Buster Olney is on vacation this week, so for the second straight year, guest columnists are writing the lead of his column in his absence. Today, D-backs reliever Brad Ziegler chimes in on what makes union leader Michael Weiner such a special person.
This is a crazy game. If you had told me when I was growing up that I'd have at least six seasons of time in major league baseball, I'd have been absolutely ecstatic. While it was always a dream of mine to play, it also always seemed so far out of reach. Yet, here I am, blessed with so many things in my life, including a career that I truly enjoy. There are many other things, too: an amazing family (including the two friendliest dogs in existence), financial security and good health.
Good health -- something I'm thankful for every day. Something that not everyone in this life shares.
One of the most respected people in this game is in the fight of his life, and anyone -- everyone -- who has any part of this game is pulling for him. Players, coaches, general managers, owners, writers, umpires. Everyone.
As many of you know, Michael Weiner is currently serving as the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association -- our union. And anyone who follows the game also knows that a year ago, Michael was diagnosed with a Stage 4 glioblastoma, an aggressive and inoperable brain cancer.
I've been a player representative for the union since the start of the 2009 season. In the middle of that season, I got a phone call from Donald Fehr, informing me that he was retiring as executive director. After a few conference calls, we selected the obvious replacement that December: Michael Weiner. I hadn't yet met Michael. My agent, Rob Martin, had met him a few times and heard him speak a couple of times, so I asked what he was like. "The man is a human computer," he said. "He can probably quote you the entire basic agreement."
In my time getting to know Michael at various union events or even through casual phone calls, I can honestly say I have seen zero instances to dispute my agent's assessment. However, I can also honestly say that while his knowledge of the basic agreement and labor law in general is impressive, it isn't even close to his best asset.
His best feature is, far and away, who he is as a person. He's a devoted family man. He often speaks of his wife, Diane, and his three lovely daughters, and you can tell how much he cares for them. Furthermore, he genuinely cares about every single ballplayer. Never once has he started a conversation with me in which the first topic wasn't about how my family and I were doing. I'm guessing he's the same way with every other player. Those who've taken the time to get to know him know exactly what I'm talking about.
As far as his professionalism, there's one thing that has really stood out to me: He genuinely cares about improving the game of baseball. Don't get me wrong, he wants things to be as good as possible for the players. And he can get downright angry and ruthless when he feels like the owners are attempting to encroach on the principles we, as a union, have stood on since our inception. But he also gets the big picture: What is best for the game in the long run?
In my opinion, never has this been more evident than when dealing with our Joint Drug Agreement. Michael has listened to the players. We want the game clean. No more PEDs. Period. We want to be the era that, down the road, is widely accepted as the group of players who cleaned up baseball. We certainly want to punish those who are caught with something illegal in their system, even if it's not intentionally ingested with the mindset of gaining an edge on the field.
As for those who intentionally cheat? Ban them for a year. Or ban them for life. As for voiding their contracts, well, that time may be coming. Players are sick and tired of guys trying to beat the system, and at this point, we have no tolerance. We are tired of this being the focus of our sport, year after year. Baseball is an amazing game -- perfect in so many ways -- and we must keep the attention on the field, where it should be.
It has to be a tough spot for Michael to be in when it comes to this topic. He's supposed to represent all players and get the best possible outcome for them in every situation, right? No. Michael's response: "If they cheated, they should be punished -- I'm just here to help make sure they get a fair trial."
To me, that is someone who genuinely cares about our game and the way it's perceived publicly. We all leave a legacy in life, and he wants the game to be better when his time in the game is over than it was when he first got involved.
I recently had a casual conversation with an MLB general manager. We discussed Michael's medical situation, and he said something that really stuck out to me: "That guy is incredible. He's the best thing that's ever happened to this game."
And even if he said it in passing, I'm not sure he's far off.
Michael's legacy on this game has already been established. And whether he continues to build on it for the next 40 years, or if he's taken from this life sometime sooner, he continues to leave a mark on this game -- and on people's lives -- that won't ever be forgotten. It is an absolute privilege to work alongside you, Michael. And it's an even greater pleasure to call you my friend.
Notes and links (from Buster)
• Hanley Ramirez will try out his right shoulder on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Dodgers never lose: After Zack Greinke's strong effort Saturday, they've now won 36 of their last 44. The Rays pulled off a hidden-ball trick.
• The Braves' winning streak ended.
We had the Braves on "Sunday Night Baseball" the last two weekends, and our crew talked to Gonzalez about how he would structure his lineup down the stretch and into the playoffs. Gonzalez wasn't specific -- and he doesn't need to be -- but I walked away from those conversations convinced that his standards will be simple. He will play the best lineup he believes gives him the best chance of winning, regardless of contract size and track record. He reiterated that the Braves' collapse in 2011 changed the way he thinks, because now he's much more willing to make changes.
If B.J. Upton struggles early in September, he won't play as much in late September, I'd guess, and Schafer's presence gives Gonzalez an attractive alternative, especially against right-handed pitchers.
Brian McCann has a sore knee and was out of the lineup. The Braves' lead in the AL East gives Gonzalez the flexibility to liberally rest veterans such as McCann, and McCann has shown enough this season to demonstrate to teams that might be interested in him in the winter that he'll continue to be a productive player. He might be the most sought-after free agent of the winter, given that he could fit so many teams: Texas, Washington, the Yankees, Boston, San Francisco (with he and Buster Posey sharing catcher/first base duties), Philadelphia, the White Sox, etc.
Batting average: .363 (first, by 33 points)
Home runs: 35 (he trails Chris Davis, who has 42)
RBIs: 109 (tied for first with Davis)
• White Sox GM Rick Hahn and the players believe in Robin Ventura, writes Paul Sullivan.
• The Astros are on pace to finish 52-110, with a run differential of minus-242.
• The Rockies are collapsing, and it's open season on internal evaluations.
• The Phillies need to make a decision on Charlie Manuel, writes Bob Brookover.
In some parts of the Philadelphia organization, it's already taken as a fait accompli that Manuel and some staffers will be let go. But it'll be interesting to see if the logic used in the re-signing of Chase Utley -- he's an important part of the team's history, and he is still productive -- will be used in Manuel's case. Because if the Phillies don't believe Manuel is the best person for the job now, they should've already fired him, and if they think that like Utley, he can still do the job, they should extend him.
The tide has turned when it comes to MLB cheats, writes Tom Haudricourt.
Rodriguez is on a short leash with Yankees fans, writes Bob Klapisch.
• The ousted St. Louis radio duo of Jack Clark and Kevin Slaten are weighing their options.
• Ken Griffey Jr. was part of the ceremony in which he was inducted into the Mariners' Hall of Fame. He's a really complicated person.
And today will be better than yesterday.