The MLBPA is now the strongest union in sports. Headed by Don Fehr, the union came, saw, and conquered the collective bargaining world. The players couldn't have asked for a better negotiator.
Don Fehr decided to step down as head of the MLBPA on Monday.
Under Fehr's leadership the contracts of baseball players have become more and more beneficial to the players, at a cost to everyone else.
The era of performance-enhancing drugs was so effectively swept under the rug that with it now being slowly revealed, the pain hurts that much more. Though that may have served the purposes of the players at the time, the game has become full of suspicion and fear that shouldn't have ever existed.
Fehr's reign will be defined by the players love for him, but everyone else feeling slightly burned.
How did he affect the Toronto Blue Jays?
In 1994, the MLBPA decided to strike. After two years of championships, the momentum built by the Jays was effectively killed. They haven't sniffed the playoffs since, and the new age has made the building of another championship near impossible.
For those who forget the 1992-93 championship teams, they were built by cobbling together a squad full of hired guns and Toronto-grown talent.
Joe Carter, Roberto Alomar, and Devon White were all added from abroad. They signed Jack Morris away from the Minnesota Twins, and added Dave Winfield to play DH.
In 1993 they would sign Paul Molitor and Dave Stewart to help win back-to-back championships. This was all under a more conservative contract between the players and owners.
Then in 1994 the players' strike was called. Things had quickly been deteriorating between the union and the owners, and the season was cancelled.
Make no mistake, there is no single person to blame for the strike and the ensuing fallout. It was ironically a team effort by everyone involved.
The owners wanted a salary cap to protect their coffers, and the union and Fehr wanted to protect the financial status of their players.
How unfortunate for a team like the Montreal Expos, who were on pace to make the playoffs, and were even being heralded as potential World Series Champions. The franchise would never recover, and now resides in Washington.
The average MLB salary for players was $1.18 million in 1994. It now sits at around $3 million. There is still no salary cap; instead we have a competitive balance tax that fines teams who go over the threshold.
Those teams can already afford such luxuries, while smaller market teams have been forced to roll up pennies to compete.
Poorer franchises have had to become smarter with their minor league systems. The two teams in the World Series last year were Tampa Bay and Philadelphia. They were manned mostly by homegrown talent that will soon garner salaries that will outpace the teams' budgets.
Fehr also made getting premier talent akin to selling a kidney. This is especially true in the American League, where the designated hitter makes strategy more about putting the right players in the right positions, with much less emphasis on substitution.
Toronto was topping four million fans a season before the 1994 strike. Now we're lucky to see half that; and it's severely hampered the Jays' ability to sign big name free agents.
The Jays felt the sting with the departure of A.J. Burnett this off-season. To acquire a guy who had a questionable history, but tons of potential, the Jays had to overpay.
Burnett pitched two mediocre seasons, turned in an excellent one last year (a contract year), and then fled for New York and the big money made available to guys with dubious pedigrees.
Agents like Scott Boras have seen their fortunes rise because they can negotiate an unreasonable salary knowing that some team will match it. Teams like Toronto will continue to draft great young talent and then not be able to keep affording its services when it grows up.
Fehr was the best friend a baseball player could ever have. He's made more people millionaires than Publisher's Clearing House.
Baseball has become more of a distant science than ever. Teams who want to compete with tiny budgets must watch stats like hawks, almost completely abandoning the human element. Who cares about character when a guys on-base percentage is that good?
First-round draft picks are being allowed to dictate their price to their teams without having played a single game. Teams are having to think twice about drafting the best talent, knowing that the price they have to pay will bankrupt their team at the present.
To be blunt, it kinda sucks.
It's understandable for players trying to make their money; they only have a short window to earn it before their skills erode.
What about the fans though?
We'll never make in a lifetime what these players do in a year. We might not be able to top 90 mph on the radar gun, or hit .300, but how are we expected to keep paying for a watered-down product full of players that are slowly growing more distant from us?
Sure, that's naive. Baseball is a business, and the bottom line is the ring of a cash register. We fans forget that when we moan about overpaid athletes. Sometimes you just have to accept that's the way things are.
In recent years, Major League Baseball has become a lot more fun, and has experienced a resurgence with fans. Our crusade has ended, and we have begun to love the game again.
But the road back has been paved with the bodies of loyal fans and losing teams that may never compete again.
Don Fehr did a lot of good things, and the fans should hire him to negotiate ticket prices next year. That would be a fitting career arc.
Toronto fans owe a lot to Fehr.