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June 23, 2009

Prospectus Today

Giving Don Fehr His Due

by Joe Sheehan

There are jobs that demand of the person filling them that they be able to forgo popularity to do them well. No one likes public defenders. No one likes tax auditors. And no one likes the men who have chosen to represent baseball players as if they were a group of laborers in an industry long dominated by a paternalistic management and covered by an unquestioning press largely bought and paid for by the same.

Don Fehr took on this task and did it very well for a quarter-century. He did it as his peers in the NFL, NBA, and NHL all lost major labor battles and saw their unions weakened, or in the NFL's case completely broken and turned into a house union. The relative popularity of Fehr and his NFL counterpart, the late Gene Upshaw, ran in inverse proportion to how good each man was at his job of representing the athletes in their charge. Since 1983, when Fehr took over following the brief, unlamented stint of Ken Moffatt, the MLBPA has established itself as the most powerful players' association in sports, and one of the few successful unions in American labor. They won three grievances over collusion at a time when free agency was still in relative infancy. They beat management in the courts when necessary. Under Fehr's watch, we're into the longest stretch of labor peace since the players were serfs.

For this, Fehr became a reviled figure, first for not caving in to MLB's demands in 1994 and leading the players into a strike that lasted through the World Series, then for defending the principle of privacy, the right to refuse unwarranted searches, and the sanctity of collective bargaining, all as the public, management, and a grandstanding Congressional committee looked to trample all three.

While Fehr may have made tactical mistakes in the latter case, his actions in the first were beyond reproach, and his position that MLB was not bargaining in good faith was eventually upheld by a federal judge. It was a Pyrrhic victory, perhaps—the damage done to the game by the strike was considerable—but the only alternative to striking was to turn over all leverage to the owners, and it was his job to avoid just that. In '94, Fehr attempted to reach a no-strike/no-lockout agreement with the owners, and they refused to give him one, all but guaranteeing that they would lock the players out the following spring. He then set a strike date with an eye toward a resolution that would save the postseason. That he and his players, rather than acting commissioner Bud Selig or his cartel, is the public face of the lost season is unfortunate. The entire episode serves as an example of how little the public understands the issues involved, and how poorly the media educated them.

The second issue is more complex. At this point, sorting out the blame for steroid use in baseball over the last 15 years is impossible. Certainly, the players who used illegal substances with with the intent of gaining an advantage get the first level of blame. How far up from there you go, and how much is to be put on the MLBPA's leadership, will require perspective and information, neither of which we have right now. A handful of players have spoken out, of course, taking the easy position that there should be testing and lots of it, and some have said they pushed that position years ago. There's no reason to doubt this; what we can doubt is that these players were some majority shouted down by a minority. We can doubt this because players tolerated illegal drug use, both performance-enhancing and social, within the game for 40 years prior to the nominal steroid era. There was no internal outcry to ban amphetamines or cocaine, and there was no internal outcry to ban steroids.

This is the grand disconnect in the evaluation of Don Fehr. When Marvin Miller took over the MLBPA, there was a perception that the union would become one guy leading 500-700 others around by their noses, dictating positions straight from the labor playbook. In fact, Miller was "The Great Educator," taking the time to ensure that every player understood and was invested in the union's positions, knowing that the union was only as strong as its weakest link. He built the MLBPA by putting the players out front, by listening to them, and by showing everyone that he wasn't some strong-arming labor boss, but rather a thoughtful, determined man who had the courage of his convictions and the patience to make them yours.

Fehr learned his role under Miller, learned that the MLBPA was about the players. Despite his title and his visibility, the truth is that he is simply the public face of the thousand-odd members of his union. They vote. They have meetings. They offer opinions. There would be no way for Fehr to impose his will on this group—would a bunch of professional athletes, competitive and ego-driven, allow for this? Despite this, the perception grew, and is largely still the case, that the "players" and the "MLBPA" are separate entities. Read the coverage of the 2002 negotiations, or the various steroid matters, and see how often there are references to the players and the MLBPA as if they were somehow independent entities. The notion of an out-of-control MLBPA leading the players—the initial image of Marvin Miller and the nascent union—returned with a vengeance.

The MLBPA's positions were the players' positions first, at which point they became Don Fehr's positions. He was tasked with a set of duties we don't like to defend in America these days, such as the right to privacy, such as the need to collectively bargain, such as the right to a presumption of innocence, such as the idea that the amount of money you make doesn't justify your waiving of any of those rights or a dozen others. He represented wealthy young men very good at their profession to the best of his ability, and he did so knowing full well that he would become a public piñata by doing so. Whatever you think of the job he did, credit him for doing it in the first place.

Fehr certainly made mistakes. As the face of the MLBPA, he managed to make Bud Selig look smooth. He had neither the voice nor the presence to be effective in the public and media relations that would be so critical during his time in office. He did a terrible job of articulating the MLBPA's positions, and too often turtled when he should have come out fighting. In 1994, in 2002, in 2005, those of us who saw through the innumeracy and untruths and grandstanding wanted to see the MLBPA take a more aggressive stance. All too often, they let management and the complicit media set the terms of the public discussion, lowering the level of discussion and making it difficult, even impossible, for the players to get a fair shake in the public square. Miller educated the players and the public, and was willing to have it out when necessary. Fehr didn't sell the players' position or defend it as well.

To some extent, Fehr had no chance to build a legacy. Marvin Miller took the players from servitude to freedom. There's no follow-up act to that. Miller was up against Bowie Kuhn and a set of owners with a plantation mentality; Fehr faced off against Selig, who yanked all of the magnates in line and presented the first united front from management that the players had ever seen. Selig learned by facing off with Miller, and because of that he was a tougher adversary for Fehr.

Sure, you can point to the $3 billion the players will take home this season, but that's a slightly smaller piece of the pie then they've gotten in the past, in part because Fehr and his players lost the 2002 negotiations, which set terms for restrictions on the labor market—givebacks—that are now the structural framework for all negotiations. The summer of 2002, when the media openly contrasted the negotiations with the events of September 11, 2001, and the amount of economic illiteracy in the coverage of the issues reached a peak, would likely have played out much differently a generation prior. The 2002 players were not prepared to strike, and Fehr recognized that and made a deal; that's leadership, even if it's not remembered as such.

As time passes, as people write their books, we'll have more information about the last quarter-century, and we'll gain perspective on the issues in play, and we'll be able to better evaluate the work Don Fehr did. As he prepares to leave, though, what we can say is that Don Fehr did a thankless task to the best of his ability, sacrificing his personal popularity along the way. Much as agents take bullets for their clients, Fehr took bullets for his. We should all show such resolve.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

78 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

CurseThis
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Gee, what a surprise from you guys, a full body massage apologia for the players' hired gun.

Jun 23, 2009 09:55 AM
rating: -39
 
adminane

hahaha what a ridiculus comment mr Selig.

Jun 23, 2009 10:10 AM
rating: 1
 
Richie

Actually an accurate comment. Said from a perspective of one who figures that's what Fehr's job properly was. But this site and Joe in particular are massively pro-militant-union. Nothing illegal or immoral about their taking that stance. So why pretend they're not?

Jun 23, 2009 16:02 PM
rating: 0
 
sinfonian11

Donald Fehr did his job, and for the most part he did it well. I wholeheartedly agree with Joe's column. CurseThis, I ask you only one question. Did Donald Fehr do what he was hired to do by the MLBPA?

Jun 23, 2009 10:09 AM
rating: 2
 
relliott22

Joe Sheehan > Buster Olney. Anyone who doubts the truth of this needs only to compare their writings today on the subject of Fehr. Sheehan examines, Olney insinuates. If you agree or disagree please feel free to give this a rating.

Jun 23, 2009 10:11 AM
rating: 20
 
Matt Kory

Of course there is no comparison. I don't always agree with Mr. Sheehan, but it's rarely because he didn't examine and articulate. As for Olney, if you don't have anything nice to say...

Jun 23, 2009 10:35 AM
rating: 3
 
antoine6

Um, I just read the Olney piece, and found it to be pretty darn good. It had a different angle than Sheehan's, but what was wrong with it? He just vocalized the view of why fans didn't like Fehr. Olney gave him full credit for being very good at his job.

I can't believe you would bash a writer just for examining an issue from a different angle than what you read on here, would you? That's ridiculous. What you should have written is this:

"Joe Sheehan defends Fehr's work on behalf of the players, while Olney looks at how most fans' viewed Fehr. I like Sheehan's viewpoint better."

As it is, you seem to just be bashing Olney in some sort of sycophantic desire to appease Joe Sheehan by agreeing with everything he writes.

Jun 23, 2009 20:05 PM
rating: 1
 
Mountainhawk
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I'm not surprised, but I totally disagree. Fehr built a legacy:

* Cancellation of a World Series
* Families priced out of going to games
* Labour unrest through almost his entire term
* Protected PED Users


He was great for the players, perhaps, but he was a disaster for the fans.

Jun 23, 2009 10:18 AM
rating: -6
 
sinfonian11

Of your four points, I agree with one to a degree. That's the last point about PED's. I don't think Fehr did a good job with PED's, especially with the PR aspects of the issue. You can't hang the first two issues on Fehr. Owners have always been out to make as much money as possible (which is fine, as baseball is a business). Do you really think prices would be lower if someone like Gene Upshaw had been in charge of the MLBPA? I totally agree with Joe's contrast of the MLBPA to the other sports' players associations. As for labor unrest, there hasn't been any kind of stoppage in fifteen years. That's not bad at all.

Jun 23, 2009 10:25 AM
rating: 6
 
Schlom

And the owners deserve zero blame for these situations? I think that most people would agree that the players are more important than the "game" in baseball (the opposite is true in football). If this is true, how can all the blame go to the players and their union when the fans place more importance in them than anything else?

Jun 23, 2009 10:28 AM
rating: 2
 
Mountainhawk

Never said that.

But Fehr was part of the group that led to the situation where it is today, and to pretend it's all the evil owners fault is nonsense. The owners and players union are both responsible for the absurdness of the economics of the game today.

Jun 23, 2009 10:41 AM
rating: 2
 
cbirkemeier

I agree with sinfonian11, but I want to add something regarding the last point - Protected PED Users. No matter what percentage of his clients were users, isn't protecting his clients part of his job?

As for "He was great for the players, perhaps, but he was a disaster for the fans," his clients were the players, not the fans.

Jun 23, 2009 11:04 AM
rating: 4
 
Mountainhawk
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His clients were the players, but in the entertainment industry, he also has to make sure that the product that is a result of his negotations is entertaining and affordable to the fans as well, and in that he failed.

Jun 23, 2009 11:07 AM
rating: -7
 
Shaun P.
(676)

Do you really think ticket prices would be lower if the MLBPA, and not the owners/teams, set them?

The biggest problem MLB has is that media, and thus the public, for decades treated it as a game, when all along, it was a business. Ticket prices are set by supply and demand, pure and simple.

By the way, given that attendance at ballgames has soared since Fehr took over at the MLBPA, your statement that he "failed" "to make sure that the product . . . is . . . affordable" makes no sense.

Jun 23, 2009 13:09 PM
rating: 6
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

And NFL and NBA tickets are so much lower? Good lord man, your points 2 and 3 are ridiculous.

Jun 23, 2009 11:24 AM
 
Evan
(47)

Especially since ticket prices are set based on demand, not the need to cover costs. Mountainhawk has failed to grasp the basic economic principles at work.

Remember, if you sell out every game then your prices are too low.

Jun 23, 2009 13:05 PM
rating: 4
 
sbnirish77

NBA and NFL ticket prices have nothing to do with the affordibilty of taking a family to a game or visiting a ballpark multiple times in a year.

Gong to a ballgame is now elevated to being a 'special event' rather than a typical occurance.

Jun 23, 2009 14:25 PM
rating: -3
 
Matt

Go to a minor league game, or a college game. There are plenty of options for families.

Jun 23, 2009 17:02 PM
rating: 1
 
Evan
(47)

None of those was his job. He was there to protect the players, and he did.

I think he should have held a harder line than he did some of the time (the players shouldn't have agreed to any PED testing at all without concessions from the owners), but for the most part he did a great job, and he deserves our accolades.

Jun 23, 2009 13:04 PM
rating: 1
 
James Martin Cole
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"And no one likes the men who have chosen to represent baseball players as if they were a group of laborers in an industry long dominated by a paternalistic management and covered by an unquestioning press largely bought and paid for by the same."

Except Joe Sheehan, who was made it exceedingly clear, time and time again, that his loyalties lie not with teams, or the league, or the fans, but with the players and their unions.

And who has made a point of bashing the media time and time again despite being firmly entrenched as a member of the media. What a tired act.

Jun 23, 2009 16:28 PM
rating: -6
 
gluckschmerz

Couldn't agree more with this fellow... Amen!

Jun 24, 2009 03:56 AM
rating: 0
 
mafrth77

Are you really asserting that Fehr's goal during the congessional hearing was to defend a players "right to privacy"? I agree that the government's ateempt to rip up a contract that was negotiated in good faith between MLB and the players was enough to make anyone's blood boil, but to poray Fehr as some type of civil rights crusader is foolish.

Jun 23, 2009 10:21 AM
rating: 0
 
oira61

I wish my union had had a leader like Don Fehr.

What so many people don't seem to understand about the MLBPA and steroid users is this -- it's a union's job to protect its members under any circumstances.

Consider the case of a truck driver with a drinking problem. The union is supposed to keep that guy from losing his job. The union should set up anti-drinking programs, agree with the employer on goals. But at the same time, the union is that guy's advocate, perhaps his only one. If he's taken off the road, then the union needs to fight for him to keep getting his salary, or failing that, to get disability.

This is how unions work. They protect their members, even from their own failings.

America has become profoundly anti-union, and you see that in the coverage of the MLBPA, but more clearly in the coverage of the UAW. Perhaps the economic crisis will bring more people to think about which is more unfair -- executives who rake in multimillions regardless of their peformance, or unions that try to keep middle-class wages flowing for workers regardless of their performance.

Jun 23, 2009 10:31 AM
rating: 17
 
Mountainhawk

That's the type of foolish reasoning that's the reason America thinks unions are past their usefulness. The unions job are to make sure the employees are treated fairly. If a truck driver is cuaght drunk driving, the union should actively work to get him fired, to protect the rest of their members that aren't drunk driving from having to pay higher insurance premiums, or facing the social stigma where people think they are a bunch of drunks.

Jun 23, 2009 10:43 AM
rating: -2
 
Randy Brown
(189)

I think your analogy is brilliant. I guess where we disagree is on the union's responsibility. You are damn right that I want a truck driver with a drinking problem to lose his job.

A union has a responsibility to protect all its members. By shielding non-performers (or PED users) from responsibility for their non-performance (or PED use), that person is allowed to continue hurting himself, his company, and his fellow employees. By protecting the one, and one who needs to be taken off the road immediately before he kills someone, the whole is weakened. I'd rather have the union members be strong as a whole than littered with non-performers.

Jun 23, 2009 10:48 AM
rating: 6
 
oira61

Hey Randy, I agree with the gist of your argument -- the union *could* have protected its membership by preventing its members from feeling pressured to use steroids because so many others were.

However, that gets into Joe's argument above. The players as a group *wanted* steroids. We're not talking about a couple of rogues here, but more than 100 that we know about for sure (whether or not we know their names, and I hope the union never lets its guard down there), and probably a multiple of that.

It's not the union leadership's job to moralize, but simply to try to protect its members.




Jun 23, 2009 12:28 PM
rating: 1
 
Shaun P.
(676)

I'd go a step further, and say its the MLBPA's job to do what its members tell it to do, whether that's by a majority of the players actively saying "Do this" or by the players staying silent on the issue.

Back in the 60s, a large number of players wanted things the owners weren't giving them, which is why they hired Miller in the first place. They said, "Go get us these things," and he did.

If a majority of the players had wanted testing for PEDs, all they had to do was tell Fehr as much, by vote or whatever, and as their employee, he would have had to do so, or they would have fired him.

That this never happened speaks volumes, to me, on what the players did and did not want. Fehr could have, in speaking with the players, pushed for testing, but the call was the players, not his. If he had ever brought up testing in negotiations without the players' approval - even if it might have helped the players - he almost certainly would have been fired.

Jun 23, 2009 13:16 PM
rating: 6
 
Shaun P.
(676)

And I'm with you on the truck driver with the drinking problem losing his job, or at the least being suspended until he's sober.

If a union is too stupid to act rationally, like actively working to keep a driver with a drinking problem on the road, then they ought to die out.

Similarly, if a business is too stupid to act rationally, like having no policy in place to determine the fitness of its drivers on a regular basis, and deal with problems like drinking, then it too ought to die out.

In any case, the only voice for the fans is the fans themselves. You want to be heard, vote with your wallet. You think ticket prices are too high? Don't buy tickets, don't buy merchandise, don't patronize mlb.com and the team websites and the networks that broadcast MLB games and all their respective advertisers. In fact, make it clear to them that you are not giving them your money.

What the owners and the players care most about is the bottom line. If its healthy, they are happy, even if the fans aren't.

Jun 23, 2009 13:25 PM
rating: 3
 
eighteen
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Or unions that pull out all the stops to put a huckster in the White House who'll make them government employees so they don't have to actually make products people want to buy?

Jun 23, 2009 10:52 AM
rating: -38
 
jnossal

Before the pro- and anti-union arguments ensue, everyone needs to keep in mind a very important point. In virtually any other profession, you have the right to choose your employer (assuming they choose you, too, of course). But in professional baseball, very few players have this option thanks to the draft system.

Think about this. You graduate from Notre Dame with a law degree. You'd like to take a corporate attorney job in Chicago, your hometown, but instead you find you've been drafted by a firm in Alabama. They decide you'll do litigation, because that's where the money is. Not that you get any, the firm makes millions and attorneys who have been in the business 20+ years earn 300K per year, but you get 15K with a modest annual raise for the first decade. You don't want it? Tough. That firm owns your rights; you can't take a job with just anybody, just them. Then, after a few years, the firm decides to sell your work contract to an insurance company in Wichita. You pack up your family and move, because you have no choice. Finally, after a decade or so, you are released from the original contract and then and only then are you free to accept a job offer from a firm of your own choosing. This is what it is like to be a professional baseball player.

I have little use for unions, the argument that they should protect a drunk from keeping his truck driving job says more than enough. But I've always been a strong supporter of the MLBPA, it is the only leverage the players ever had against the billionaires who run the monopoly of organized pro ball.

Beg, borrow, steal or, preferably, buy, "Lords of the Realm" by John Helyar. Fascination account of the history of the business of baseball. It is a disgrace that Marvin Miller is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame, he did more for the game of pro ball than anyone in the 20th century.

Jun 23, 2009 11:01 AM
rating: 27
 
Mountainhawk
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The baseball draft goes on far too long. What is it, 50 rounds? That's nuts. I understand the competitive balance reasoning for the draft, but does that matter after 5-10 rounds?

Baseball players have it better than football players w.r.t the draft, though. At least they have another respectable league they can play in, granted it is in Japan, if they can't come to terms with MLB.

Jun 23, 2009 11:09 AM
rating: -7
 
mafrth77
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In virtually every other profession, your lucky to make 10% of a professional baseball players salary. Baseabll has the right to protect it's product by controlling the quality of competition. If the player doesn't like it he can play in the indie leagues, like Luke Hochevar.

Jun 23, 2009 11:24 AM
rating: -5
 
jrbdmb

For those fortunate enough to be drafted in the top few rounds or make it to The Show, true. But most of other "professional baseball players" make very modest salaries.

Ex. independent Atlantic League, reccomended max salary $300/mo. during the season.

And as mentioned elsewhere, it's not like NFL fans get cheap tickets due to a weak union.

Jun 23, 2009 12:11 PM
rating: 4
 
jrbdmb

Oops, above should be $3000/mo. (approx. $18K for the season).

Jun 23, 2009 12:13 PM
rating: 0
 
Evan
(47)

So because the players excel at a highly valued profession, they're not entitled to the same rights and freedoms as everyone else?

That's errant nonsense.

Jun 23, 2009 13:27 PM
rating: 8
 
mafrth77
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No. They are not entitled to anything. MLB isn't a free enterprise, but a licensed monopoly. A fact that works in the players' interest.

Jun 23, 2009 20:45 PM
rating: -6
 
mafrth77

And average citizens, who don't drink and drive, are supposed to support that? That's exactly the type of arrogance that has destroyed unions in this county.

Jun 23, 2009 11:12 AM
rating: 0
 
oira61

Average citizens aren't supposed to know -- another appropriate feature of this analogy.

Jun 23, 2009 12:20 PM
rating: -2
 
antonsirius

I find it kind of sad that so many commentators are equating "keeping his job" with "keeping him on the road" in your truck driver example.

Pretty good illustration of how embedded the anti-union bias is in a lot of people's minds, if you ask me...

Jun 24, 2009 00:14 AM
rating: 3
 
kcboomer
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Fehr has a record to be proud of, but it is not this impeccable resume Sheehan speaks of while mentioning some venial missteps. Fehr deserves every bit of credit for the lost season of 1994 as the owners. He had the players strike then, not because of leverage, but simply to show the owners he could punish them at any time.

Fehr has made it abundantly clear, as did Marvin Miller, that they do not give a damn about the fans or the game. And this is the sad thing about sites like BP and writers like Joe Sheehan. By rolling over for the Union in the way they accuse other writers of doing for the owners they leave the voiceless fan without any representation.

Jun 23, 2009 11:22 AM
rating: -5
 
adminane

oh and all the owners just looove the fans right?
one in NYC loves them so much that they separated the poorer ones from the rich ones with a moat in the stadium..

Jun 23, 2009 11:37 AM
rating: 5
 
Vinegar Bend
(477)

seriously?

first, if they had not struck in '94, the owners could have unilaterally imposed new rules. A strike was the only means of avoiding that scenario.

second, COME ON!! You think it's Don Fehr's job to represent you?? Was that in the contract you and he signed?

Jun 23, 2009 11:55 AM
rating: 10
 
BP staff member Derek Jacques
BP staff

The entire point of the strike was that the MLBPA couldn't punish the owners "at any time." There was a limited window where a work stoppage would hurt the owners as much as it would the players--once the season was over, the owners were planning a work stoppage of their own, so whatever the Players Association wanted to do at that point was moot.

Jun 23, 2009 22:52 PM
 
Vinegar Bend
(477)

Well said.

There's something either ironic or just plain stupid about the way most sports writers discuss the MLBPA leadership.
On one hand, they act as if Fehr just tells the players what to think and say and do and therefore the players true interests are not fairly represented.
On the other hand, those same writers will turn and say that Fehr and his staff are being negligent in not telling players they should be PED-tested for their own good, for their own protection.

So is it his job to tell them what to think and do or isn't it?

Jun 23, 2009 11:38 AM
rating: 2
 
mafrth77

Keeping the anonymous 2003 testing samples around, reportedy in hopes of finding a false positive, was particularly idiotic. Does any think that another big name being leaked has something to do with his stepping down?

Jun 23, 2009 11:49 AM
rating: 3
 
joheimburger

It'd be awfully coincidental if it wasn't a factor.

Jun 23, 2009 12:25 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

I don't buy it. Fehr is 61 years old and has held his job for a quarter-century. Leaving now allows Weiner time to settle in in advance of the next CBA cycle. It's a natural time to leave.

The MLBPA may be in for some responsibility with respect to the testing results, but if they get "some," then there should be wild outrage against the primary cause, which is an overreaching federal prosecutor whose actions could not have been foreseen, and which will probably be deemed out of bounds by the courts.

If someone breaks into my locked apartment and steals my TV, is that my fault? Do you blame me for leaving the house? Not having six locks on the door? Not having a dog?

The 104 names are out there because the federal government went way, way over the line to get them.

Jun 23, 2009 13:09 PM
 
Evan
(47)

Hear hear!

I really wish I could vote up author comments, because this one deserves 100 votes.

Jun 23, 2009 13:29 PM
rating: 6
 
mafrth77

I agree that runaway government is to blame- But Fehr should have recognized that that was a possibility after the ridiculous first round of senate hearings. Keeping those test results around for three years after the fact was recklees.

Jun 23, 2009 14:18 PM
rating: 4
 
Schlom

I'm not sure how Fehr could have really foreseen the steroid backlash. NFL players have been taking them for years and no one, not the writers, fans, owners, players cared one bit. I'm not sure how he could have known that baseball would be the one major sport where people cared about steroids. As far as the 1994 Strike goes, it certainly seems like there was going to be total labor strife (either at the end of that year or for the 1995 season) barring a complete NFLPA capitulation which I don't think most people would want.

Jun 23, 2009 14:08 PM
rating: 2
 
Richie

One very silly part. Fehr is the public face of the '94 strike and Selig isn't?!?

Bud has always caught blame for that strike. Massive blame. Silly to suggest otherwise, imply otherwise or even vaguely hint at otherwise.

Jun 23, 2009 15:59 PM
rating: 6
 
Tuck
(667)

Good catch. Bit of a straw man from Sheehan. The MLBPA was reviled. The players were reviled. The owners were reviled. There was much reviling going on.

Jun 23, 2009 16:13 PM
rating: 3
 
Tuck
(667)

Blaming the media is a lazy rhetorical device. And rationalizing away the MLBPA's role in PEDs as a privacy issue is insulting to my intelligence.

Young ballplayers continue to get paid pennies on the dollar, an injustice you yourself have discussed in some detail. Does that not fall on Fehr? The unceasing emphasis on free agent contracts has hurt the rank-and-file, youngins and veterans alike.

Jun 23, 2009 16:12 PM
rating: 1
 
Randy Brown
(189)

Young players get paid pennies on the dollar in part because the veteran players are just fine with the arrangement. Look no further than the NBA, whose union members pushed for a rookie salary cap.

Jun 23, 2009 16:24 PM
rating: 3
 
Bob

Beautifully written, Joe. This is great.

In an ideal world, I would have hoped that Fehr and the players would be less insular in their unionism. That is, I wish they'd support the non-playing unions involved in the baseball industry, such as the sweatshop workers who make most of their uniforms and equipment, the concession stand employees, the ushers, the stadiums' custodial staffs, etc.

Those are the workers who need not only strong union leaders, but also the solidarity of the players' union.

Jun 23, 2009 16:31 PM
rating: 2
 
antoine6

The comments on here seem to imply that you have to celebrate Fehr if you recognize he did a good job. This is a false choice. I can do both things: recognize that Fehr did a good job for his clients, and also recognize that I am not one of his clients, and dislike what that job he did wrought for me, the fan.

I am a fan, and, as taboo and "unenlightened" it is to say around here, I don't like PED use or the strike of 1994. Fehr and the player's union bear at least "some" responsibility for those things. Now, of course I understand why Fehr did what he did. That doesn't mean I like the consequences of those decisions. I have no doubt that Scott Boras does the best things for his clients. I am also a Phillies fan, and was really pissed in 1997 that the team and Boras couldn't come to an agreement on JD Drew.

This is what Joe means when he says Fehr had a "thankless" job. He's (correctly) understanding that fans have been disappointed with what happened on his watch. I don't need to pretend I'm not a fan just to show how much more sophisticated I am than your typical Buster Olney reader. I get why, if I were a player, I would love Fehr. But I'm not.

Jun 23, 2009 16:56 PM
rating: 9
 
amazin_mess
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He may have done his job well, but I've heard the man speak. He is as pompous and arrogant as he is effective at his job. Eff him.

Jun 23, 2009 17:37 PM
rating: -17
 
amazin_mess
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

And shame on BP for their non-stop written fellatio for everything union.

Jun 23, 2009 17:38 PM
rating: -22
 
jrbdmb

And shame on readers of BP who should be students of the history of major league baseball and realize how the owners basically stood on the throats of the players until the MLBPA was able to extert some influence through Marvin Miller.

I'm not a fan of all that Fehr has stood for (he missed the boat on PEDs) for but I understand that the current attitude of the MLBPA is based on decades of poor behavior shown by the owners.

Jun 23, 2009 17:48 PM
rating: 6
 
DavidMI

Only in modern-day America could somebody who did his job so well be mocked and reviled because the public wants to know more about the private pharmaceutical lives of a bunch of young men they'll never know.

"Billions of dollars in transactions interest you?"

"Boring!"

"How about tense, months-long negotiations between billionaires who toy with young athletes' lives as a hobby?"

"Where's the remote?"

"Poor young man from third-world country takes drugs that the pharmaceutical industry already sells to rich Americans?"

"Lynch that man and let me see his teammates' pee!!!"

It's the most pathetically trivial issue - all the outrage is fake (if it weren't fans wouldn't have saved their hysteria for five years after ESPN had detailed reports about McGwire's usage). And it's giving them - and hack, effeminate writers like Olney - an excuse to pigeonhole a fascinating topic and Fehr's great career.

Fehr's tale has the ring of Robin Hood to it: he improved the lives and dignity of young workers, many of whom come from families and countries with no money at all. All it cost him was the slander of media hacks and the hatred of ignorant fans who have nothing better to do than ninny about what drugs ballplayers take. So, he came out with a win.

Jun 24, 2009 01:16 AM
rating: 2
 
Richie

"Robin Hood"?????

Jun 24, 2009 12:45 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

I hope I don't offend anyone with this.

I've been reading the comments, and one of the trends I'm not comfortable with is the tendency to downgrade comments based on their hard content. In other words, the rating indicates "I disagree, strongly."

To me, a negative rating should be used sparingly, when a comment is offensive or gratuitous, or to use a term I use too often, when it doesn't advance the discussion. Disagreement often advances the discussion.

It seems like some comments in this particular thread are negatively rated, even enough to be hidden, despite being inoffensive and in some cases fairly well considered. The rating system should not--and again, this is IMO--be used to shout down opposition, but to maintain decorum.

That's my two cents. Thanks, as always, for the great discussion. I wasn't completely on board with comments a year ago, but I'm very happy about how it's turned out.

Jun 24, 2009 01:19 AM
 
sbnirish77

BP should be very happy with the comments feature as it most certainly has increased the number of page views as well as advertising revenue.

In the past someone might read an article once - but now they might return many times to post comments and review replies to one's post.

All in all - a good thing for BP.

Jun 24, 2009 05:54 AM
rating: 0
 
Mountainhawk

I agree with you. If it's possible in the technology you are using, it would be a nice feature to allow users to set their own threshold for hiding. The certain setting seems to capture too much, where it seems like a -10 or -15 setting would only get the truly off topic, ranting, or unproductive posts.

Jun 24, 2009 08:04 AM
rating: 1
 
mafrth77

or spamming.

Jun 24, 2009 09:52 AM
rating: 0
 
Aaron/YYZ

Joe, I dunno if it's the "intended purpose" but I make a point of voting down comments that use insinuations on character to advance their argument rather than facts. I have no time for that.

Jun 24, 2009 08:33 AM
rating: 0
 
jetson
(660)

But why assume that's true of everybody else? If you've already read the comment, by definition you're making the statement that others shouldn't have time for it. Your horse is out of the barn.

I concur that the plus comment makes this a bit confusing, but when the reader has to do extra work to follow a spirited debate, the quality of the discourse is lessened.

Jun 24, 2009 10:28 AM
rating: 0
 
mafrth77

Then why is there a "plus" button?

Jun 24, 2009 09:48 AM
rating: 2
 
jetson
(660)

Thank you, it's reached a point where I tend to actively seek out the "below threshhold" comments because I assume, most often correctly, that they will be dissenting opinions rather than offensive or useless remarks.

I hope folks will heed this.

Jun 24, 2009 10:25 AM
rating: 0
 
Richie

What I do is vote a '+' to such. Not that that does much good.

Jun 24, 2009 12:47 PM
rating: 0
 
oneilljm

hear, hear

Jun 25, 2009 05:57 AM
rating: 0
 
jayman4

In summary, it sounds like eveyone is saying Fehr did his job, representing the players.

The people who like Fehr generally like the impact his representing the players (higher % of industry revenue to players), and don't think it was his place to lead the players towards more stringent testing, but his role to understand their position, and represent it. And a sub-group, perhaps the majority, don't think the PED's are that big of deal (vague/small impact and/or not that unhealthy).

The people who dislike Fehr's impact generally don't have any love of owners, but dislike the spending discrepancies across teams and dislike/hate the impact, real or perceived, of PED's on the game, and feel as though Fehr should have done more on both of these topics, leading the union to those positions rather than following them once they got there.

I am in the latter camp, but respect the guy for doing his job well.

There has been a lot on PED's on Will Carroll's unfiltered last week, so would like to comment on salaries, and this is probably an inappopriate and ineffective (tale end of a thread seeming to be dying out) way to do it, but...

Why not a salary cap? You make it as a % of baseball revenues. Let the players and owners go to the mats over the right percentage, but let that be the number we focus on. Baseball revenues seem pretty transparent: TV revenues (based on size of market), ticket sales, merchandise, etc. You want to create some incentives for franchise to perform, but size of the labor pie is determined, split evenly over the teams, and let the owners haggle out the revenue sharing and other intra-team compensation to make it affordable for all the teams.

It is arguably a win-win in that hopefully industry revenue will increase with increased competitiveness (or, at least eliminating the salary discrepancies as a factor).


Jun 24, 2009 18:17 PM
rating: 1
 
strupp

There are a few issues that come up here. I want to touch on the big ones.

The Union is against anything that will prohibit in any way a player from making as much money as he can make. There is a bit of a two-fold ideology. The "Stars" will always be taken care of (A-Rod and Pujols, etc), cap or no cap. But it's the mid-level and lower players who are going to be hurt by a cap because a team will have a higher % of their "Cap" spent on one player. So you're inhibiting a larger % of players from making the most they can.

The second part is the transparency of baseball revenues. There is still a divide among large, medium and small market teams that prevents the revenue streams from being completely transparent. While it has gotten better, there is some discussion about how the local TV revenues should be split (i.e. why should the Yankees give the Royals money from the YES network, etc). There is still distrust and discord amongst all parties about how the new revenue streams (MLB.com & mlbtv, etc) are being distributed.

I hope to come across as neutral as I can for this part of the debate. But be warned, I'm one of those pro-player, pro-union, anti-owner wacos y'all have been talking about.

Jun 24, 2009 18:34 PM
rating: 2
 
jayman4

Better than preaching to the choir. But I want to be clear: my goal is spending equality or near equality, not enriching owners. Those dudes (not sure if there are any women owners) are doing just fine. If we developed a sustainable, equitable system that bankrupted people who decided to be owners, fine. Just get me a sustainable, equitable system.

Regarding the cap hurting the smaller players or inhibiting how much players can make:

The cap may be a misnomer. The core of balance is really a re-distribution of baseball revenues. So what is capped in NY is made up for by increases in KC and other cities. Let's pretend the MLBPA could negotiate that 90% of baseball revenue be spent on salaries. Or some big number. Or some number that takes current spending trends and extrapolates them. My point is that I think you can find a number that is very fair, even generous, to the players. 98%? 99%? You pick the number. It has to be negotiated but I hope you see my point.

So once that % defines the size of the pie, it is not intuitive to me why the stars will take a bigger portion of the pie that younger, more marginal players than the current system yields.

Regarding transparency: I still think it is pretty transparent.

The way I was thinking of it is along the lines of:
-TV: I have done work in advertising research, and it is not that hard to figure out what ad slots on sports broadcasts are worth in various DMA's. You don't need to know the details of what the team actually received, but you can create a baseline of the value.

-Attendance. I believe the totals are well reported, though not the mix of seat values sold. But seems like a pretty straight-forward request and probably not that hard to get.

I am guessing those two income streams are the bulk of the revenue, though you would probably have to include merchandise.

If the owners will not provide this data in a way that can be verified, then, yes, it will not work. But both could be roughly estimated without owner input as a starting point.

Regarding the revenue sharing:

Well, the owners need to get a meeting of the minds, that yes, the Yankees ought to give money to KC so KC can better compete against them. There may have to be some reverse compensation for any windfall profits to owners of smaller franchises that are suddenly more valuable, but the owners can figure that out if they want to. Revenue sharing appears to be a core part of the NFL and that, on competitive balance and accountability to the decision-makers, works well. Yes the players get totally screwed, but I don't think revenue sharing and bad labor deals are linked.

Yes, NYY is giving up an advantage, but one could make the argument that baseball revenues will increase with increased engagement across the towns. Our mainstream media focuses its coverage on where the advertising dollars are, so you get lots of coverage of major market teams, so this can give the appearance that things are good. Maybe I am an exception, but I get really angry at this system that forces me, a Padres fan, to have to compete year in and out against the Dodgers and Giants who have much more resources. Yes, at times those resources by the larger teams were spent stupidly, but that cannot be the backbone of competitive balance: hoping for stupidity from the rich teams and smartness from the poor. Look at Boston where riches and smartness meet. That, eventually, will be the model, leading to even more stratification of success. I think the SD front office is about as good as it gets, yet, people glibly point out "they need to rebuild for 2011 or 2012", which is my assessment as well. Gee, so I get to watch 2-3-4 years of crappy baseball while major market have the resources to retool just about every year. That is healthy for the game? Don't be born in a minor market or develop an allegiance to one, or, if you do, accept the inequalities of the game? Get over it? Sorry, but that sucks. And pisses me off, if you cannot tell.

If I were an owner of a small market team, I would band together the bottom 20 teams, and form our own league. Let the top 10 teams keep playing each other, over and over and over. I think the major market teams free ride of the externalities of having varied competition to play, weaker ones at that.

There has to be a owner/player neutral way to solve it and it really annoys me that BP does not even try. Joe might point to Derek Zumstag (sp?) analysis from like 5 years ago (which I have read several times, and is far from definitive though intelligent, novel and interesting) as "that is our work, done" but seems disengenious to me. This is a problem that needs to fixed and needs smart, analytical minds to promote the case that it should be fixed and how. I personally care much more about that the analysis of the 4th round of the draft or details about trades of minor leaguers (though I still love that stuff, too).

Jun 25, 2009 01:20 AM
rating: 1
 
sandyk

I guess I don't see how baseball needs a salary cap. What flaw in the game is that attempting to fix? In terms of number of teams winning the championship or advancing to the championship, baseball has more "competitive balance" than the NFL or the NBA, both with salary caps AND with more teams in the playoffs. In the 2000s, MLB has had 8 different teams winning World Series and another 6 that made the World Series without winning it (and there is one more year to go). The NFL has had 7 teams win the Super Bowl and another 7 make it that far, while the NBA has had 5 and 5.

If there is a problem, it might be that the Yankees are so rich compared to everyone else (even the Red Sox), which could be alleviated by a third team in New York. But is having one team like the Yankees bad for baseball? Certainly not in terms of revenue or interest. (And I say this as a Red Sox fan).

Jun 25, 2009 08:42 AM
rating: 3
 
awayish

but you have to remember that the teams are not similar scale business operations. the yankees for example has their own cable network, their own marketing agreements internationally etc. the business is run differently, under a different assumed revenue stream that is itself a variable in the plan. it means that it is a choice of the yankees to make their operations this large.

if you cap their share artificially, there will be no incentive for them to develop the new york market. existing entities like YES are not subject to baseball regulations by itself, so i don't see how that operation itself can be made to service baseball as a whole.

Jun 27, 2009 07:24 AM
rating: 0
 
jayman4

But the scale of those operations is dependent on their market size. No way KC or SEA can match the revenues, no matter the business initiative. NY is the country's biggest market, so they can have a bigger scale. But the driver is market size, not marketing initiative.

Regarding the incentives under revenue sharing, yes, you need to still have an incentive for franchises to increase their revenues. Probably each franchise would share some % and give some %. But the NFL shares most of its revenues, and the franchises are still out there marketing, so it can be done.

Jun 28, 2009 00:56 AM
rating: 0
 
jayman4

I should be doing my job, so did this analysis on the quick. I found someone had summarized team salaries for 2006-2008:

http://www.midwestsportsfans.com/2009/03/mlb-team-payrolls-2006-2007-2008-efficiency-analysis/

Using his table, I tallied up which ones of these teams mad the playoffs in those years. Granted this only three years, but trying to do this quickly.

So...

If you are a top 10 salary team, probability of making the playoffs is 50%; if you are 11-30, probability is 15%.

There were six teams that made the playoffs twice during that period, all top 10 salary teams.

I also did it by deviations above and below the mean:

1+: 55% (three teams)
.5-1: 29% (five teams)
.25-.5: 25% (four teams)
-.25 to .25: 15% (four teams)
-.5 to -.25: 17% (three teams)
-.1 to -.50: 16% (eight teams)
-1 or lower: 12% (three teams)

My point is that if you are at the top, your odds of getting in the playoffs are a lot higher than if you are at the bottom.

To your point of comparing against other sports, I did look at the NFL and that gave me some pause. Over the same time period you see 9 teams not make playoffs despite there being a 40% chance of making it each year.

I can make arguments why the NFL would have some perennial bottom dwellers, but I will have to mull that more.

My point here is that the probability of making the playoffs does seem influenced by money.

Jun 25, 2009 11:06 AM
rating: 0
 
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