Saying goodbye to baseball union head Michael Weiner

Patrick McDermott

Baseball took a hit yesterday when Michael Weiner died. Among the many tributes we've seen already, I am particularly taken with Jerry Crasnick's. Just a bit of the important stuff:

In his tenure as head of the union -- he took over from Fehr in December 2009 -- Weiner built a reputation as a dogged negotiator, calming voice of reason and sympathizer-in-chief. He was mentally acute enough to immerse himself in every detail, yet never lost sight of the big picture -- that he was privileged to have such a prominent role in safeguarding the game, and he could fulfill his mission only by treating the last man on a 25-man roster with the same respect as the superstars.

Thanks in large part to his harmonious working relationship with Rob Manfred, MLB's top lawyer, Weiner left a positive and enduring mark on the game. He helped ensure labor peace through productive collective bargaining negotiations, oversaw significant changes in the drug agreement, and had a voice in issues ranging from the World Baseball Classic to scheduling and realignment. He did so with a healthy mix of Yiddish colloquialisms and self-effacing humor.

"Michael was the perfect person for the union, at a time the game was as rich and robust and as economically healthy as it has ever been," said longtime agent Mark Rodgers. "He was the perfect consensus-builder. Marvin and Donald did a wonderful job building the foundation. Michael was smart enough to know that he couldn't improve on that foundation, but we needed to build up from there."

A couple of years ago in Kansas City, I attended a joint Q&A with Weiner and Commissioner Selig, and was impressed with Weiner's seeming good nature and equanimity, even when asked about the rare subjects when there was actual disagreement between him and Selig.

For some years, Marvin Miller has been hailed as a worth Hall of Fame candidate, and someday he will be elected. I have argued that once you've opened the doors for Miller, you've also opened them for labor leaders like Donald Fehr and Scott Boras. Which gives me pause, because while one cannot deny their historical importance, one might also argue that all three men, while performing their professional duties, made things ... uncomfortable for great numbers of baseball fans. Which gives me pause. Call me pie-eyed, but I would prefer to feel good about everyone in the Hall of Fame, even while the rationalist in me know that's neither fair nor realistic.

Michael Weiner's tenure as head of the Players Association didn't quite last four years. There's no telling what the next 10 years might have looked like. Perhaps the owners will become intransigent at some point, and if Weiner were still around, he would have become as publicly combative as Fehr and Miller before him. But I prefer to believe that Weiner's fundamentally good nature would have helped carry Baseball through another 10 or 15 or 20 years of labor peace. And that he would have joined so many of my baseball heroes in Cooperstown. Because he really did seem to love both the people in the game and the game itself.

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