Friday, February 26, 2010

Ill Keep Them Still

Everything in this game tends to run in cycles. Players come and go, money comes and goes, children become fans and fans later have children. Teams win and lose and players are gods for a day then the next day they’re sitting at home. Even the agent world tends to be cyclical in nature to some extent. A generation of agents have their reign over the entire industry while the next group anxiously waits their turn to run things behind the scenes. It’s hard breaking into this industry, I don’t think anyone really would dispute that fact. Like anything in life, being an agent takes equal parts technical skill and showmanship. You can have an agent who is the most technically sound and intelligent guy in the world but has no clients because he has zero charisma or ‘it” factor. On the other hand, you can have a guy who is the most vocal and flashy guy in the room but without any substance that agent wont have any clients either. Having a balance of flash and skill is something I have worked very hard at. Some days I struggle with keeping the flash in check and other days I’m all business. If you’re not careful, it would be very easy to forget who you really are sometimes.
One of the major issues I have had to deal with in my career from my own vantage point is the issue of "professionalism".You know what I have to say to all that? Fine. It's 2010 and everyone has a way of running their business and doing their job. I have seen many agents in my career and I don’t want to become what they are. Elliott Smith said it best "But they can't be people/not if I'm one/if i have to be like them/i'd rather be no one".
I don’t want to lose the human element of my career. I choose to be the way I am, completely out there and totally accessible. Other agents can say they do things a certain way or claim they want to run an agency like it’s a family but 99.9 percent of the time its total BS. I know how deep I get into my players lives and I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve been fired before and I’ve cried over losing a player before and it had absolutely nothing to do with the money. When you lose a client in this business and you care about the player and the family as much as I do you should be upset over getting fired. Time heals everything and you learn from each experience obviously but the hurt never goes away because in some small way it's still a reflection of your work as an agent and ultimately the player decided that I had let them down.
The movie Thank You For Smoking had a tremendous concept within the film and I believe it applies to being an agent as much as it applied to the cigarette industry. Flexible Morality. Morality in its descriptive sense refers to values that help determine right and wrong whereas morality in its normative sense refers to a more absolute definition of right and wrong such as if a specific act was to be “immoral”. The concept of flexible morality was something that has always resonated with me since seeing the concept in the movie. Obviously the term and concept are meant to be satirical in nature but I think that within the confines of my specific field of work, flexible morality is a very active and present concept.
Morality by definition cannot be flexible, morality is an absolute concept so the idea that it could be somehow flexible is a flawed concept, however as an agent, I have seen many instances where an agent could be considered to have flexible morals. There are things you do within your career that you would never ever carry over to your personal life. For example, if an agent were to lie to the media during the course of a public negotiation does that mean the agent would do the same thing to his wife? If a player was currently represented by an agent but then went to dinner with another agent does that mean the player would cheat on his wife also? Can you be a bad person but be a good agent? I don’t have the answer to questions like this nor do I have a definitive opinion on flexible morality. I just think that a concept such as flexible morality should at least have a place in the discussion regarding professionalism.
I’ve discussed professionalism in addition to discussing what it’s like to get fired and the impact that has mentally and professionally however I haven’t really discussed some of the uplifting things that this job has afforded me to experience. I think the most fulfilling part of my career is experiencing the totality of a players career on and off the field starting in high school and ending in big league career. I get to experience a great deal of self discovery every day that I work in baseball. I have learned more about myself thanks to my career than I ever would have without it. I have been so fortunate to learn so much about myself at such a young age I cant even imagine what my life would be like without having done so.
Before I was a player agent I started a small company that sold autographs and trading cards of professional athletes. I would go to the local baseball card stores and card shows as often as I could and it was there that I learned how to negotiate. Around the time I was 14 I realized that it was far too difficult acquiring major league players autographs so I gave up and started to attend class A Florida state league games. The closest team to where I lived was in West Palm Beach, which was the class A affiliate of the Montreal Expos. The very game I went to I was able to watch Brad Fullmer, Hiram Bocachica, and some skinny outfielder by the name of Vladimir Guerrero. The visiting team that first game I attended was the Lakeland Tigers that sported a lineup of Darryl Ward, Juan Encarnacion, and Mike Darr. Several years later all six of the players I mentioned were in the major leagues and I had not only seen these guys play before they were major leaguers I had met them and acquired their autographs. Experiencing this process was arguably the biggest thrill of my teenage years. Research a player, scout him in person, get an autograph, then wait, then repeat. Though the process was time consuming, it was also substantially rewarding. It’s hard to put into words what its like when your scouting efforts are validated.
As an adult, the process hasn’t really changed all that much for me but instead of starting in the minor leagues, I start watching kids in high school. Instead of determining the future value of a players signature, I now try to determine a players actual value. The one constant feeling between the two experiences is the sense of validation. Knowing you were right about a player and his abilities is a feeling that cant be duplicated. Scouts , teams and agents are wrong about players more often than not , so in the rare chance you get one right, its just absolute and total elation. So as a teenager if I got a player right, I had a really cool autograph. As an adult, if I get a player right, I have a career. There are some little things that go into the job that one wouldn’t normally think about but that doesn’t mean these little things don’t leave a big impact.
From a personal standpoint, one of the most exciting moments of my career was when I got to first negotiate baseball card contracts for my clients. As a kid as I was a huge autograph collector and baseball card collector. I probably have 10,000 autographed trading cards in storage thanks to my old business. The first contracts I got to negotiate were in 2004. Companies like Just Minors, Donruss, Topps, and Upper Deck all made cards of my clients that year. I will never forgot making those phone calls to my clients giving them the good news. Part of the excitement came from knowing I wasn’t totally inept at my job but the major excitement came from knowing I was partially responsible for a trading card coming into existence. Getting card deals for my players is about as close as I will ever get to having a card of my own but that doesn’t take anything away from how wonderful an experience this process was to me personally. To be honest, I almost take getting card deals for my clients for granted these days. Ive done hundreds of deals for my clients over the years (I even secured a trading card deal for ESPN’s John Buccigross) and it is now just another part of my job. It’s right up there with scouting, traveling, and negotiating, just another thing that has to be done. I don’t think the job has made me that jaded yet, but with that being said certain things don’t retain a residual value. Even though it has gotten easier for me to negotiate trading card contracts over the years and the mystique of that experience has dissipated, it doesn’t make the experience any less important for the player. Without fail, one of the happiest times of a young players career is when they get their first real trading card. I still remember the first time guys like Michael Brantley, Lorenzo Cain, Darren Ford and Luke Montz all saw their first cards. It’s one of the last pure moments of a players career. You can see it in their faces, that childlike curiosity, that general shock that the card that they are staring at isnt a childhood hero, it’s them. Helping to make that dream come true is absolutely one of the best parts of my job.
People within the industry all have their opinions on me. Some people think I’m crazy, some people think I have a ton of potential, while others don’t even know I exist. None of that really matters though. What matters is what my clients think of me and more importantly what I think of myself. I have no idea what kind of agent I am, I have never been one to label myself, but I do know this, I have never sold out what I believed in to excel at this job. I have always stayed true to everything I believed in no matter what the cost was. Have I lost out on certain players because of who I am? Probably. It doesn’t bother me though because I can go to bed every night with a good conscience knowing I did everything I wanted to professionally on my own terms. Res Ipsa Loquitur.

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