With the announcement of Donald Fehr’s decision to resign as executive director of the MLBPA (I’ll give my viewpoint on Fehr’s legacy in Sunday’s Seattle Times), I thought it appropriate to get the take of Ken Griffey Jr.
Griffey has a unique perspective from two standpoints: One, he’s the only one of the current Mariners players — and one of the handful remaining in the major leagues — that actually went through a work stoppage (Mike Sweeney was close, but he didn’t come up to the majors until late in the 1995 season). Griffey was involved in the strike that ended the 1994 season, and continued throughout spring training of ’95 until an injunction by current Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor ended it. Griffey is steeped in the history of the union, having grown up watching his father, Ken Sr., go through numerous battles under the leadership of both Fehr and his predecessor, Marvin Miller. Miller himself pointed out recently that Fehr faced one huge obstacle: “Don’s tenure, after a short while, had not a single member who played one day of major league baseball before the union. That’s a tremendous handicap, because people have a tendency to think the conditions we find were always like that. That’s a hard obstacle to overcome, to explain that nothing could be further from the truth. Major league baseball before the union had the most exploitative situation known in the United States in the whole 20th century. Explaining that it wasn’t always this good is difficult. He handled that very well.”
Griffey has some of that perspective. And secondly, Griffey has a huge stake in the ongoing steroids controversy as one of the few pre-eminent sluggers never linked, even by innuendo, to performance-enhancing drugs. And yet the entire era in which he performed has been besmirched in the minds of many, and Fehr is taking numerous hits upon his exit for being too slow to embrace drug testing, to the detriment of his constituency. But Griffey, as you’ll see, does not fault Fehr.
Here’s what Griffey had to say:
On Donald Fehr’s retirement: “He’s done a lot for baseball, a lot on and off the field for the guys. For MLB, period. It’s sad he’ll be leaving us, but I’m also happy for him. He’ll get some time away from his job, which can be a little stressful. A whole lot stressful. He doesn’t have to worry about just one guy; he has to worry about everybody in baseball, whether that’s the minor leagues — guys that have gone up and down — the guys who have retired, and the guys who have paved the way from 1940 until now. He’s trying to make it better for everyone in baseball, and everyone out of baseball that’s played this game. It’s sad to see him go, but I’m happy for him. He’ll get a chance to relax and enjoy life.”
On whether younger players can appreciate the battles fought by the union in prior years: “I think people understand it. It’s our job as guys that have been through it to let them know that the guys before me – like my dad – paved for the way for these guys to be afforded some of the things they’ve been afforded. Without him, there wouldn’t be any of this. We’ve been fortunate enough over the last 15 years not to have any stoppages. Hopefully, we can continue to not have stoppages.
“Hopefully Michael (Weiner, the MLBPA’s general counsel, who will succeed Fehr) and everyone else can continue to make improvements to the game of baseball, where people want to start playing, and they’ll stop worrying about all the negative things, and look to all positive things we’ve been able to do.”
On criticism that Fehr was not tough enough in fighting steroids: “It’s not warranted. It takes two sides. Hopefully, people outside of baseball will understand that it (the drug-testing program) is working. And it’s going to continue to work. We’ve got some great young hitters with Prince (Fielder), Ryan Braun, Ryan Howard. Great superstars like Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, the Upton brothers, (Evan) Longoria. You’ve got the middle of the road (age-wise), which is Albert (Pujols). We have a collection of guys that people should be looking forward to, and quit reminiscing – not reminiscing, but stop dwelling on the things that happened, and look forward to watching these guys play. That’s the most important thing – watching these guys play, and watching them throughout their career, because they’re not subject to any of that. I think it’s important we look forward and not to the past.”
On how hard that is with new steroids revelations seemingly every week: “Yeah, but you still have to be positive and say, ‘Hey, this is working. Give it a chance.’ Other sports, you don’t hear about it. This guy got four games for blah blah blah — that’s it. In baseball, we keep bringing it up, bringing it up, bringing it up, and we’re not able to say, ‘All right. Let’s look at these guys.’ These guys are going out there and doing it, and there are no questions asked. That’s what we should look forward to, those guys every day.”
On whether the union is as strong as it used to be: “Oh, yeah. Knowing what my dad went through. Even the guys that haven’t been through it, they understand it. They just haven’t been through it. They understand how important it is to stick together and let’s do what’s right for baseball, to get us back to being the national pastime, where everyone can enjoy it and bring their kids to the ballpark.”