Let’s talk: A Look at Player Agents (Part 1 – Legends)

It’s the stereotypical snapshot. In the mind’s eye they’re pacing with the cellphone slapped to their head, hands waving, greased-back pony tail in an Italian suit and shoes burning a hole in the carpet. It conjures up Jerry Maguire, or worse, Drew Rosenhaus (“Next question!!!”).

It’s as if we’ve conjured up this image of some type of breed apart. We’ll call them, for this article, homoerectusbaseballagentasus.

The player agent is now part and parcel with how MLB does business. With the astronomical salary figures and terms with which they are derived, rarely do we see an individual player negotiating his contract without an agent attached to his side. They’re the ying to the yang of management’s teams of lawyers. One deal (e.g. the Texas Rangers and one Alex Rodriguez) can shift the entire landscape of one or more off-seasons, where baseball lives and breaths in a market driven system of supply and demand. The sky is the limit and the only thing that can stop some clubs is the paper ceiling of the competitive balance tax, or as we all know it, the luxury tax. Names can be made, along with a small fortune.

It seems appropriate as we just passed the 30-year anniversary of the Messersmith and McNally ruling that revoked the Reserve Clause and opened up free agency to the baseball world that we look at the player agents that came along with that momentous shift. Next week I’ll be running Part 2 of this series and take a look at what it takes if someone decided that actually wanted to become a player agent. Within this upcoming piece will be commentary by Tal Smith, President of the Houston Astros, but also the head of Tal Smith Enterprises which negotiates on behalf of numerous clubs during contract negotiations. Jerry Crasnick, whose book, License to Deal tracked maverick agent Matt Sosnick, will offer insight. Bill James will talk about the process, given his 10-years with the Hendricks brothers. Add to this the possibility of Marvin Miller and Fred Claire, and part 2 is shaping up into something that should be of high interest.

The Big Bang

In 1970, Miller and other members of the Players Association, most notably, Dick Moss, had negotiated the right of player’s to have agent representation of their choosing during individual contract negotiations. When coupled with the powers afforded the players by gaining salary arbitration, and free agency rights there was a shift in how negotiations were conducted between management and players.

That shift was momentous. Salaries skyrocketed, and contract negotiations became a technical and detailed process. Initially, the clubs worked out the details with their general managers, or the owners themselves at the controls. The players, by and large, knew that the details would be better served by lawyers—player agents. Initially, the Players Association found satisfaction in the addition of player agents to assist. Miller and Co. had worked to educate the agents on the key areas that would allow the agent to represent the player, and moreover, make sure and protect the player.

They were taught about the meaning and interpretation of the Major League Rules. How to prepare for salary arbitration and how to present any of these cases. The MLBPA provided the agents with appropriate knowledge regarding contract language, how to construct contracts, filing grievances if contracts were being violated, etc.

The Union’s view shifted horror as agents collected each year payments that would dwarf the total operating budget for the Players Association.

At the time, all one had to say was, “I’m an agent.” There was no certification program to speak of at the time (now, you can file for certification with the MLBPA). This created instances of dishonesty. Miller tried in vain to get the players to agree to some type of certification program, but for whatever reason, it fell upon deaf ears at that time.

Jerry Kapstein

Jerry Kapstein was one of the first player agents to really make a name for himself in baseball. He had always been fascinated with sports, and immersed himself in statistical analysis, even while finishing up his law degree at Harvard. He eventually started working for ABC as a “stats man” and became a color commentator for Washington Bullets games. This garnered him the name of “Statstein”.

When salary arbitration came on the scene in MLB, Kapstein was able to use his interest in statistics along with his background in law. Starting in 1974, Kapstein prepared Ken Holtzman’s first salary arbitration case, and while working on that case, landed Darold Knowles and Rollie Fingers of the A’s. Jerry was going up against Charlie Finley, someone notorious for brow beating the opposition through pure bluster. Finley then tried using that bluster when presenting his case before the arbitrator. Kapstein launched back at him with a mountain of stats. In the three cases, Kapstein used thirty different exhibits to make his case. And by making his case, he walked out winning all them for the A’s players.

Word spread around about Jerry’s work on the three cases, and his clientele grew. Remember, this was 1974—free agency, and the salaries associated with change had not yet come to pass. By 1976, Kapstein had landed 60 clients.

He wasn’t flashy by any stretch. He always wore the same corduroy jacket and drove a 1973 Pontiac Grand Prix. He took care of all the players needs and logged over 100,000 air miles a year tending to his stable of star players. General managers hated him. As Reds’ general manager, Dick Wagner recalled, “He almost hypnotized his players.” Wagner actually got rid of some of Kapstein’s clients on the Reds, just to get rid of Kapstein.

And it wasn’t just management that had issues with Kapstein. Even the main advocate for the players, Marvin Miller took issue with how he worked, especially over contracts he negotiated for Rick Burleson, Carlton Fisk, and Fred Lynn of the Red Sox in 1976. In that instance, Kapstein had worked five-year contracts for the players, but the catch was that they gave up the players rights to free agency when those contacts expired by attaching a “right of first refusal” clause. In effect, it would reverse free agency by making it so all the Red Sox had to do was match any offer. As Miller said to Fisk when trying to explain his position, “Look, you and Kapstein can stand on your heads for all I care. I’m representing all 600 players, and you, Burleson, and Lynn are not to have something in your contact that jeopardizes the other 597!”

He was the first “super agent” and he came with the quirks. He wouldn’t take calls, but only return them. He wouldn’t put anything in writing. Heck, he didn’t even have an office. No, the first super agent in baseball conducted his work from the fourth floor of a bank building in Providence, RI.

Dick Moss

Besides Marvin Miller, the most notable member of the Players Association in its early days was Dick Moss.

Moss, a rabid Pirates fan, had come to the Players Association after being a sharp arbitration lawyer for the Steelworkers’ legal department. But while Miller was viewed as more of the “Cesar Chavez” type—a champion of the working class and a social cause, Moss was rich kid grad from Harvard Law school who loved the game of it all.

The two had empowered the players, taken on the Lords and watched free agency and arbitration create vast wealth for the players and the new breed of agents.

Moss seemed more the aggressive of the two, with Miller’s calm deliberate tones offsetting Moss’ approach.

Moss was also witty. When he, Miller and Tim McCarver were huddled together before a 1967 Players Relations Committee meeting regarding minimum salary issues, McCarver asked, “What do I say when they make us an offer?”
“If the offer is below twelve grand,” Moss said, “It would be very helpful if you could throw up on the table.”

Moss monitored the change until 1976, when he decided he couldn’t take watching some of the poor representation of the players by these new agents while they made a killing and resigned from the Players Association to become an agent.

Moss made headlines in 1979 by going around Tal Smith, president and general manager of the Astros, and dealing directly with owner John McMullen. Smith had been known for meticulously structuring his base salaries keeping them all within a range of around $200,000 – $250,000. When Moss got through with McMullen over a young pitcher named Nolan Ryan, he had inked a deal—not in the $200,000 range, but rather baseball’s first million-per-year contract.

By the mid-‘80s, Moss had a stable of clients that included the likes of Andre Dawson, Gary Carter, Jack Morris, Nolan Ryan, and Fernando Valenzuela. In 1987, Moss made headlines again during the height of the owner collusion to hold down salaries.

Moss had not been able to get a contract for Dawson by the start of Spring Training of ’87, frustrated, he walked into Dallas Green’s office at the Cubs’ HoHoKam Park Spring Training offices in Mesa, AZ. Green wasn’t in the office, so Moss left a plain envelope containing a contract for Dawson with a note telling Green to fill in the blank field for salary. He then promptly walked out the door and notified the Cubs’ press of the stunt. It had the desired effect. The next day the Chicago papers ran articles saying that Dawson was soon to be arriving in a Cubs uniform. As Green later relayed to Moss, “That was some PR campaign you ran. I didn’t like it at all. You put us in a position where you got everybody in Chicago excited; you got everybody on the team excited, and there was no way we could say no.”

The Hendricks brothers

Texans Randy and Alan Hendricks started off in real estate and have since emerged as key players in the world of player agents. When market dropped out of real estate in Houston, and the increased visibility of the NFL coupled with free agency’s arrival in MLB, the brothers decided to become professional sports agents full time. So was born Hendricks Sports Management. By the end of the ‘70s, they represented more than 60 baseball players, and decided to concentrate on nothing but baseball. They were keenly aware of the effects of salary arbitration, and saw the advantages for their own clients when other players landed large contracts through other agents. As an example, when Nolan Ryan landed his million-dollar-a-year contract, the brothers worked the arbitration system for Joe Sambito, landing him a $213,000 arbitration award, at the time the highest ever awarded.

In 1999, the brothers joined SFX Entertainment when the company paid $15.7 million in cash to buy their business. The company became a powerhouse in baseball, with Arn Tellem also part of SFX. In November of 2003, the brothers left SFX, to restart Hendricks Sports Management. At the time of the split, the brothers had retained 42 players, with the most notable being Roger Clemens.

Where do we go from here?

Clearly, these three only scratch the surface of those that were, and continue to work as agents in MLB. No, I certainly have not forgotten one Scott Boras, and how he has impacted the business of baseball.

Where does this lead us to next week? I will go over what is involved for those that wish to explore the world of player agents, from commentary by those that have worked within the process, those that have chronicled the life of the player agent, to what the certification application is about, and more. Hey, babe, let’s do lunch.

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