Weiner, head of players union, laid to rest
Organization's fifth executive director died on Thursday after battling brain cancer
NEW YORK -- Michael Weiner, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association until his death on Thursday, was laid to rest on Sunday. He passed away at 51 after battling non-operable brain cancer.
During one of his last public appearances as his health precipitously declined, Weiner told a group of reporters how he viewed life during his bout with glioblastoma.
"What I look for every day is beauty, meaning and joy. And if I can find beauty, meaning and joy, then that's a good day," the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association said in the hours leading up to the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field. "I'll live each day for those things. And I'll live each day looking for those things. Because I don't know how much time I'll have."
Wheelchair-bound and paralyzed on his right side because of the effects of the tumor, Weiner never lost hope. He underwent months of chemotherapy and radiation following his diagnosis in August 2012 and when those remedies were deemed unhelpful, he went on to an experimental regimen prescribed by his oncologists at New York's Columbia University Medical Center that he said taxed his body and sapped his energy.
Nevertheless, Weiner worked on union issues until he was incapable of doing so, having a firm hand in MLB's Biogenesis investigation involving performance-enhancing drug use, a prominent subject during the more-than-four-year tenure of Weiner and that before him of Don Fehr, now the executive director of the National Hockey League Players Association.
"All of Major League Baseball mourns the loss of Michael Weiner, a gentleman, a family man, and an extraordinarily talented professional who earned the trust of his membership and his peers throughout the national pastime," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. "Our strong professional relationship was built on a foundation of respect and a shared commitment to finding fair solutions for our industry. I appreciated Michael's tireless, thoughtful leadership of the Players and his pivotal role in the prosperous state of Baseball today."
The erudite Weiner openly spoke about his illness, appearing publicly at All-Star events and the next day at a golf tournament to provide relief for the victims of last year's Superstorm Sandy that devastated the East Coast.
"Michael was a courageous human being, and the final year of his remarkable life inspired so many people in our profession," Selig said. "On behalf of Major League Baseball and our 30 Clubs, I extend my deepest condolences to Michael's wife Diane, their three daughters, his colleagues at the MLBPA and his many friends and admirers throughout the game he served with excellence."
As news spread of Weiner's death, club executives offered their condolences.
"I was terribly saddened to hear today of Michael's death, and my condolences go out to his family, friends, co-workers and all of the members of the MLBPA, who he so ably represented during his tenure," White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said. "Michael's intellect and talent were unmatched. Driven by his dedication and commitment to the Players Association and to Baseball, Michael accomplished a great deal as executive director, both for the good of the players and the good of the game."
"I am deeply saddened by the passing of Michael Weiner, with whom I had the pleasure of working for many years," Dodgers president Stan Kasten said. "I had so much respect for him and admired his leadership of the players and Players Association. He was truly a great individual, a brilliant lawyer and a thoroughly decent person. All of baseball, labor and management, has suffered a great loss. Michael was always viewed as the path to a reasonable resolution. He will be missed. The Dodgers and I send our deepest condolences to Michael's family."
Weiner practiced the advice he gave others suffering through debilitating diseases.
"It's corny, but it works. Stay positive," he said in March 2013 as he concluded the union's exhaustive schedule of visiting with all 30 clubs during Spring Training. "I tell everybody this: I don't fear whatever is going to happen to me. Medically, I'm either going to have good results or I'm going to have bad results. And once you don't have fear of that, you can go on living life to the fullest. If you're afraid every time you turn around the corner, it's pretty hard to enjoy life. So I tell people, 'Try to get over whatever fear you have. Do what you have to do medically and do what you can to fight it. And then go on and enjoy life the best you can.'"
Weiner was elected the union's fifth executive director on Oct. 2, 2009, replacing Fehr, who gave notice earlier that year of his intention to retire in March 2010. When the players voted to approve Weiner's rise to the post, they did so by a margin of 1,055-4. The players embraced Weiner and marveled at his courage and posture as he battled a type of tumor that is 99-percent fatal.
"My wife Stephanie and I are enormously saddened to learn of Mike Weiner's passing today, and our thoughts go out to Diane and their three daughters," Fehr said. "Mike was an extraordinary individual in so many ways: as a loving husband and father, as an exceptional union leader and lawyer, and as a great friend to so many. He was an indispensable part of the MLBPA staff for more than two decades, and was the right man to lead the union.
"This is a great loss, for his family, for his friends, for the players, and for everyone who crossed his path."
Weiner, a 1986 graduate of Harvard Law School, had been with the Players Association since 1988. He originally was the staff counsel, with the primary responsibility of administering and enforcing the Basic Agreement. Named general counsel in 2004, he was placed in charge of all legal matters involving the association.
Weiner, Fehr, chief operating officer Gene Orza and Steve Fehr, Don's brother, had formed the backbone of the union for years, following Marvin Miller's longtime tenure as union leader, as the the players and owners fought through three work stoppages and the average salary for players rose from $289,000 in 1983 to more than $3.3 million.
There has been relative labor peace since 1995, though that group is now all gone. Orza is retired and Steve Fehr followed his brother to the NHLPA.
Orza issued the following statement:
"Right now, tears are everywhere at the loss of Michael. In many cases, they are shed by those who only knew him in passing or on the margins, but still could sense how special he must be, and how unfair it is that he be taken this young. And they are right. He was special, and it is unfair. For those of us who worked alongside him in the offices of the Players Association, there is nothing less than a hole in our hearts right now. We all loved him so very much.
"We and Michael shared our lives together. And throughout he was ever kind and understanding, never impatient or disrespectful, constant in his friendship, concerned beyond compare, and always, always, brilliant, like a diamond or a star. Yes, he was nothing short of a star in our lives. He shines elsewhere tonight, but to those of us who really knew him we are grateful he once shone upon us."
As the previous Basic Agreement was approaching its expiration in December 2011, Weiner led the union into an intricate line-by-line review and rewriting of the document, which took a good part of that year. The Joint Drug Agreement, which was implemented in 2002, has been reopened, reviewed and adjusted a number of times under Weiner's auspices. The Basic Agreement signed that year runs through 2016, ensuring at least 21 consecutive years of labor peace.
There is a yearly review of the program and Weiner had said that the current PED penalties for an analytical positive test -- a 50-game loss of salary and suspension for the first offense, 100-game salary loss and suspension for a second offense, and a lifetime suspension for a third -- were open to revision.
Weiner, born in Paterson, N.J., earned his undergraduate degree in political economy from Williams College in 1983, and after graduating from Harvard Law School three years later, spent 1986-88 as a clerk for a federal judge in Newark, N.J.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.