Staying busy energizes Weiner in cancer fight
Visiting players in Spring Training helping MLBPA head keep positive attitude
PHOENIX -- The amazing Michael Weiner has made the normal tour this spring with his cohort from the Major League Baseball Players Association to the 30 big-league clubhouses.It's a tiring exercise under normal circumstances, but these are not normal times for the union's executive director. At 51, Weiner is in the midst of treatment for an inoperable brain tumor and has been in the process of finishing his sixth round of chemotherapy. Meanwhile, he traveled from Florida to Arizona to chat with the players about baseball business issues, plus made two stops along the way at World Baseball Classic venues. "It's amazing to me that he's doing as much as he's doing with the situation he has," said Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt, voicing the type of support Weiner has been hearing from the players. "To see him have the energy he has and the focus he has still to be a union leader is very honorable. We're all very lucky to have a union leader like him. "A lot of people in his situation would just shut down. I don't want it to affect his health, but I think everybody here is happy to have him doing what he is doing. It's amazing. He's still much more positive than negative, and that's very hard to do in his situation." I just happened to be there after Weiner finished answering questions for the Giants, Padres and A's this week. As a two-time colon cancer survivor, I'm also emotionally invested in how Weiner is coping with the disease. He was kind enough to spend time with me seated in the A's dugout at Phoenix Muni Stadium to talk about his perspective and some of the issues facing Major League Baseball. MLB.com: How are you feeling and how are you doing? Weiner: I'm feeling strong and I'm feeling great. It's been a fun tour. It's been great to be around the guys. MLB.com: What are the issues you've been talking about this spring? Weiner: A whole range of issues. Everything from economics of the game and contracts to pensions to licensing revenue and union finances, on-field issues, scheduling issues with the new 15-15 (American and National League) format, Joint Drug Agreement issues, all kinds of issues. It's the one chance each year to really get directly to all the members on this stuff, and I wanted to make sure that a variety of union matters were covered. MLB.com: How is your energy level? Weiner: It's been great. We've been doing two teams a day since we came back to Arizona after the WBC semis and finals. I'm feeling fine. My doctors warned me to be careful about my energy level, and I warned them back not to underestimate the kind of energy level I can draw from being among the players. They really are a great group of guys. It really has been energizing to see them and get a chance to talk to them. MLB.com: What's your take on the state of Major League Baseball as we head into the second year of the latest Basic Agreement? Weiner: Baseball is a very, very healthy industry, and that's great. The new national television contracts are very strong contracts. You're seeing all the local TV contracts that are being signed or are on the verge, and there are some major contracts there as well. The game is healthy now and projects to being even healthier over the next couple of years. That's a great thing. It's a great game and should be healthy economically. MLB.com: How about the recently completed World Baseball Classic? Weiner: This was the third time, and we've improved every time. The competition was great. Some of those games were unbelievable, and the intensity of the players -- and in many cases Major League players -- was playoff-level intensity. Having spoken to a number of different players who participated for a number of different nations, to a man, everyone enjoyed the experience. They are very, very glad they did it, and a number of players have regretted that they didn't play. I think that we can do even better in that area in 2017. MLB.com: Are more changes anticipated in the Joint Drug Policy, perhaps to strengthen the penalties for performance-enhancing drugs, which are a 50-game suspension for the first failed drug test, 100 for the second and a lifetime suspension for the third? Weiner: I suspect we'll have discussions about changes for 2014. It's a dynamic agreement. We always have changes in the law. We always have changes in the science. One thing I can say is that jointly, we want to have as tough an agreement as MLB wants to have. Players have made it clear that they want a clean game. They no longer want the steroids story to be a dominant story. They have very little patience for players who are trying to cheat the game. That's the view of the players, just as it is of any owner. MLB.com: Does that mean the players want tougher penalties? Weiner: Some of them do. Some of them think that 50 games are enough, given that that's the toughest penalty in sports. Some of them want what I'll call differential penalties: a higher penalty for intentional violators, a lesser penalty for players who are not careful enough. We're gathering player opinion on this issue, just like we do on any issue of importance. The strange thing about the Baseball Players Association is that the decisions get made by the baseball players. It's not the same in every union. MLB.com: Regarding your cancer treatment, how much detail do you want to get into about your recovery? Weiner: All I can say is that so far, my treatment has been going well. As I think you know, the tumor is not operable, so after radiation, chemotherapy is the only mode of treatment. So far, the chemotherapy has been effective and it hasn't caused major side effects. I'll remain on chemotherapy, but so far, so good. MLB.com: How long do you remain on it? Is it just endless now? Weiner: For the foreseeable future. As long as my body can tolerate [it], I'll be on different forms of chemotherapy. MLB.com: How has it been emotionally dealing with all this since you were diagnosed this past summer? Weiner: Look, you're never prepared to deal with this kind of change in life. My attitude is that I'm going to enjoy every day that I can. I'm incredibly fortunate to have the family I have. I'm incredibly fortunate to have the job that I have. I'm incredibly lucky to have the friends and the colleagues and the professional acquaintances I have. And I'm just going to enjoy them as much as I can for every day. Hopefully it's going to be a lot of days. MLB.com: All I know is that when I had cancer, coming out to the ballpark every day was an elixir for me. Weiner: Right. Even just sitting here in the dugout and talking with you and looking out over this beautiful ball field is a great thing. And like I said, I can't say enough about how kind the players have been and what a jolt it is to me energy-wise. I just came out of an open clubhouse where I got questions from every direction about virtually every aspect of union affairs. And for a labor lawyer and now a union leader for my entire professional career, there's nothing that's more exciting and more fun than that. MLB.com: How much are you talking to other people at this point who are in similar situations? Weiner: I've been in touch with a lot of people. Omar Minaya (now with the Padres) was good enough to put me in touch with an organization called "Voices Against Brain Cancer" that I've been involved with, and I got to meet some people through that. I've had some other people through other connections who have contacted me. We share stories and talk about our feelings and talk about how we're getting through this. Brain cancer is an area of cancer that is not that well understood and well appreciated. It's great to have some kind of community to try to communicate. MLB.com: Why is it inoperable? Weiner: It's the location in my brain. It's in a part of the brain that they can't touch. I've consulted with Dr. Michael Sisti, who's a neurosurgeon and co-director of radiology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, a doctor whose reputation is as fine as anybody in the country. I've also consulted with other neurosurgeons, and they agree there's nothing that can be done surgically. We'll come at it with other means, including chemotherapy, and we'll come up with other avenues we have to come with. Because it's inoperable, it's going to require a fight. But I'm up to the challenge and I'm going to give that fight everything I have. MLB.com: What kind of advice do you give people? Weiner: The same advice that has been given me. It's corny, but it works. Stay positive. I tell everybody this: I don't fear whatever is going to happen to me. Medically, I'm either going to have good results or I'm going to have bad results. And once you don't have fear of that, you can go on living life to the fullest. If you're afraid every time you turn around the corner, it's pretty hard to enjoy life. So I tell people, "Try to get over whatever fear you have. Do what you have to do medically and do what you can to fight it. And then go on and enjoy life the best you can."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.