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Donald Fehr to step down

ESPN is reporting that MLBPA honcho Don Fehr is stepping down:

Don Fehr is stepping down as executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, a position he’s held since the mid-1980s, a source tells ESPN.

Fehr will be replaced by general counsel Michael Weiner, pending board approval, the source said. An announcement is expected to be made later on Monday afternoon.

Fehr, who will turn 61 in July, was voted in to lead the players’ union in December 1985.

Let’s be clear here: Don Fehr is not a popular man. Indeed, he’s the only guy the baseball-loving public holds in lower esteem than Bud Selig, and that really takes some doing. He has been blamed for everything bad that has happened in baseball since 1985, be it the 1994-95 lockout, the steroids mess, huge player salaries, baggy pants, gold chains and everything else that differentiates baseball of today from the baseball of yesterday.

The thing about him, though, is that the only people he cares about -- the players whose interests he represents -- owe just about everything good that has happened to them in that time to him as well. Those things include his handling of the 1994-95 lockout, the huge salaries, their right to wear baggy pants and gold chains and just about everything else that differentiates baseball of today from the baseball of yesterday. The point here is that no matter how much you hate him, Don Fehr had one job to do and that was to make life better for the players. He did that in spades. A rookie made $60,000 a year when Fehr took over and the game’s biggest stars made around $2 million. Today they’re making ten times what they made back then. More importantly, back in 1985 the owners seemed to believe that they could break the law and collude against players, tear up the Collective Bargaining Agreement when it suited them, and generally try to run roughshod over players’ rights. That garbage stopped under Fehr’s leadership, and you can bet that the players are grateful for it.

The big exception here is PEDs. Here is where, in my view anyway, Fehr’s instincts to fight tooth-and-nail against ownership ultimately did the union’s membership a disservice. Yes, many were responsible for the steroids mess, but it took Fehr too long to recognize that, unlike your usual labor stuff, there were competing interests within union membership on the issue of PEDs and a strong public interest in the subject as well. Fehr ignored that for far too long, which had the effect of throwing both users and non-users under the public relations bus. My sense is that almost everything you’ll read about this in the coming days will greatly overplay his handling of steroids and greatly underplay his accomplishments (stuff like this), but it’s not like we can ignore that aspect of his job performance either.

According to the article, the union’s general counsel will be taking over, so you can assume that there will be little change in the union’s approach going forward. But regardless of the continuity of it all, Donald Fehr’s departure leave eaves some pretty large shoes to fill.