New Era In Baseball



Volume III, Issue 1: A Publication For Your Reading Enjoyment

Nueva Era En Béisbol (New Era In Baseball) by Charles Farrell

The new year is starting with something that hasn’t happened in more than a quarter-century;  a new union boss at the Major League Baseball Players Association.  Michael Weiner has succeeded Don Fehr who led the union since 1983.  From all indications, there is definitely a new sheriff in town.

I always liked Fehr.  He always answered my calls, was always accommodating when I asked him for something, and I know he is definitely responsible for the labor-management peace that exists in baseball today. He took the association through the 1980 fights over collusion and the strike of 1985, the lockout in 1990, the work stoppage in 1994-95, and into the steroid era when the union agreed to testing players for performance enhancing drugs.

In between, he made players filthy rich.  When he took over, the minimum salary for players was $30,000 and the average was $289,000; today, the minimum is $400,000 and the average is $2.9 million.  Owners came to understand that they had nothing to fear but Fehr himself, who for years received a pro sports pittance of $1 million a year, on a one-year contract, rejecting more money and longer terms, believing the money could be better spent.  He did get an $11 million retirement payout.

Weiner is Fehr’s handpicked successor as executive director and from what I understand, he will continue to be a peacekeeper when the current contract ends in 2011.  The 47-year-old Harvard graduate was hired by the union as a staff lawyer in 1988 and was promoted to general counsel in 2004.  During bargaining in 2002 and 2006, Weiner was among the union’s chief negotiators.

Now, among his other duties, he must deal with the continuing fallout of baseball’s steroid scandals that are undermining the integrity of America’s pastime, and address the continuing call for an international draft, both of which have major implications on the Dominican RepublicMajor League Baseball was rocked in 2009 by the leaking of names of drug users from a 2003 drug survey, including Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, all Dominicans.  Add to that the fact that of 68 minor leaguers issued suspensions for drug use during the 2009, 31 were Dominican Summer Leaguers.  Much of the war on steroids in baseball will have to be fought on a Dominican beachfront.

There is also talk among baseball owners about subjecting Dominican players to an international draft, something Weiner has indicated his union is willing to support.  “There was plenty of sentiment for saying that players from Texas should be subject to the same rules as players from the Dominican Republic,” he said shortly after his appointment was announced.

I am certain the Dominican Republic will resist such a draft. Currently, any team can go after any player in the Dominican Republic, so it becomes a bidding war that has increased the average signing bonus, which is good for the players.   Entering Dominicans into an international draft might mean that a top Dominican prospect would only be in the top 100 in such a draft, seriously reducing initial earning potential, and diminishing the signing power of all Dominican prospects.

Weiner has said he will reject any attempts to fix salaries according to draft positions as is done in the National Basketball Association. “This union has always stood for the proposition that players should have the right to bargain individually for their compensation,” he said.  That still might not appease those in the Dominican Republic who have benefited from having a separate development system, even though that system is rife with problems that will take more than a new union boss to fix.

But hopefully Weiner will call more attention to the problems and urge Major League Baseball to be more aggressive in fixing them, with union support.  With about 30 percent of MLB players coming from Latin America, and most of them from the Dominican Republic, it will be in the best interest of the association’s membership to do so.

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