Union chief Michael Weiner talks about Gio Gonzalez’s case, MASN dispute

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, center, is flanked by Vice President of Labor Relations Rob Manfred, left, and MLB Players Association Executive Director Michael Weiner in late 2011. (Bebeto Matthews/AP)

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, center, is flanked by Vice President of Labor Relations Rob Manfred, left, and MLB Players Association Executive Director Michael Weiner in late 2011. (Bebeto Matthews/AP)

Major League Baseball investigators hope soon to interview the players linked to South Florida anti-aging clinic Biogenesis, including Nationals left-handed starter Gio Gonzalez. Michael Weiner, executive director of the MLB Players’ Association, said that he doesn’t expect any players to refuse to be interviewed and hopes there will be a resolution to the issue early in the season, perhaps within a month.

“The season has started and players are spread around and we have to get it done,” Weiner said Thursday in a telephone interview. “I would expect it would be certainly earlier in the season rather than later where these interviews should take place.”

Weiner said union attorneys have spoken with every player who has been linked to Biogenesis, including Gonzalez.

“It’s not a question of setting up anything, it’s a question of doing our due diligence to learn what their story is,” he said. “Obviously Gio has made some public statements as to what his involvement is. He has said that he has done nothing wrong. And I expect that Gio is going to tell a similar story when it’s time to talk to the commissioner’s office.”

The Nationals, publicly and privately, have expressed confidence in Gonzalez’s innocence and his chances of avoiding a suspension. Asked if he shared the same belief, Weiner agreed.

“Each individual player is different,” he said. “[Gonzalez] chose to come out early and tell his story and it’s a story where he is saying, ‘I didn’t do anything wrong.’ Yes, we’re confident that Gio shouldn’t face any discipline based on what he might say. And I’m glad that the Nationals are confident in that as well.”

A player has the right to have union attorney and his own attorney in an interview with league investigators. A player could also choose not to answer certain questions.

Gonzalez said late last week he has not heard from league officials recently about the case. Most of the public evidence supports Gonzalez’s claims of innocence. He has vehemently denied being a client of the clinic or using performance-enhancing drugs. He said he passed a drug test administered two days after the Miami New Times report linked him to Biogenesis in late January. A February ESPN report, citing two sources, reported that Gonzalez had not purchased PEDs from the clinic.

Even though the case may have weighed on Gonzalez some privately, he has been the same affable person in public. Gonzalez has addressed the case three times with reporters since the start of spring training, proclaiming his innocence,  and said he has focused on the positive. Everything else about Gonzalez has been seemingly normal. His father Max, who has said he was a client of Biogenesis for weight loss medicine and not his son, hasn’t been spotted at Nationals games. Normally a constant presence at games, he has been trying to keep a low profile since the report initially surfaced. But after Gonzalez’s first start of the season, his father was among a group of family waiting to greet him after the game.

However, MLB investigators haven’t yet drawn any conclusions on Gonzalez. League officials view Gonzalez’s status in the investigation the same as the other linked players, and investigators are still in the midst of gathering information. They have yet to interview any players, including Gonzalez, but plan to do so perhaps within the next month.While Weiner is uncomfortable with the treatment of minor leaguers, who aren’t afford the same union rights as major leaguers, he said MLB is behaving as expected and he isn’t bothered that league officials want to interview Gonzalez and others. “The proof will be in the pudding in terms of what action they want to take and whether we think that’s fair under the circumstances,” he said.

Two weeks ago in a Miami court, MLB sued Biogenesis, its former chief, associates, a former employee of agency ACES and a former college teammate of Milwaukee slugger Ryan Braun for “intentional and unjustified tortious interference” with the contracts between MLB and the players’ association. The maneuver was viewed a creative legal tactic to obtain documents and evidence that could be used to build a case against players.

“My concern about the lawsuit would be the impact on players,” Weiner said. “At this point, there has been no impact on players. The lawsuit does not name any players as parties and as long as that lawsuit is not designed to put pressure on players, simply to go after the defendants there, that’s baseball’s right. We’re going to monitor it close to see if that’s the case. We’re going to be laser beamed in on players.”

Weiner also addressed the ongoing dispute between the Nationals and MASN, primarily controlled by Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, an issue that he said merits a prompt resolution for the benefit of both franchises and their players. As the pool of local TV rights fees skyrockets in markets across the country, dollars used on players, MLB and Commissioner Bud Selig are still weighing the lingering standoff between the teams.

“There has to be an end in sight for the sake of both franchises,” Weiner said. “I think this is a critically important issue for players, and frankly for both franchises. And the commissioner’s office is going to assist in its resolution. … Commissioner Selig is deliberate. There’s no question about that. You see it in the Oakland circumstance and you see it here in this other complex one. So far, I’m not concerned about the pace but it’s going to have to be resolved relatively quickly. I think the commissioner’s office understands that about the MASN dispute. It’s going to have to be resolved relatively quickly.”

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