27 June 2005

Book Review: License to Deal, by Jerry Krasnick

License to Deal: A Season on the Run with a Maverick Baseball Agent
by Jerry Crasnick

License to Deal Posted by Hello
(Rodale; June 2005; $24.95)

Captain Kirk and his crew took a five-year mission (and seven movies) to "go where no man has gone before." Jerry Crasnick took one year, and did it all by himself.

Of course, Crasnick didn't need a starship for his journey, though after reading License to Deal, I could see why one might think that baseball agents live in a different world. The "maverick" agent Crasnick follows is Matt Sosnick, half of the Sosnick-Cobbe Sports, Inc. partnership that represents some 80 or so major- and minor-league baseball players, including their crown jewel, Dontrelle Willis. The book recounts roughly a year of following Sosnick around in his travels, exploits and efforts in representing his clients, and gives a good amount of background information along the way.

Baseball authors and historians have composed tomes on all manner of baseball subject matter, from player, executive and even umpires' biographies, to ballparks to franchises and teams of certain years and eras, both good and bad, to the scouting business and even uniforms and other memorabilia. But to date no one had yet written about the business of being a baseball agent, despite it being so integral to the modern game, and Crasnick apparently decided that the time had come for someone to remedy that situation.

And what a cure it is. Crasnick, whose columns appear on ESPN.com, is a baseball writer by trade, but unlike some other beatwriters-turned-authors (Roger Kahn and George Plimpton come to mind), he doesn't have a particularly distinct writing style that serves as his trademark. He's a good enough writer, to be sure, but without the eloquence and flowery language of some writers, and without the plodding "just-the-facts-ma'am" approach of others. Rather, Crasnick seems to prefer that the subject matter speak for itself. His vast assemblage of interviews and other conversations give this book the personal feel missing from works composed from a much greater distance in space or time. The "fly-on-the-wall" perspective you get during so many interactions makes you forget that Crasnick must have worked very hard in not only following his characters around and procuring permission to record and write about them, but also in keeping himself mostly out of the interactions, allowing them to ahppen naturally, as he should. Like a good bass guitar player or a quality control engineer, you should only notice a writer/reporter if he's not doing his job properly, and Crasnick does.

Crasnick discusses various current and former clients of the Sosnick-Cobbe agency, featuring Willis most prominently, of course, but also discusses the agent/advisor business on a more general basis. He includes background on Matt Sosnick and Paul Cobbe, whose lifelong friendship forms the backbone of the agency, but also relates some details of the competition and the duo's relationships with other agents. Jeff Moorad, Arn Tellem, Randy & Alan Hendricks, the Beverly Hills Sports Council (affectionately known as "The Sopranos" by Toronto GM J.P. Riccardi) and others. Scott Boras practically gets his own chapter. He does a good job of being even-handed with each character in the book, portraying none as simply a villain or hero, providing both reasons for sympathy and for distaste in everyone. A good journalist you are, Jerry.

Fifty years from now, we will know whether this book was a landmark, the first in a series of tell-all, expose-type volumes on the business of baseball agents, as Ball Four was with regards to baseball players, or if it is simply part of the great landfill like most everyone else's work. By money's on the former.

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