SBD/Issue 192/Leagues & Governing Bodies

MLBPA General Counsel Weiner Popular Among Players, Owners

Weiner Popular With MLB Players, Owners,
But His Fan Reception Remains To Be Seen
MLBPA General Counsel Michael Weiner, whom outgoing Exec Dir Donald Fehr recommended as his successor following his retirement next March, is "popular among the players he represents and the management side he negotiates with," but whether he "resonates with fans will be learned after he is elected and has to call a news conference someday, perhaps to deliver bad news," according to Alan Schwarz of the N.Y. TIMES. Tigers VP & Baseball Legal Counsel John Westhoff, who "dealt with Weiner during two decades as a lawyer in the commissioner's office," said, "When I’ve had issues to be resolved and needed assistance from the other side, he’s the guy I would pick up the phone and call. He’s not so dogmatic where every issue had to go to arbitration. When you try to reach an amicable settlement, he’s the guy to go to. I’m very hopeful that that will translate in his new position." Schwarz notes Weiner was hired as a union lawyer in '88 and over 20 years his role "has grown to the point where he was the primary negotiator with ownership over the labor contract in 2002, when a work stoppage was narrowly averted for the first time in decades, and 2006, when a strike was never a discernible threat." Many MLB observers, from team execs to players, have credited Weiner and MLB Exec VP/Labor Relations Rob Manfred with "easing longtime tensions between the sides." But Weiner "brushed off any credit for the change." He said that the "personalities of the negotiators still would not have averted work stoppages like those" in '90 and '94. Weiner: "But over my 21 years at the association, I would say there has been a greater acceptance by the owners and by the commissioner’s office of the role the union has in the game and in the business. ... At this point, there is a respect or an understanding that the union is a part of the picture and a part of the picture that can be positive" (N.Y. TIMES, 6/24).

LEAVING MIXED LEGACY: SI.com's Tom Verducci wrote Fehr "did his job too well," as he "used his 'freedom' to help preserve the status quo, which was to allow baseball and its record book to be decided by which great ballplayers used the best chemists and the best drugs, and to push the clean players of his union to either cheat or be competitively disadvantaged." The problem for Fehr's legacy is that the era was "too corrupt and his responsibility too great for steroids not to diminish his brilliance as a director and negotiator" (SI.com, 6/23). In San Diego, Tim Sullivan writes under the header, "Fehr Assessment: Guy Did His Job." Fehr "filled the role for which he was hired with spectacular success, lifting the average player salary more than tenfold." When he "caught the owners colluding, Fehr clobbered them in court," and in a period "marked by the decline of organized labor, Fehr led his members through three work stoppages without an appreciable loss of solidarity or the concession of a salary cap." Sullivan: "Judged by his job description, then, Fehr was fabulous. History, however, may not be so flattering." His legacy includes a "record book that has been rendered almost meaningless and a Hall of Fame that could be hollowed by conspicuous omissions." Sullivan: "That's a high price to pay, no matter how much money you're making" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 6/24). Houston Chronicle columnist Richard Justice: "The first paragraph of his career obituary right now is going to be steroids, but in the larger scheme, those of us close to the industry, it's remarkable that he got his group to always speak with one voice" ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 6/23). Washington Post columnist Mike Wise: "I hate to look past a person that's preserved labor peace for 14 years and some of the things he's done. Bottom line, I'm going to remember him as a guy who helped put the national pastime into no longer the national pastime" ("Jim Rome Is Burning," ESPN, 6/23). Fanhouse.com's Kevin Blackistone: "If there's one guy who's tied to this whole nastiness in baseball for the last quarter century ... it's Donald Fehr and the poor leadership that he's had for the union" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 6/23).

Writers Praise Fehr And His
Dedication To The Players
FOCUS ON THE GOOD: The GLOBE & MAIL's Stephen Brunt writes under the header, "Fehr's Legacy Is Stability, Despite The Drama." Fehr was "acting only in the best interests of the players, and that's a very different thing" than acting in the best interest of the game. The fact that Fehr "did it extremely well, that he evolved on the job and that he has now presided over a long stretch of prosperity and labour tranquility tends to get lost in the shuffle." Blue Jays interim CEO Paul Beeston: "He always wanted to do what was right for the game. I don't think a lot of people understood that." Beeston: "He was prepared, smart, tough and he listened to his constituents. ... He never got ahead of the players." Brunt writes MLB owners and players all "prospered together" under Fehr, and the "business of the sport still seems to be in very good shape, despite the moral theatrics of the drug scandals." Brunt: "Baseball, declared dead more than once, is alive and kicking in the 21st century. That's also part of Don Fehr's legacy" (GLOBE & MAIL, 6/24).

BLAST FROM THE PAST: Former MLBPA Exec Dir Marvin Miller, who preceded Fehr, said, "Don has faced some problems that I never had to. When I say that, people immediately jump on the drugs and steroids question, but that's not it at all." Miller: "During the time of my tenure, I always had a significant number of players who had played major league baseball before there was a union. And the point is these were people who knew first-hand what the union had done. ... Don's tenure, after a short while, had not a single member who played one day of major league baseball before the union. That's a tremendous handicap, because people have a tendency to think the conditions we find were always like that." But SI.com's Ted Keith wrote it is "clear from his comments that one thing Miller does not think Fehr has handled particularly well has been the game's Steroid Era." Miller: "I would not have allowed for so-called universal testing. I am aware the Constitution of the United States does not prohibit private management from doing such testing, but I do know that the founders of this country wrote that the government can't do that" (SI.com, 6/23).

STAND BY YOUR MAN: ESPN's John Kruk Monday gave Fehr a "C" grade for his tenure, but Rays P Joe Nelson said, "I don't know how many meetings Kruk went to. I don't know how active he was. The players of today and for the last 10 years, we make the money we make, we have the deals we have all because of Donald. ... Donald has always done what the players asked." Nelson added that it is "unfair to blame Fehr for the players' use of steroids." Nelson: "I heard (ESPN's) Buster Olney say that Donald's legacy is going to have steroids. Donald never showed up and injected anybody. He fought for our rights" (MLB.com, 6/23). Mets P and player rep J.J. Putz: "I don't think he really failed the players all that much. I think in the media and the fans he may have failed them. But his primary job was to make sure that we were taken care of. I think as an entire group of players, I think we're better off for having Donald Fehr as our Executive Director" ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 6/23).

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