NEW YORK -- With many wearing Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers and blue jeans in his honor, late baseball players' union head Michael Weiner was remembered during a memorial service Monday night for his courage and grace.
Weiner died Nov. 21, 15 months after announcing he had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. He was 51.
"In the game of life and in his occupation, Michael was someone who clearly saw the whole field," free agent pitcher Chris Capuano told the crowd. "One of the compliments I can give Michael is that he made me want to be better. He made me want to be more like him. I suspect it's the same for whoever is in this room. Questions and quandaries will arise in our lives and work. We'll continue to ask ourselves what would Michael do? What would he say? What am I missing here? How is this connected?"
Weiner was hired by the Major League Baseball Players Association as a staff attorney in 1988 and succeeded Donald Fehr as executive director in December 2009.
The crowd of several hundred at the Manhattan night club Stage Forty8 included Hall of Famer Dave Winfield; several current players; Major League Baseball chief operating officer Rob Manfred; Yankees president Randy Levine; arbitrator George Nicolau; and many retired players and agents. Tony Clark, the former All-Star who succeeded Weiner as executive director, hosted the program.
Weiner was known for his laid-back manner and casual attire.
"You know you have style when you're a hotshot attorney in midtown Manhattan and you wear sneakers and jeans to work every day," retired infielder Craig Counsell said. "And you know you have style when you walk into a room of baseball players who most days think the world revolves around them, and you walk out of that room and they know that Michael Weiner was the coolest guy in that room."
Exactly one year earlier, Weiner hosted a memorial service for Marvin Miller, the pioneering head of the union from 1966-83. While that was a more formal affair held at New York University's School of Law, this was a more laidback night that included a mixture of short speeches and rock music. Weiner was a fan of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and a clip of Weiner hosting E Street radio in 2012 was played. People filled the dance floor in a circle as a band played "No Surrender."
Retired All-Star outfielder Bernie Williams strummed a guitar version of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."
"This is a wonderful night. Michael's not here, but we are together and we're dancing and we're laughing and we're singing," said his widow, Diane Margolin. "Thank you for carrying to his end a happy man. You all know what you did. The last year-and-a-half was amazing. It was unbelievable. Unplanned, unending. Perfect. Mike felt needed and useful and loved. You made it possible for him to remain as much of himself as his disease would allow."
Fehr remembered when he hired Weiner at the recommendation of then NBA players' union general counsel Larry Fleisher. Weiner had clerked for a friend of Fleisher, U.S. District Judge H. Lee Sarokin in Newark.
"He seemed to me about as skinny as a beanpole, uncomfortable in a suit and tie," Fehr said. "He is, I believe, the first and only lawyer the baseball players' association ever hired without prior experience."
Ellen Lewis, rabbi emerita at the Jewish Center of Northwest Jersey in Washington, N.J., remembered Weiner as a popular fourth- and fifth-grade Hebrew School teacher.
"He actually liked the experience of communal prayer even if he wasn't sure who or what he was praying to," she said. "Some of you know that the only time Mike and I had a major disagreement was the day I found out he was teaching fourth and fifth graders that God was a hypothetical proposition. I said to him, 'Mike, you can do that in college, but you cannot do that in Hebrew School.'"