MLBPA head a smooth talker

BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:42 AM ET

PHOENIX -- Not once did I have to look around to see where Steve Rogers, Paul Molitor, Ed Sprague or Tom Glavine were seated.

The executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association stood at the podium, addressing a Baseball Writers Association of America gathering, and I understood his every word.

Nice to meet you, Michael Weiner.

Actually, we met for the first time Sunday afternoon. We were introduced by Rogers, the former Montreal Expos ace, who now works for the player’s union.

This was the first time we’d seen him in action. A year ago in Anaheim we ran into a series of blocked streets due to the red-carpet parade of all-stars to the park and never heard him speak.

Weiner took over for Donald Fehr, now running the National Hockey League Players Association.

Fehr used $116 words which I could not comprehend, grasp, understand or spell, from my education at Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute.

So, usually after a Fehr briefing, I’d make a B-line for Rogers, Molitor, Sprague or Glavine, my Fehr de-coder rings for the day, and ask:

“What did he say, what did he really mean?”

Rogers, Molitor, Sprague and Glavine, far more intelligent than I, were always helpful with explanations.

It was a tradition which began in 1981 with Rogers when Marvin Miller was the boss and continued through the labour strife which led to the 1994 World Series being cancelled and the Basic Agreement talks.

“In the old days,” commissioner Bud Selig said, “we had (commissioner) Bowie Kuhn and Marvin Miller banging at each other 18 hours a day ... every day.”

Weiner walks like Walter Matthau. He sported a rumpled green golf shirt, jeans and Chuck Taylors on Tuesday afternoon. He did not bang on Selig.

What came through Tuesday was a passion for representing his members, equal to Fehr’s, but also a passion for the game, which always did come through Fehr’s Brooks Brothers blazers.

“Our members are all about competitiveness and fairness,” Weiner said. “If there is realignment, they would like to see 15 teams in each league with three divisions.”

Currently there are six clubs in the National League Central and only four in the American League West. The other four divisions have five teams in each. “It would be like the U.S. Open tennis tournament having more players on one side of the draw than the others,” Weiner said. “Nobody would stand for that.”

Either the Houston Astros or the Arizona Diamondbacks could move from the 16-team NL to the 14-team AL, making for two 15-team, three-division leagues. Weiner said players are concerned about having the World Series end in November and said many believe spring training should be shortened to allow time for playoffs. He also said that they want to avoid extra off days during post-season play, as baseball is a game where rhythm is a vital element.

“Our members think they play an everyday sport, that we had too many off days in the post-season last year; a team should not be able to advance using three starters on regular rest to win,” Weiner said.

Glavine, the former Atlanta Braves lefty, once told the Associated Press: “Michael has the ability to break things down to the players, he speaks English. He doesn’t speak lawyer talk.”

A New Jersey native, Weiner, 49, grew up following the New York Yankees with Reggie Jackson, Ron Guidry and Catfish Hunter and is — like the rest of us — a Bruce Springsteen fan.

Not to mention a ball fan ...

“We want the Dodgers’ players to have the best chance to compete,” Weiner said of the troubled franchise. “This is the Los Angeles Dodgers, one of the most storied franchises in pro sport, not just in major league baseball.

“It’s not good for anybody for the Dodgers to struggle, to be compromised, to be crippled, whatever word you want to use.”

Rogers, Molitor Sprague or Glavine can enjoy their retirement away from the field.

We won’t be bothering them any more.


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