Tuesday, June 23, 2009

First to Third Follow-Up: Fehr Out, Weiner Steps Up to Plate

Donald Fehr, the longtime Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, has announced his retirement, effective no later than the end of March 2010. Mr. Fehr's likely successor will be Michael Weiner, the current General Counsel for the Union. Jerry Crasnick has a great article on ESPN.com about Mr. Weiner, and I couldn't agree more with what he says.

In addition to what Mr. Crasnick details in his article, this is a no-brainer choice for the Players Association for several other reasons. First, selecting Mr. Weiner will insulate the Players Association from the type of situation the NFLPA experienced in its recent elections for a successor to the late Gene Upshaw. While the situations are different in terms of circumstances (Gene Upshaw died suddenly, while Don Fehr is retiring after a transition period), the fact remains that the MLBPA will not have any worries about an election interfering with looming collective bargaining agreement negotiations (the current CBA expires in 2011).

Second, Mr. Weiner has the negotiation experience with the Commissioner's office and owners that others would not necessarily have. Again, drawing a parallel with football, the NFLPA's current Executive Director, DeMaurice Smith, had no prior experience in labor law prior to his election. And while the NFL players obviously thought a fresh face was what the Union needed, the fact remains that Weiner will not have to engage in any on-the-job training.

Third, expect to see no major hiccups in the aforementioned upcoming CBA negotiations. The documented strong rapport Mr. Weiner has with Rob Manfred, the League's top labor lawyer, will surely help negotiations run smoothly. Unlike other sports (i.e., the NFL), the likelihood of a work stoppage appears to be minimal in baseball, and that will not change with Mr. Weiner at the helm.

Finally, from a personal perspective, the MLBPA couldn't have selected a more brilliant person for the job. I have had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Weiner on several occasions. The most recent was at the Seton Hall Sports & Entertainment Law Symposium on November 7, 2008 (an event which I organized and ran). Weiner was one of our panelists that day, speaking on the topic of the health of professional athletes and the obligations to perform. Mr. Weiner was very articulate, abundantly knowledgeable, and most importantly, genuinely passionate about the Union's obligation to protect the health of its players. In a short few weeks, the Seton Hall Journal of Sports & Entertainment Law will be publishing a transcript of the Symposium, including Mr. Weiner's remarks. (I hope you get a chance to check it out.) Rest assured baseball fans, the MLB Players Association is in great hands with Mr. Weiner, and this is one baseball fan who is happy about that.

(Cross-posted on Sports & Business Blawg.)

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