Weiner's last act may have been his finest hour
Grace and courage in cancer fight revealed depth of character
Michael Weiner's enduring legacy may be in the larger lessons he taught so many people during his final 15 months on earth. To those who loved him and even those who only admired him from afar, his last act might have been his finest hour.
His grace and courage during a fight against brain cancer revealed the depth of his character and strength of his convictions. From the beginning, he knew he was in a battle he could not win. He chose to fight the good fight anyway, to ignore the odds and explore every medical option.
Yet the larger lesson of his life goes way behind science. Michael Weiner, the executive director of the Major League Players Association, also lived his life to the fullest during those 15 months that ended with his death on Thursday at 51. He lived passionately and joyously. He lived because he loved his family and his work. He lived because he knew no other way.
Even as his strength ebbed and the simplest tasks required enormous amounts of a dwindling energy supply, he never wavered on a commitment to continuing to find joy in the journey.
He drew his family close and made sure they know how much he loved them. But he continued to show up at the office of the Major League Baseball Players Association as often as he could.
That's because he was fulfilled and challenged by his work. He refused to let go of that part of his life because he understood it helped compose the fabric of a full life. He believed in that work, too. He fought for his players, fought for them and attempted to protect them.
When he would be asked about this, about continuing to work after he was confined to a wheelchair and after he had to know his days were winding down, he never apologized for trying to have it all.
"I try to live each day to the fullest," he wrote in an eloquent essay for Sports Illustrated last summer. "I don't take for granted what tomorrow may bring."
He said cancer had helped him come to grips with his core beliefs in good times and bad:
-- Don't go into a shell.
-- Help others, even if you're hurting.
-- Don't lose your sense of humor.
-- Keep living your life.
During the All-Star break last summer, Weiner showed up for a meeting of the men and women who cover the sport. That day, he spoke about the issues of the day, but he talked broadly about the turn his life had taken.
"What I look for each day is beauty, meaning and joy," he said, "and if I can find beauty, meaning and joy, that's a good day."
His contributions to baseball's incredible era of prosperity should not be overlooked. He helped escort an era of cooperation between players and owners into the game. He fought for what he thought was right for his players, but he also attempted to see things from the other side.
Even before he became executive director of the union in 2009, he was instrumental in building a bridge between owners and players, especially in developing a close, productive relationship with Rob Manfred, MLB's chief operating officer and point man on labor matters.
Baseball got better because of Michael Weiner. It grew rapidly and worked to establish a footprint around the world. It developed the best drug testing program in all of professional sports.
He'll be missed because of his expertise and intelligence and vision. He'll be missed because he had an ability to focus on larger, broader goals while continuing to make sure his players were taken care of in the most basic ways -- salaries, health care, pensions.
But that's small stuff really. If you ask any player what he'll miss, he'll almost certainly mention the man that Michael Weiner was and not the labor lawyer. He was a man of honesty and humor, a man so thoughtful and so quiet and at times so self-deprecating that he was virtually impossible to dislike.
His fingerprints will be on baseball forever, but so will the way he touched people, treated them decently and tried to do the right thing by them. In these last 15 months, baseball people have cried for Weiner and hurt for him and gone through a rainbow of emotions. We were lucky to have him as long as we did.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.