Fehr meets with Sox players
Executive director of player's union discusses several issues
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Executive director Donald Fehr and other representatives of the players' union met with Red Sox players in the clubhouse of City of Palms Park for about an hour and 45 minutes before their game against the Yankees on Monday night.
"Once a year we want to take the opportunity to bring everybody up to date on what's been going on," said Fehr. "Spring Training provides the best opportunity, because you have the 40-man roster, and it's a fairly relaxed atmosphere. During the season, or the very end of Spring Training, is when the competitive juices really kick in. Sometimes, it's hard to get peoples' attention before a game."
Fehr said the meetings this year with the teams have had a different tone, thanks in part to the labor agreement that was reached last fall.
"This is one of the more relaxed meetings that I've been to in my tenure with the players' association," he said. "This is the first time since 1970 we got an agreement done without a strike or a lockout or the threat of either one. And that's a nice thing. It takes the edge off."
While Fehr said he could not discuss the specifics of the meeting, "you can just assume that any issue of current topical interest is likely to come up in these meetings."
After meeting with the players, Fehr discussed other current issues -- steroid testing, the posting system for Japanese players, revenue sharing, baseball records, and replacement players -- with a small group of reporters.
With just a handful of players still active who were once considered replacement players from the 1994-95 strike, including Sox pitcher Brendan Donnelly and former Sox players Kevin Millar and Lou Merloni, Fehr was asked if the status of those players would change.
"No, and at this point I wouldn't expect them to be," Fehr said. "I think the situation is I don't know of instances on a personal level of players having difficulty with any of the individuals anymore. We certainly represent them for all purposes, just as if they were members. They really don't come to the union meetings or participate in the licensing program. And, I don't envision that being revisited at this point."
On the posting system, which brought pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka to the Red Sox in December for a posting bid of $51.1 million, and any possible changes to the system:
"It's a difficult issue obviously because you're dealing with two separate systems and two separate legal systems involved. The primary question is one which has to do with the circumstances under which an individual can be a free agent in Japan, Japanese law and the Japanese contracts. I think that obviously it got our notice and it got Major League Baseball's notice. If you have substantial dollars -- as happened in this case -- which flow out of Major League Baseball and they don't go to players and they don't go to owners. If your question is are there specific plans to revisit that, the answer is no. But my guess is it's one of those issues when you get a case like this, people will begin to do some analysis and review it.
"The posting process in one sense is like compensation for a free agent. A player is worth what a player is worth. If you have to pay some portion of it elsewhere, that cuts off the top of your negotiating range by the magnitude of that payment. You will recall the magnitude of free agent compensation is what triggered the 1981 labor dispute in Major League Baseball.
"There is no way at all for me to make a judgment about [changes to the posting system happening this year] that at this point. There's too many people involved and too much work that would have to be done."
Asked about reports the players' union had advised members not to speak to George Mitchell's investigative committee, Fehr said he was adhering to the union's obligations.
"First of all, whenever a matter arises which has to do with employment, it's our job and our legal obligation to represent the players," he said. "George Mitchell is working for the clubs. So, any failure on our part to do that raises questions about whether we're doing our job. We have a legal obligation to do that and we would want to. Secondly, in the end, we don't tell anybody who they can talk to or who they can't. What we would do in a normal circumstances is say that the better course is that before you do anything you should get appropriate legal advice, whether it's from our office or a private lawyer, or both. So, that you can make an informed decision. And that's basic, standard practice."
Asked if lower-tier teams are appropriately using their revenue-sharing money to improve their teams, Fehr replied:
"We clarified in this agreement if we felt that that provision of the revenue sharing understanding wasn't being met, we could independently seek to enforce it. And while we thought we could do that before, it wasn't entirely sure. So I'm a) hopeful that that issue is never going to arise, and b) if it does, we'll attempt to enforce it.
"You have to look at a given case. [The teams] have an obligation to use the revenue sharing money -- I forget what the phrase is exactly but -- to improve the performance of the team on the field. You can look at that. You can examine it and if people, if it came to it, would have to make judgments on whether it's what they were doing in good faith. That doesn't mean they have to succeed. You can try in good faith and fail, but you have to try. But my hope is that that's not going to be an issue which arises. If it does, we'll take along look at it. If it's been violated, we'll pursue a remedy."
On whether the home run record, which could be broken this season by Barry Bonds, who is just 21 shy of Hank Aaron's record 755, is tainted by talk of steroid use in the game, Fehr replied:
"In my view, there's an awful lot of ink and air time spent on records. In the end, it's up to the fans to make a judgment. I go way back to when I was a kid in Kansas City and they traded Roger Maris to the Yankees and he went off and hit 61 home runs, two of which I saw. There was this big hue and cry about it. It seems to me fans are fully capable of saying, 'This guy played under these circumstances at this point in time and this guy played under some different circumstances.'
"I think whatever it is that a person thinks, and I don't tend to worry about it anymore than that. Bud will do what Bud does. It's not something I expect to discuss with him."
It is Fehr's belief that fans may hold baseball to a different standard than they do with other sports.
"There seems to be, on a wide variety of issues, a heightened degree of public scrutiny and response in baseball than there is in other sports," he said. "I have this feeling that if John Rocker had not been a baseball player there would not have been this level of hue and cry. I don't particularly know why that is, but it is my judgment, sort of, that it is. Having said that, nothing I can do about it. So, we just respond to it as is."
Turning the tables, Fehr then asked how the Red Sox looked so far in Spring Training.
Told that the bullpen is likely the Sox's main issue, Fehr quipped, "Oh, you guys are never satisfied."
Maureen Mullen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.