For the past 11 years, MLB commissioner Bud Selig has addressed the Baseball Writers Association of America at their All-Star Game meeting. And for the past four, the executive director of the players association, Michael Weiner, has followed Selig to the podium.
These have always been lively, informative affairs, an invaluable opportunity to get insight into the burning issues of the day.
The session this past Tuesday at a midtown Manhattan hotel was extraordinarily poignant. That’s a word that doesn’t get invoked very often when it comes to a Q & A in which the overwhelming focus was on performance-enhancing drugs.
But after Selig had finished — and I only wish the general public could see him in a fairly intimate and relaxed setting like this, because it might change your impression of the man — it was Weiner’s turn.
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I knew he had been battling brain cancer, but I still wasn’t prepared for what I saw. The vibrant, energetic union chief we witnessed at the BBWAA meeting just a year ago in Kansas City is now in a wheelchair and looks exceedingly frail. He’s lost function on the right side of his body, including his vocal cords, so he speaks out of the left side of his mouth, as best he can.
Yet Weiner’s courage in the face of this ordeal is remarkable. He offered a matter-of-fact update on his health, noting that his symptoms began to accelerate last month. He is taking an experimental drug and hoping for the best, but just in case, the union is proceeding with a succession plan. It plans to soon name a deputy director to be in line to take over; despite rumors, Weiner said it is unlikely to be his predecessor, Donald Fehr, and definitely won’t be retired union executive Gene Orza.
“We have an emergency contingency plan that’s been in place for several months,’’ he said.
Weiner is just 51, with a wife and three daughters. While his body suffers the ravages of cancer, his mind reminds keen. And he has chosen to remain as involved as he can in the latest union battle with management over the upcoming suspensions in the Biogenesis case.
Yet obviously he is doing so with a different perspective, one which he addressed movingly.
“As corny as it sounds, I get up in the morning and I feel I’m going to live each day as it comes,’’ he said. “I don’t take any day for granted. I don’t take the next morning for granted. What I work for in each day is beauty, meaning and joy. If I can find beauty, meaning and joy, that’s a good day.”
“We don’t know how much time I have. I don’t know if I look at things different. Maybe they just became more important to me consciously going forward.”
With regard to the Biogenesis case, Weiner had a couple of significant revelations on Tuesday. One is that with MLB’s investigation still ongoing, and presentation of its results not expected until August, it is unlikely that suspensions will take place this season.
There had been rampant speculation that prominent players like Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez could get hit with suspensions right after the All-Star break. The Mariners’ Jesus Montero, currently in Class AAA with Tacoma, is also among the 15 or so players linked to the case, and Yahoo reported this week several players not yet named publicly are also under scrutiny.
But Weiner said the appeals process likely wouldn’t even start until September. With the same arbitrator, Fredric Horowitz, set to rule on all the appeals, that would almost certainly push things into the offseason. The only exception might be a player against whom the evidence is so overwhelming that they accept punishment and negotiate the length of penalty.
“When they (MLB) are done, we will meet with the commissioner’s office and we will try to work something out,’’ Weiner said. “If a player deserves a suspension, we’ll try to come up with a suspension. On players who don’t deserve a suspension we’ll fight. … We may not have success on every single player, but I hope we have a fair amount of success.”
The other revelation by Weiner was that players in this case are not bound by the standard suspension terms for those who test positive, which is 50 games for a first offense, 100 games for a second offense, and a lifetime ban for a third offense.
Because there is no testing involved, MLB will be trying to impose penalties based on other evidence, such as medical records and testimony of involved parties like Biogenesis founder Tony Bosch. And by using this method of assigning guilt — called non-analytical positives — MLB can impose any penalty it wants, Weiner conceded.
“In theory, they could be suspended for five games or 500 games,’’ he said. “We could then choose to challenge or not. But the commissioner’s office is not bound by the 50-100-life scale.”
It all sets up for some lively give-and-take between union and management in the coming weeks and months. Not exactly the textbook definition of beauty, meaning and joy, but I guess you just need to know where to look. Weiner clearly does.
“I live each day for those things and I wake up each day looking for those things, because I don’t know how much time I have left on this earth,’’ he said.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @StoneLarry