12/14/07 12:01 AM ET
Fehr wants time to review Report
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
The executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association expressed disappointment that the union was not able to review the findings of former Senator George Mitchell's 311-page report on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball until an hour before the actual release of the document.
"I think it was unfortunate," Fehr said. "I would like to believe that in similar circumstances that if we had a report about a collective bargaining subject that had been the product of a lot of recent negotiations, and it was going to be released, and the Commissioner and his office were going to be asked to comment on it, that we would have been willing to provide it to them. I don't want to belabor the point. It's done."
Though Fehr was disappointed, he hoped that the union's relationship with Major League Baseball -- which has grown considerably stronger over the last few years -- would continue to take positive steps.
"I hope our relationship is good and productive," Fehr said. "But I don't think it serves any purpose to make any further comments about it, other than the ones I did. I've made my point. We thought it was appropriate to get the report. We thought it would have made sense. They elected not to do it."
Why was Fehr so intent on having some time to review the document before it went public?
"We wanted to do a number of things," said Fehr. "We wanted, first of all, to have an opportunity to look at it, to see if our agreements were complied with. Secondly, to see if there was anything in there which we thought was an error and needed to be [amended], or could lead to confusion or misperception, and have an opportunity to talk to somebody about that before it was issued. We were not afforded that opportunity. They did what they did. [We] can't make them."
Mitchell's report cited evidence of several Major League stars being involved with performance-enhancing drugs, including Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Miguel Tejada. In all, 89 players -- either past or present -- were named.
Fehr did take some responsibility on the part of the union for the problem of steroids in baseball.
"This history demonstrates that the players have recognized for many years that new steps were required to address performance-enhancing drug use in Major League Baseball," said Fehr. "Perhaps we and the owners could have taken these steps sooner. But the program in place today is a strong and effective one, and has been improved even in the last two years. The Report does not suggest that the program is failing to pick up steroid use which it is possible to detect. The current commitment of the players and the owners on this subject cannot be fairly questioned."
While Mitchell made countless mentions in his report of players declining the opportunity to speak with him regarding the investigation, Fehr vehemently denied that he actively discouraged players to do so.
"I did not encourage them tacitly or explicitly not to cooperate," said Fehr. "I gave them advice as to what the legal lay of the land was and urged them to seek their own counsel. While we did give advice to players -- we would have neglected our representational responsibilities if we did otherwise -- ultimate decisions always were made by the individual players. We did not hesitate to point out to Senator Mitchell or the Commissioner's Office investigative measures we viewed as unfair or unlawful. Even Senator Mitchell today referred to our actions as 'largely understandable.'"
But Fehr did admit to being concerned of what would come between meetings between suspected players and Mitchell. Would they be given a chance to review the evidence, or would they simply be told of what the findings were and how they would be disciplined?
"Over the course of the investigation, there was an extended period of time in which it was at best unclear and we did not believe that necessarily any evidence or information would be presented to players given the nature of the accusations of the evidence," said Fehr. "At some point later on, he said, very close to the end of the investigation, that he would be willing to do so in some undefined fashion if individuals came in for an interview.
"At that point, I think that things were pretty well winding down. I'm still a bit surprised that at some point in this process, he didn't simply say 'I have the following information about you, here it is.' He didn't do that for reasons that I guess he believes are sufficient. That's about all I can say."
Fehr hopes that the reputations of certain players aren't forever tarnished by faulty evidence.
"Many players are named, their reputations adversely affected forever, even if it turns out down the road that they should not have been," said Fehr. "Anyone interested in fairly assessing the allegations against a player should consider the nature of the evidence presented, the reliability of its source, and the absence of procedural safeguards individuals who may be accused of wrongdoing should be afforded."
Fehr was encouraged by Mitchell's recommendation that Commissioner Bud Selig not discipline players named in the Report. Still, he made it clear that if there is discipline in some cases, the union will do everything in its power to give players proper representation.
"We will make certain that should any player be disciplined he will have a right to a hearing and the full panoply of due process protections our agreements contemplate, and we will represent him in that process," Fehr said.
While Fehr is strong in his belief that steroid abuse is no longer much of an issue given the stricter testing now in place, he agreed that human growth hormone (HGH) -- which can't be detected in urine tests -- is a huge issue that needs to be dealt with. But he pointed out that it is a situation that is more in the hands of medical science than Major League Baseball or the union.
"First of all, we've committed, when a valid urine test is developed for human growth hormone, we'll adopt it," Fehr said. "It has to be a valid test that complies with all scientific protections and safeguards, that's peer reviewed by people other than those who develop it. My understanding of the current state of the science does not yet allow for that. It is being worked on. The blood tests that have been announced, either are of dubious or little practical value and have not been peer reviewed and so on. The short answer to your question is that this is obviously an issue that will have to be looked at and when and if the science catches up to the problem, then we'll obviously look very hard at what they have."
Would the union be open to renegotiating the drug-testing portion of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which they've done in the past?
"I certainly don't want to say that we are opposed to any changes in the program no matter what evidence or circumstances come to life," said Fehr. "On the other hand, there is something to the notion that once you make agreements, you ought to stick to them for a while and see how they work. Beyond that, I can't say at this point."
Fehr won't say whether the report is positive or negative for baseball until he is able to give it a full look.
"I hope that I will conclude down the road, after we've had a chance to look at it, and whatever happens happens, that it was not detrimental," he said. "I'll let you know when I'm in a position to make that judgment. I'm not today."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.