NEW YORK - Donald Fehr announced his retirement yesterday as head of the baseball players' association after a quarter-century marked by a strike that canceled the World Series, record salaries and finally 14 years of labor peace.
Fehr, who turns 61 next month, said he will leave the powerful union no later than the end of March. He recommended that he be succeeded by union general counsel Michael Weiner, the No. 3 official and his longtime heir apparent. The move is subject to approval by the union's executive board and possible ratification by all players.
"I have no hesitancy in recommending to the players that he be given the opportunity to do this job," Fehr said.
Weiner, 47, will lead negotiations for the next contract; the current labor agreement expires in December 2011.
Weiner and Steve Fehr, the union leader's brother, were the primary day-to-day negotiators of labor contracts in 2002 and 2006, baseball's first since 1970 that were achieved without a work stoppage.
Fehr headed negotiations for five labor contracts plus a divisive August 2002 drug agreement that was revised three times under congressional pressure. He decided he didn't want to negotiate the next labor contract in 2 years and wanted to give Weiner lead time.
"After a while, it wears you down," Fehr said. "I think it will be good for everybody."
A clerk to a federal judge who became the top lawyer to former union chief Marvin Miller in August 1977, Fehr took over as acting executive director on Dec. 8, 1983. That was 2 1/2 weeks after players fired Kenneth Moffett, the former mediator who had succeeded Miller following a 50-day strike in 1981.
Fehr became executive director on a full-time basis in January 1986. His early years were defined by collusion. The union successfully charged management with conspiring against free agents following the 1985, '86 and '87 seasons in violation of the labor contract and settled the cases for $280 million.
Fehr presided over a 2-day strike in 1985 followed by a 32-day lockout in 1990 and a 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95 that wiped out the World Series for the first time in 90 years. That stoppage ended only when the National Labor Relations Board, at the union's behest, obtained an injunction to restore work rules from U.S. District Judge Sonia Sotomayor, nominated last month by President Obama for the Supreme Court.
"It was very satisfying at the end to say that the players got through it, they got through it one piece and regardless of what it took to get there, they got a very good agreement," said Fehr, who ranked the agreement that followed as his proudest achievement. *