Michael Weiner, who guided Major League Baseball players through three collective bargaining agreements and in 2009 became executive director of the MLB Players Association, died after a 15-month battle with brain cancer. He was 51.
Weiner died yesterday with his wife and three daughters by his side at their New Jersey home, the union said in an e-mailed statement. He was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in August 2012 and continued to work while receiving radiation and chemotherapy.
“Michael was a courageous human being and the final year of his remarkable life inspired so many people in our profession,” MLB 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.”
Known for his patience and inclusive approach to collective bargaining, Weiner helped baseball continue a labor peace that has stretched nearly two decades. He served as the union’s chief negotiator with MLB in 2002 and 2006, and was executive director when the two sides signed their most recent agreement in 2011, a year in which labor conflicts led to lockouts in the National Football League and National Basketball Association.
“The most brilliant, caring, dedicated and selfless person I’ve ever known,” New York Mets pitcher Dillon Gee wrote about Weiner on his Twitter account.
The contract between team owners and the union, announced in November 2011, led to the first blood tests for human growth hormone for a major U.S. sports league and raised players’ minimum salary every season through 2014. It also produced an unprecedented level of members’ involvement, with more than 230 ballplayers attending at least one bargaining session, according to the association’s website.
An avid reader and Bruce Springsteen fan, Weiner favored jeans and sneakers over suits and wingtips whether at his New York City office or teaching Sunday school to fourth and fifth graders at the Jewish Center of Northwest Jersey, according to a 2009 New York Times article.
Michael Steven Weiner was born Dec. 21, 1961, in Paterson, New Jersey. He received a bachelor’s degree in political economy from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, in 1983 and a law degree from Harvard Law School three years later. He served three years as clerk to then-U.S. District Court Judge H. Lee Sarokin in Newark, New Jersey, before joining the union as a staff lawyer in 1988.
Weiner served as the union’s general counsel from 2004 to 2009, when he succeeded Donald Fehr, who moved to the same position with the National Hockey League players’ union.
“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,” Fehr said in an e-mailed statement. “He was an indispensable part of the MLBPA staff for more than two decades, and was the right man to lead the union.”
Baseball has successfully negotiated three new labor accords without a work stoppage since a strike led to cancellation of the second half of the 1994 season. In the past three years alone, the NFL, NBA and NHL each went through a lockout, the latter two resulting in the cancellation of regular-season games.
Weiner received the Milton and Arthur Richman “You Gotta Have Heart” Award at a New York Baseball Writers Association of America dinner in January and in July addressed reporters from a wheelchair at baseball’s All-Star Game.
He said at the time that the tumor had rendered most of his right side immobile and received a standing ovation when he was finished.
“I wake up every morning looking for beauty, meaning and joy and, if I find that, I know that that’s a good day,” he said.
He will be succeeded as leader of the union by Tony Clark, 41, his deputy since July.
“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 the union’s 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.”
Survivors include his wife, the former Diane Margolin, and daughters Margie, Grace and Sally.