August 14, 2014
An Agent's Take
The Small World
July was a very satisfying month. A couple months ago, I wrote about going through the free agent process with my client, Jeremy Jeffress. Late in July, Jeremy was added to the Brewers’ 40-man roster and called up to the big leagues again. In his first outing, against Cincinnati, his first pitch was clocked at 98. His last was 101. The outing went as well as it possibly could have and Jeremy has since thrown 8 2/3 innings while allowing only one run. When the Brewers came to Tampa and I got to catch up in person with Jeremy for the first time since April, Adam McCalvey caught a great moment in my career:
It was genuinely—and I hate to cite this film, but…—a Jerry Maguire moment. I really think Jeremy has figured things out and is finally in a position to success after so many years, but regardless of how things go I will always have a great reminder of that special moment that rarely happens between agent and player.
It’s rare that an agent is able to hook up with a player who not only makes it to the big leagues but takes said agent with him to a pay day. Everyone here probably knows the big agencies out there and probably assumes that someone like myself, a one-man band, has it rough. Poaching is a real issue in this business. I’ve had players tell me other agencies have offered them cash, called them incessantly, even flown them around the country trying to coax them into leaving. I myself have met with players already represented. Players have defected to my agency and I have lost players. It happens. The MLBPA has put measures in place to prevent blatant poaching, but MLBPA governs only 40-man members, so minor-league players are fair game. I am a constant target. I’m not complaining—like I said, I’ve had guys defect to me—but it still stings losing a guy. I was recently in Minneapolis for the All-Star festivities and the hotel lobby was a swarm of agents, frothing over the prospect of poaching a Futures Gamer. (You can always tell someone is an agent; they dress how they think they should look, some bad-dream Bob Sugar nonsense.You could play Where’s Waldo if you knew what to look for.)
Back on track: signing clients, losing clients, setting up meetings, etc. After the draft there is a bounty of players entering pro ball, and an equal amount leaving pro ball. Guys get released so the new kids have roster spots to fill. I don’t deal with the draft anymore, so the only way I can get clients is via referrals. Most of my clients do an awesome job looking out for me, and I do my own independent scouting, so I’ve built up a client list I’m really happy with. The first question I ask a player when the courting process starts is, “What are your expectations of what an agent should be?” Then I listen, digging as far as I can into a player’s makeup, his attitude toward life and his attitude on the field. Every so often you find someone with that extra special makeup, where his draft position, the size of his signing bonus, the obstacles in his organization, none of it matters. You just know the kid is going to make it one way or another. You can’t say that of course, because you don’t know the future, but going into things it’s something an agent has to believe. Otherwise, what’s the point of working with athletes in the first place?
This is the season’s home stretch for an agent. Most endorsement work for the 2014 season is done, although there are some out-of-the-box ideas I’ve been able to work on this year that have stretched my endorsement season well into August. Usually the last of the deals come right after the signing deadline. Companies are eager to bring in the newest draft class and every major leaguer at this point should be taken care of, so all that’s left are non-traditional endorsements: non-sport apparel, hunting gear, headphones, car companies, etc. The occasional local autograph signing pops up year round, but those are predominately reserved for major-league players and usually limited to local markets.
So for the rest of the year, just a few endorsements will pop up, and then there are three different agent meetings I attend, including the the winter meetings. I have to speak to all the ball clubs regarding my clients’ futures at some point, I have to prepare for the Winter Meetings, September callups, winter ball, the Rule 5 draft, free agency, and I have to maintain the equipment status for all the players I have. I will sign more clients before the year ends, and in all likelihood I will lose some guys to retirement, injuries, or a poacher—or, I’ll just get fired. (I am considering chronicling the experience of being fired from both sides, but it’s a touchy subject. I try my best to give the absolute truth in these columns because, as Hunter S. Thompson said, “The truth is never told between 9-5.” Honesty and transparency usually wins out in the end.)
I work alone, so it’s all on me, but I like the pressure; I like the responsibility of handling the careers of the men I work for, and I live for the all the good (and bad, and in between) that comes with the job. I have the luxury of being selective, and, because I’m small, the challenges force me to adapt.
For instance, one of the newer developments in the world of baseball is the proliferation of social media. Social media for athletes is definitely a blessing/curse model. I have one GCL client who has 14,000 followers. He gets paid for tweets now, something that obviously didn’t exist a decade ago. Some of my MLB clients don’t have 1,000 followers, so it’s been amazing to see how well the younger guys use social media. With that, they have given me a totally new vehicle with which to market them to companies. Companies now might notice a late-round pick just because of his Twitter following. Its incredible. Instagram is huge, too, but it’s something I personally do not have a ton of experience with. Hell, I only became active on Twitter this year and only have around 1,100 followers, but that’s okay—I was told a long time ago you never want to make yourself more important than your client.
And that is a valuable lesson for anyone interested in this field. Do not enter this business with any delusions of grandeur. Do not do this to become famous. When my agency was in its infancy, I once told a potential client that if he hired me I would make him famous, to which he replied: “I don’t need you to make me famous. I need you to make me rich.” Probably the best advice I have ever been given by anyone ever in this business. Along these lines, the other thing I most remember is the player who told me that his dream was to have people look at his baseball card and say “Wow, this guy is the most overpaid player in the game.” It was said in jest, 100 percent, but there is a lot of truth to the statement. In the end it is a business, the entertainment business.
I happen to be on the business side. I am on the money-generating side; I help make sure a player is able to provide as much for his family as possible. I’m a value maximizer. It’s a choice I made early: Work for the players, or work for the ballclub? I was exposed to the club side early, and I just knew I wanted to represent the players. I remember the moment I ceased being fan and became an advocate instead, and I haven’t looked back since.