End of an era: Fehr to retire as head of baseball players’ union

  • Mon Jun 22nd, 2009 11:01pm
  • Sports

By Ronald Blum Associated Press

NEW YORK — Donald Fehr’s quarter century in charge of the players’ association was marked by a strike that canceled the World Series, record salaries and eventually 14 years of labor peace.

And to his detractors, it was marred by a go-slow approach to steroids.

Fehr, who turns 61 next month, said Monday he will leave the powerful union no later than the end of March. Fehr recommended that he be succeeded by union general counsel Michael Weiner, the No. 3 official and his longtime heir apparent. The move is subject to approval by the union’s executive board and possible ratification by all players.

The 47-year-old Weiner will lead negotiations for the next contract; the current labor agreement expires in December 2011. Weiner and Steve Fehr, the union leader’s brother, were the primary day-to-day negotiators of labor contracts in 2002 and 2006, baseball’s first since 1970 that were achieved without a work stoppage.

Players, concentrating on the economics, always backed Fehr.

“He’d talk like a lawyer, but in the same sense, he would also slow it down and explain it for us,” Colorado’s Todd Helton said.

Fehr headed negotiations for five labor contracts plus a divisive August 2002 drug agreement that was revised three times under congressional pressure. He decided he didn’t want to negotiate the next labor contract in two years and wanted to give Weiner lead time.

“After a while, it wears you down,” Fehr said. “I think it will be good for everybody.” Fehr took over as acting executive director on Dec. 8, 1983. That was 2½ weeks after players fired Kenneth Moffett.

Fehr led players through a two-day strike in 1985, then became executive director on a full-time basis the following January. His early years were defined by collusion. The union successfully charged management with conspiring against free agents following the 1985, 1986 and 1987 seasons in violation of the labor contract and settled the cases for $280 million.

“He’s done so many good things for the game, even more so for the players,” Mets reliever and union representative J.J. Putz said. “But you know, he said enough was enough, and that he was tired.”

Baseball’s average salary was $289,000 when he took over 26 years ago, and it rose to $2.9 million by last year. Although players fended off management’s repeated attempts to obtain a salary cap, he has been criticized by some for not agreeing to drug testing until 2002.

“If we, I, had known or understood what the circumstances were a little better, then perhaps we would have moved sooner,” Fehr said.

Weiner has been with the players’ association since September 1988 and has been its general counsel since February 2004. The No. 2 official is Gene Orza, the chief operating officer.