SBJ/July 22-28, 2013/Labor and Agents

MLBPA moves forward on succession plan

Michael Weiner was not officially named executive director of the MLB Players Association until 2009, but it was known for years that he would succeed Don Fehr as the leader of the baseball players union.

“It was clear from around 2002,” said Gene Orza, a lawyer who worked for both men and for the MLBPA for more than 25 years. The MLBPA historically groomed its leaders from within, and back in 2002 there was talk of an eventual successor to Fehr, Orza recalled.

He said some players approached him about the job, but he told them that Weiner, a lawyer who had worked for the union for 14 years and had just turned 40, was the one.

“People like Michael don’t come along very often,” said Orza, who retired as COO in 2011. “In my experience, they never come along, with the exception of him.”

Now the union faces the challenge of finding another potential leader. Last week, Weiner, who has been battling an inoperable brain tumor, announced that the board of player representatives would act to name a deputy executive director in the next two weeks.

Appearing at the All-Star Game in a wheelchair, Weiner personally delivered the news that his condition from brain cancer had rapidly deteriorated, as he had lost movement on his right side, as well as the ability to walk. Weiner, who has been courageous in his battle, received a standing ovation from baseball writers after his news conference at Citi Field.

“Since November, we’ve been dealing with contingency plans in case I was no longer able to continue,” he said.

To that end, MLBPA officials were trying to carve time out of the regular-season schedule either this week or next where they could convene a conference call of the 38 players who make up the MLPBA Executive Board.

“You can’t do it on a Saturday afternoon and you cannot do it on a Friday night,” MLBPA general counsel David Prouty said. “Hopefully, you can find a time when you can maximize participation.”

The MLBPA Executive Board is made up of one player rep from each of the 30 clubs as well as eight other reps. The “association reps” are the highest player positions at the MLBPA and are held by Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson and Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie.

“We are going to have a conference call amongst the board to discuss the whole thing, and that is all I can really say,” Prouty said.

A deputy executive director would not run the MLBPA unless Weiner were unable to do so. “[Michael] is going to keep running it as long as he can. Hopefully that will be for another 10 years,” Prouty said.

Meanwhile, speculation that Orza or Fehr, who has been the executive director of the NHL Players’ Association since 2010, would return to run the MLBPA is apparently unfounded.

Multiple sources, including Weiner, said Fehr had no intention of returning.

“I am not commenting at all on MLBPA matters,” Fehr told SportsBusiness Journal last week. “I have not done that since I left, and I think that is the only way it can really work. Nobody needs the former guy to mouth off from time to time, and I am going to hold to that view.”

Orza said talk that he might return to the MLBPA was false. “This talk about succession at the Players Association would be unseemly even it were informed,” he said.

While no one interviewed for this story would discuss possible successors to Weiner, Orza said it was unlikely the MLBPA would use a search firm to fill the executive director position if it were to become open.

“We’re not big on that,” Orza said. “This union has always thought for a long, long time if you run the union properly, there will always be somebody around, given enough time, who would make a logical successor.”

Orza said that he believed back in 2002 and still believes today that players were extremely fortunate to have Weiner to succeed Fehr. In addition to being one of the finest lawyers in the country, Weiner has the ability to get along with everyone, Orza said.

How do you replace Weiner, even on a temporary basis?

“You don’t,” Orza said. “It doesn’t happen. So you do the best you can. You are not going to replace Michael. You will have someone who will succeed him, eventually. But you won’t replace him. You can’t replace him.”

Staff writer Eric Fisher contributed to this report.

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