Wednesday, December 11, 2013

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By Joe Tevelowitz, AngelsWin.com Columnist -

During my first two years of law school, I was lucky enough to meet, hear from and speak with both Marvin Miller and Michael Weiner, two now former Executive Directors of the MLB Player's Association.  While neither man will ever have his name placed alongside those of Rod Carew and Chuck Finley in the Angels Hall of Fame, both are responsible for the current strength of a union and league that allowed those players to be properly paid for their play and for teams like the 2002 World Champions to be assembled in the first place.

As a first year law student, Michael Weiner was one of six speakers I had the privilege of listen to discuss collective bargaining and labor relations.  Fresh off prolonged lockouts in the NFL and NBA and a peaceful CBA negotiating process in MLB, Mr. Weiner was illustrative, but never over-confident, in discussing his ability to broker collective bargaining peace on behalf of the player's association, while also discussing issues that made his road easier than that of his peers in the basketball and football fields.  I spoke to Mr. Weiner after the event and thanked him for his time and viewpoints, while informing him that I would be taking the helm of the Sports Law Committee the following year and hoped he would return for a future speaking opportunity.  His reply was all you could ask for from the man representing the interests of those players whose jerseys we buy, whose posters hang on our respective walls and who are out there making the plays that we as sports fans live vicariously through: "I always have time for baseball."

The next time I would see Michael Weiner was at another event taking place at the NYU School of Law, but in honoring a man who legitimately had enough admirers that we could easily have filled Yankee Stadium.  The event was designed as a place to talk about the Rise and Role of the Major League Baseball Players Association, taking place 40 years after the first strike in major league sports.  However, the title of the event was a true testament to the legacy of that Association's greatest advocate: An Evening in Celebration of Marvin Miller.

For the uninitiated, Marvin Miller served as executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1966 through 1983, transforming the association first into a bona fide labor union then gradually into one of the strongest collective bargaining units in the United States.  In 1968, he led a committee of players that negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement in the history of professional sports. He's also a man who informed Curt Flood that the union would support his lawsuit challenging the oppressive reserve clause and who, despite a win for the league in the seminal Flood v. Kuhn case, used that Supreme Court decision as a catalyst for the arbitration ruling in 1974 that would eradicate the reserve clause and allow Major League Baseball players to enter free agency.

Of course, for all he has done for the Player's Association and the Major League Baseball in general, Miller has not been recognized for his contributions by the Hall of Fame.  The event that evening involved speeches by many about Miller's accomplishments, his strength, his leadership and the sad fact that the league he truly had helped by fighting for players rights continued to refuse to adequately recognize his gifts to the game.  Marvin Miller sat quietly at this event in April of 2012, that featured a roundtable discussion with Mr. Weiner as well as another former MLBPA Executive Director and current holder of the same role in the NHL, Donald Fehr.  Fehr and Weiner both praised their mentor Miller and advocated for his rightful place in the hall, and were joined by academics, journalists and even former players in attendance as they testified to this one man's importance.  Mr. Miller said only a few words during the event, never speaking of the Hall of Fame or his lack of recognition, and choosing instead to focus on the individuals he spoke with and the players he wanted to help.  After the event, I approached Mr. Miller and asked him to sign one of the novelty cards that had been distributed to those in attendance for the event.  As he signed the card, I quickly passed along my thanks for all he did, knowing it was far from a call about the Hall of Fame, but feeling like I owed him something for fighting for a game that has brought me and so many others a lifetime of joy.

Marvin Miller passed away six months later.  Tributes poured in and the debate about his lack of rightful recognition from the game he helped modernize was awakened.  The debate again rages as Miller, along with former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, both remain on the outside of a Hall of Fame that seems to pride itself more on exclusivity than observance of actual historical importance.

Two months before Marvin Miller's death, Michael Weiner was diagnosed with brain cancer.  Despite his ailment and the prognosis it carried, he kept working, diligently focused on the union whose 21 years of labor peace he helped extend and the players who, despite any shortcomings on their own part, he continued to protect and advocate for.  I reached out to Mr. Weiner in early 2013 to see if he would have any interest in delivering the keynote address at our Sports Symposium in April of that year.  With his health and the schedule he continued to maintain, I knew it was a long-shot.  However, Mr. Weiner did get back to me, and did remember me, and less than year after we gathered in the same room for an evening to celebrate Marvin Miller, Michael Weiner delivered a keynote address that rekindled within me a love for the sport of baseball that, living 3,000 miles away from my beloved Halos and suffering through two of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory, had begun to dwindle.  He spoke of his own love for the game, of his reactions to the new media that may trouble tradition but promote accessibility, of accusations at players, of a sense of hurt when those accusations were proven true, and of an unending desire to continue the good work that Marvin Miller started. 

Introducing Mr. Weiner as our keynote speaker that day, I repeated quotes from those in the game who have dealt with and come to know him.  Commissioner Bud Selig called him "reasonable," "rational," and a "wonderful human being."  Agent BB Abbott said that, whether you were Scott Boras or an agent with just one guy on a 40-man roster, Michael Weiner "[made] you feel as if you matter." And the best sum up, from former player and Michael Weiner's successor as MLBPA Executive Director, Tony Clark said that Michael Weiner "gets it, and the players recognize that he gets it.  He respects and values player input, even though we all know that he's the sharpest tool in our tool shed." 

Michael Weiner passed away on November 21st of this year, and with him the baseball world lost another of the voices that, while we might never hear on a broadcast, have done so much to make the game on the field possible.  The Hall of Fame voters have failed to this point to adequately recognize what Marvin Miller did for baseball, and they may allow those same biases to cloud their view of Michael Weiner's accomplishments.  Nonetheless, whether this Hall finds a place for them or not, both men will be remembered for their hard work and determination that has allowed for so many to play ball and so many others to watch it all unfold.  And as I look back on my own interactions with both men, I feel privileged that despite everything else in their lives, they always had time for baseball.


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