The news was expected and yet still very sad. Michael Weiner’s death on Thursday at 51 of brain cancer was a loss to people in baseball, both those he represented—and those he didn’t.
For the past four years, Weiner was the Executive Director of the Players Association, and for those of us who grew up watching the players and management fight, he was a welcome change.
There have been three major work stoppages in baseball history, and those were in retrospect, sadly predictable. Marvin Miller and his successor Donald Fehr tussled with Bowie Kuhn and Bud Selig.
But in recent years, things changed. Weiner’s leadership of the Players Association wasn’t bombastic or antagonistic. He was low-key, and very effective.
My encounters with Weiner came during his spring training visits to the Orioles camp in Sarasota. In 2011, he casually mentioned that negotiations with the owners on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement began the day before.
Those negotiations, unlike many of those before, were not contentious and ended some months later with a five-year CBA.
There’s lots of money in baseball now, but there’s plenty of money in the other sports, too. That hasn’t stopped the NFL, NBA and NHL from labor rancor in the past few years.
But, in baseball the parties have actually worked together on tougher anti-drug policies and on the World Baseball Classic. This work came after decades of fighting, with the parties seemingly never agreeing on anything.
Two decades ago, an amiable negotiation would have been hard to imagine. Now, it’s hard to imagine a return to the days of labor war.
Weiner was a man for his time, working quietly and tirelessly behind the scenes for the players, who universally adored him.
Even Selig had kind words for him when learning of his passing.
I knew how thorough he was. In 2012, a healthy Weiner came to Sarasota, and another reporter and I had a question for him about a new policy. He said he wasn’t sure about it, took our email addresses, and within an hour answered us and given a detailed explanation of the policy.
This year, Weiner was hard to recognize. He had lost much of his hair and some of his energy, but eagerly answered our questions about HGH testing.
As he was leaving, I wished him good health. He smiled wanly, knowing that wasn’t going to happen.
Next month, the Players Association will choose new leadership. For now, former major league first baseman Tony Clark, who played as recently as 2009, takes over.