Fehr begins camp tour by visiting O's
Union head discusses drug testing, game's international impact
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Union head Donald Fehr began his annual odyssey around the baseball world Thursday, when he visited Baltimore's Spring Training home to discuss issues regarding his constituents. Fehr, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players' Association, plans on meeting with all 30 teams during the next six weeks.
Emissaries from the union have already visited six other teams, but Fehr said he plans on backtracking and meeting with those clubs himself at some point. Fehr met the media after his 90-minute closed-door session on Thursday and displayed his normal scholarly precision when asked about a wide number of topics currently affecting the game.
Now that the league and the players have achieved labor peace, he said, these annual meetings are a little different.
"They're different in the sense that you're not talking about the economic negotiations," he said before digressing into a point-by-point discussion of oustanding issues. "But you still go through the Basic Agreement and things that have happened under it, what's going on with the pension plan and changes that have happened there. Obviously, we talked about the Mitchell Report and recommendations. There were some questions about the hearings that have gone on."
Fehr was at one of those hearings as recently as Wednesday, when he joined union heads and commissioners from all four major American sports to discuss the future of detecting performance-enhancing drugs. While he welcomed the hearings and hoped some good would come out of them, Fehr said the issues are something that transcend sports.
"When you deal with these kind of issues, there's a danger of doing two things," he said. "There's a danger to focus on a given industry or a given incident where the most recent spate of publicity has been or to view it as narrow in some fashion. To the extent that we have problems -- with steroids or with human growth hormone, with supplements or with any of these kinds of things -- recent evidence has suggested that these things are very widespread and they don't have much to do with sports.
"That's not to minimize the problems that sports have had, but they don't have very much to do with sports. To the extent that Congress is going to consider what to do about it, I think they at least have to pay attention to those kinds of issues."
Fehr was also asked if the four leagues -- MLB, the NFL, the NBA and the NHL -- would ever have similar testing procedures, and he said they may resemble each other without being totally identical.
"In football, they play once a week. In basketball and hockey, they play half as many games as we do. We have effective competition on almost 200 days in a row, not counting the postseason. So it's a different world."
When asked specifically whether the union would consider allowing for blood testing, Fehr reiterated that to his knowledge, there is no efficient test that can detect human growth hormone. He said the union would consider it as soon as one was brought to his attention, but he also noted that it has to be validated first by the scientific community.
Fehr was also asked about the recent comments by star players in support of blood testing and whether he'd prefer if they went through proper channels, but he laughed and said that's not something he tries to control.
"You should see a meeting if I would try and tell players, 'By the way, I'm going to give you a directive not to say something or not to talk to somebody,'" he said. "They'd react as you are now: They'd be laughing. We don't do that.
"The owners have gag rules and they have millions of dollars in fines if people step out of line. We've always thought those things are fundamentally anti-American, anti-democratic and don't have any place in unions."
Fehr touched on the Mitchell Report and said that he hoped Major League Baseball would respect Sen. Mitchell's recommendation that no discipline be handed out to those named in the Report. He said it wouldn't make much sense to follow the recommendations on how to clean up the game and to ignore the ones regarding discipline.
Finally, Fehr touched on the future and the increasingly international profile of the game.
"There's all kinds of issues going on. The next big thing we have to see is the next [World Baseball Classic] is only a year from now," he said. "It will be played in 54 or 56 weeks, or something like that. Based upon the success we had last time, we're looking forward to an enormously successful event. We're really starting to expand overseas, and as you know we've got games played next month in Beijing as well as in Tokyo. And more and more international players.
"I'd like, one day hopefully, for baseball to have the same international regard as some of the other sports do. It's been predominantly in the Americans, North America, the Carribbean and a Japanese sport. But that's beginning to change."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.