehr’s tenure from $285,000 in 1983 to more than $3.3 million in 2009.

Ted Lilly, a player representative, said of Fehr to

"He was easy to talk to. You never had a problem getting a straight answer from him. From a player's perspective, it's important to have someone like Don you could ask any question you needed to. He was highly respected."

He also fought hard, and succeeded, at keeping a salary cap out of baseball.

Some may not like that stance because of the disparity between the rich and not-so-rich in the major leagues, but Fehr stood behind his agenda at all times.

The owners won’t soon forget when Fehr negotiated on behalf of the MLBPA through a free agent collusion dispute that lasted from '85-'87. During the offseasons of those years, players were being signed to unfair contracts or just not being signed at all.

The dispute cost major league owners $280 million when it was all said and done.

The fans will not soon forget the lost season of 1994 or the abbreviated start of the 1995 season. Although baseball has seen 15 years of “peace time” since then, the bitter taste of cancelling the World Series in '94 will always linger in some minds.

Fehr also faced a two-day midseason strike in 1984 and a 32-day spring training lockout in 1990.

When asked about his reasons for stepping down, Fehr, who is almost 61 years old, perhaps didn’t want to go through negotiations once more:

"Basically, there came a point in time when I had to consider if I thought it made sense for me and the organization to stay around another two to three years and negotiate the next agreement. The conclusion I finally came to was it probably didn't make a lot of sense.”

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in December 2011. Fehr wants to give the assumed-to-be new executive director Michael Weiner ample time to prepare for negotiations in 2011.

The media has carved the most recent niche in Fehr’s legacy. Unfortunately for Fehr, he will also be forever linked with steroids, PEDs, HGH, and everything in between.

The images of Bud Selig and Donald Fehr squirming in front of a Congressional committee undoubtedly have clouted some of the high points of Fehr’s time with the union.

Under his watch, there was the botching of the infamous PED tests administered in 2003.

Fehr was always in favor of keeping drug testing away from baseball because he saw it as a blatant invasion of civil liberties, but the MLBPA dropped the ball when A-Rod and Sammy Sosa's names were somehow leaked.

The test was administered to properly gauge the level of PED usage in order to form the new drug policy, and the 104 players who tested positive were supposed to remain anonymous.

So what, then, will be the lasting impressions from Fehr’s reign over the MLBPA?

Media members will remember him for the endless times he spent at odds with them, standing on the opposite side of the fence from their viewpoints.

Fans will remember him for letting the so-called "Steroid Era" get out of control because of the way baseball’s higher authorities turned a blind eye to the rampant usage of PEDs in the name of profit.

Players will remember him as the union director who ensured a more stable future for current major league players.

Owners will remember him as the man who cost them $280 million and as the negotiator behind the past five Collective Bargaining Agreements.

One thing is for sure: You may not like his ideologies, but you cannot deny that Fehr, in his unswerving dedication to represent and defend players’ rights to their utmost benefit, was the quintessential union leader for the MLBPA.