Monday's news that Donald Fehr was stepping down as the head of the Major League Baseball Players Association was predictably met with a lot of discussion about steroids. There's an old joke about a guy who has built bridges his entire life but engages in one salacious act that ends with him lamenting the fact that that one act is the only thing anyone remembers about him. Fehr can probably relate.
Fehr's reign saw a massive growth in average player salary, big wins against the owners in collusion cases and a successful battle against the idea of contracting teams, but his entire reign is being overshadowed by his failure to adequately address the problem of steroids in baseball. His initial reasoning to oppose drug testing -- privacy concerns -- was a justifiable one for the head of a union, but he did the players he represents a disservice by protecting the cheaters at the expense of those who didn't use drugs.
And, then, the union failed to protect the privacy of the players who took the first round of drug tests in 2003. Those dual failures color most people's opinion of Fehr, which makes sense given the magnitude of the issue. With a testing program in place, though, his lasting legacy will be the era of good feelings, for lack of a better word, he helped usher in over the last decade.
It's important to remember that when Fehr took over the union he was dealing with ownership that still hated the existence of things like free agency and arbitration. The bitter battles of the 70's and 80's are now long in the past. The current players and much of the current management don't go back far enough to remember them, and both sides are comfortable with the amount of money they're making.
Fehr deserves credit for helping to create this calm, because it came as a result of winning every one of those contentious battles of the past.
Because they aren't fighting tooth and nail for serious gains, the two sides have had easier negotiations as they partner up to ensure the money keeps rolling in. Barring a massive shift from ownership, that's not going to change. The union signaled their willingness to keep the status quo rolling by promoting Michael Weiner as Fehr's replacement, rather than the pit bullish Gene Orza, who was Fehr's longtime number two.
Steroids will always be linked to Fehr's name, but he bridged and helped create two eras of baseball labor relations.