NEW YORK – Michael Weiner, the plain-speaking, ever-positive labor lawyer who took over as head of the powerful baseball players’ union four years ago and smoothed its perennially contentious relationship with management, died Thursday, 15 months after announcing he had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. He was 51.
The Major League Baseball Players Association said Weiner died at his home in Mansfield Township, N.J.
“We wouldn’t be where we are today without his expertise,” San Francisco Giants pitcher Jeremy Affleldt said in a text to The Associated Press. “We will all feel this loss of such a great man.”
As Weiner’s health deteriorated this summer, a succession plan was put in place. Former All-Star Tony Clark took over Thursday as acting executive director and is to be approved as Weiner’s successor when the union’s board meets from Dec. 2-5 at La Jolla, Calif.
“Words cannot describe the love and affection that the players have for Michael, nor can they describe the level of sadness we feel today,” Clark said in a statement. “Not only has the game lost one of its most important and influential leaders in this generation, all involved in the game have lost a true friend.”
At Weiner’s last public speaking engagement, a 25-minute meeting with baseball writers on the day of the All-Star game in July, he was confined to a wheelchair and unable to move his right side. Yet, he wanted to respond to questions about his illness and issues in the game, and did so with the grace and humor he was known for throughout his life.
“I don’t know if I look at things differently. Maybe they just became more important to me and more conscious to me going forward,” he said. “As corny as this sounds, I get up in the morning and I feel I’m going to live each day as it comes. I don’t take any day for granted. I don’t take the next morning for granted. What I look for each day is beauty, meaning and joy, and if I can find beauty, meaning and joy, that’s a good day.”
Weiner was hired by the union as a staff attorney in 1988 and wound up succeeding Donald Fehr in December 2009. Weiner became just the fourth head of the organization since 1966.
Weiner also was a junior lawyer during the 71/2-month players’ strike in 1994-95 and the negotiations that finally led to a new labor agreement in March 1997.
Following eight work stoppages in a 23-year span, baseball has since negotiated three straight labor deals without interruption.