Don Fehr, who for more than a quarter century has skillfully formed consensus and built solidarity among players as executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, announced his pending retirement on Monday.
06/22/2009 5:32 PM ET
Don Fehr announces retirement
MLBPA executive director has served in role since '85
"It has been a high privilege to be entrusted with the leadership of this extraordinary union for the last 25 years, and I am enormously proud of what the players have accomplished during that time," Fehr said. "But now, about two years before the next round of collective bargaining, is the right time for me to relinquish my position and for the players to name new leadership."
Fehr, 60, is expected to be succeeded by Mike Weiner, currently general counsel, pending a vote by the union's executive board and membership. Weiner, a 47-year-old graduate of Harvard Law School ('86), has served on the union's legal staff since 1988 and has been general counsel since 2004.
Fehr said he would leave his post no later than March 31, 2010, as his agreement with the players calls for nine months' notice. He said he anticipates the union's Executive Subcommittee will recommend Weiner to the full Executive Board and that, if it concurs, he would "urge that this important decision be submitted to a full membership vote.
"Michael has been at my side during all the battles we have fought over the last 20 years and has been a major part of our successes," Fehr said. "He is clearly the most qualified person to become the next Executive Director and carry on the work of the Players Association in the years to come."
As executive director, Fehr built on the legacy of Marvin Miller, the PA's first executive director, by keeping the players united and by keeping them informed and educated on the myriad workplace issues that affect their professional and personal lives.
"We have had some good times and some difficult times over the years," Fehr said. "Over all of those years, players remained unified, involved, and absolutely determined to achieve fair agreements. That is what counted. That is what will count in the years to come."
Fehr joined the MLBPA staff as general counsel in August 1977, about a year and a half after his work as an outside attorney in the players' successful defense against the owners' federal court appeal of the Andy Messersmith-Dave McNally case that laid the groundwork for players' free agency.
In that landmark case, arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled the pitchers had played out their contractual option years and were free to sign with any club. The arbitration ruling effectively ended the owners' stranglehold on players' services through the so-called "reserve clause," an anachronistic provision under which the owners had held individual players' exclusive service rights in perpetuity.
The ruling led to a true free agent market for players' services and, as a result, to exponential growth in salaries and benefits.
In December 1985, Fehr was appointed executive director after having served as acting executive director for two years. As executive director, Fehr has been the players' chief negotiator in collective bargaining with Major League owners and has general responsibility for administering all MLBPA's activities, including contract administration, grievance and salary arbitration, and pension and health care matters.
In the early part of Fehr's tenure as executive director, the union successfully challenged owners' efforts over a three-year period to constrain salaries by agreeing among themselves to refrain from bidding on free agent players. The Players Association brought the collusion case to arbitration, and in September 1987, arbitrator Thomas Roberts ruled that the owners had violated the Basic Agreement.
In November 1990, a final settlement was reached in which the players were awarded a $280 million settlement for the three-year period.
Players also retained their resolve through three work stoppages under Fehr's leadership. The players reached a five-year contract agreement with the owners following a two-day strike in August 1985. The players withstood a 32-day Spring Training lockout before reaching an agreement on March 18, 1990.
The players also fought off implementation of a salary cap and other onerous work rules with a strike that lasted 232 days, from Aug. 12, 1994, through March 31, 1995. In that work stoppage, 920 games were canceled, including the entire '94 postseason.
The Basic Agreement in 2002, which dramatically increased revenue sharing, was the first new baseball contract reached without a work stoppage in more than 30 years and broke a string of eight consecutive work stoppages.
In 2006, a five-year extension was negotiated between the owners and the MLBPA before the 2002 agreement had expired.