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Fehr, union kept in dark on Mitchell report

NEW YORK -- Donald Fehr entered the cramped room at the Intercontinental Hotel in midtown Manhattan five minutes early. As he stood at the dais, he made small talk with reporters and photographers, asking how long the snow would last as his lieutenants flanked him.

Fehr appeared fairly conversational, relaxed and ready to tell his side of the story, as executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association. There was one problem, though: Fehr could do little in the way of addressing most of the claims made in Thursday's release of Sen. George Mitchell's investigative report into steroids use in baseball.

Much to Fehr's lament, both Mitchell and officials at Major League Baseball refused to provide the union with an advanced copy of the 409-page document, and therefore union officials said they had not had time to read the entire report.

MLB officials, however, received a 72-hour window in which to read the controversial yet historic document, as Fehr confirmed at the last news conference of the day. Earlier in the day, ESPN.com obtained a memo from the union warning player agents that it had been kept in the dark.

The union received a hard copy of the report an hour before it was released to the public. Union officials said they hurriedly ran to the copy machines in order to distribute the document to the entire staff.

"We were not afforded [an early look]," Fehr said. "I think that is, in this context, extraordinarily unusual in a collective-bargaining context, and doing that, in and of itself, says something about the bargaining relationship. They did what they did and you can't make them."

While Fehr said the union will consider the recommendations Mitchell made for change, he declined comment on the relationship between the union and baseball going forward, though he clearly dropped hints that displeasure exists. That goes for Mitchell too, who laid blame, in part, on the union for not cooperating with the investigation.

"The players' union was largely uncooperative for reasons which I think were understandable," Mitchell said.

The Mitchell report cited a few incidents in which the union's motivations were called into question. The first was an interview with an unnamed player who said Gene Orza, the union's chief operating officer, advised him of a positive test result in 2003 and then warned the player that another test would soon be approaching. Orza declined to speak with Mitchell.

When asked about the incident, Fehr said Orza told him he did not recall having any conversations of that nature.

Another development previously unreported was a collective moratorium on drug testing in 2004 when the union and baseball joined forces out of fear of ongoing legislative investigations. The length of suspension in drug testing was not clear in the report, and Fehr acknowledged its existence, but insisted that all players were tested that year regardless of the respite.

Fehr also added he never told players the Mitchell investigation was a "witch hunt," but advised them of their rights.

"I did not encourage them tacitly or explicitly not to cooperate," Fehr said. "We gave them advice as to what the legal lay of the land was, and urged them to seek their own counsel."

Throughout his news conference, Fehr never appeared angry, combative or testy. But some of his answers pointed to an underlying frustration -- though he declined to characterize his personal feelings -- with the commissioner and MLB management. Where the two sides go from here is unknown, but Fehr's answers seemed to indicate an opposition to the methodology of the investigation and its outcome -- in particular, Selig's intention to dole out punishment on a case-by-case basis for those active players named in the report, instead of adhering to Mitchell's suggestion to forgo any sanctions.

When commissioner Bud Selig was asked if he thought the report's findings would disrupt an otherwise stable run of harmony between the two parties, he said he hoped they wouldn't.

"I think we've had a very enlightened relationship," Selig said about the union. "If anyone had ever suggested that we would have had 16 years of labor peace that [would not seem] possible. Do I believe this is a setback [in the relationship]? No."

Fehr, while acknowledging that the union perhaps could have acted sooner, stressed many times that the union was receptive to changes in the collective bargaining agreement and never failed to implement solutions to the drug-testing policy. Fehr's argument was that the discussion about drug testing never officially happened until 2002.

Many of the players and the agents who represent them have heeded the union's advice given in the memo sent on Thursday: Don't say much. Multiple major leaguers and agents contacted for this story either did not respond or declined comment, many of them citing a desire to read the report thoroughly before commenting.

Instead, the man who leads them spoke on their collective behalf. And while bold proclamations were not made on Thursday night, Fehr made it clear he's not done defending his players. He warned that the ways in which evidence was collected and evaluated would warrant further inspection and reflection.

"Many players are named," Fehr said, "their reputations adversely affected forever, even if it turns out down the road that they should not have been."

Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com.