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Weiner a new kind of MLB union boss

| Monday, Dec. 28, 2009

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- As the new leader of the baseball players union, Michael Weiner steps into a position of power and influence. The perks aren't bad either.

Weiner's salary isn't known, but it is more than it had to be.

Had the players wanted, they probably could have paid him in sneakers, World Series tickets and vintage Bruce Springsteen tour T-shirts. He's that kind of a guy.

Before Game 6 of the World Series, Weiner tried to work a regular shift in the union's office on East 49th Street in New York.

He was dressed in his normal office wear -- heavily worn blue jeans, long-sleeve shirt (tail out) and Converse sneakers -- and discussed developments of the day with staff between phone calls from players and agents. But he was easily distracted as he tried to coordinate transportation to Yankee Stadium for those in his party. His wry smile gave away his delight.

"I've always been a baseball fan," Weiner said. "When I started this job in '88, a number of people said: 'Before long, you won't be a baseball fan anymore. You'll know too much about it.' It's been just the opposite.

"Getting to know the players, the managers, general managers, commissioner's office people, everybody who works around the game, gives you a greater appreciation for it. If there's a World Series game in New York, and I'm going with my family and close friends, who wouldn't be jacked up to do that?"

Only a few ways would improve the experience for Weiner, 47, a New Jersey native raised on the Yankees' Bronx Zoo teams of Ron Guidry, Catfish Hunter, Mickey Rivers and Reggie Jackson. One would have Bruce Springsteen singing the national anthem after a version of the mini-concert he staged for halftime of the Super Bowl. Another would be to make it Chuck Taylor giveaway day -- his family bought him a hoard of the sneakers when he feared they would go out of production.

Weiner, like Springsteen, uses his personal scruffiness to keep his brilliance in reserve: It's there when he needs it but not worn on his sleeve. He's usually the smartest guy in the room but also is a consensus builder and confidant.

The union, so often at odds with ownership throughout the 42 years it has bargained with management, has leaned on Weiner to build a bridge to Commissioner Bud Selig's office since the strike that wiped out the 1994 playoffs and threatened the '95 season. He and another longtime lieutenant, Steve Fehr, were the union reps in the room when a deal was struck in 2002, hours before a strike deadline. Weiner again played a leading role in a successful negotiation in '06.

Curtis Granderson, the newly acquired New York Yankees center fielder, says Weiner was an "obvious choice" to replace Donald Fehr, who retired after 24 years in charge of the Major League Baseball Players Association, a position he inherited from Marvin Miller.

Like Selig, Fehr did not do his best work behind the podium. His multisyllabic oratories were often difficult to understand and left listeners gasping for air. Baseball owners loved it when Congress turned the tables on him in drug-testing hearings in recent years.

In an interview with USA Today, Fehr lamented that he never was able to get widespread understanding of the union stance on steroids "because it takes more than 11 seconds to explain our position."

Weiner works to make himself as accessible as possible, especially to the players he represents.

"I remember the first time I was in a major-league camp and the union came on its spring training visit," Granderson said. "I had seen Don Fehr on TV, so I knew who he was. But I didn't know who the curly-haired guy was beside him. That was Michael.

"It was easier to talk to him because I wasn't intimidated by him. He's accessible, but it's not that Don was any less accessible. It was just that you felt comfortable with Michael."

Pitcher Tom Glavine praises Weiner's communication skills.

"Michael has the ability to break things down to the players," Glavine told the Associated Press. "He speaks English. He doesn't speak lawyer talk."

Additional Information:

MLBPA's new chief

Michael Weiner

• Graduated from Harvard Law School in 1986

• Joined MLBPA in 1988 as counsel

• Promoted to assistant general counsel in 1989; named general counsel in 2004

• Was MLBPA's lead lawyer on arbitration cases

• Also has served as counsel to the NHLPA in arbritation

• Known for his ability to bridge gaps with plain speech

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