08 June 2005

Excerpt from License to Deal, by Jerry Krasnick

I will have a review of this book very soon, but in the meantime...

The following is an excerpt from the book

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

License to Deal Posted by Hello
Published by Rodale; June 2005; $24.95US/$35.95CAN; 1-59486-024-6
Copyright © 2005 Jerry Crasnick

Arn Tellem, a devout fantasy baseball player who runs the basketball and baseball groups for SFX, was once described by Oakland general manager Billy Beane as having the intelligence of Alan Dershowitz coupled with the neurotic behavior of Woody Allen. He’s a profound man as well. It was Tellem, after all, who observed that the average Jewish boy realizes by age 13 -- the time of his bar mitzvah -- that he stands a better chance of owning an NBA team than of playing for one.

Arn Tellem also believes that The Godfather is a wonderful how-to video for aspiring agents, an observation that resonates with Matt Sosnick, even though he's too conflicted to do more than fantasize about ambushing one of his rivals at a causeway tollbooth.

“I can’t decide whether I want to kill myself or my competitors first,” Matt says. As life decisions go, it’s a lot tougher than choosing between the traditional burr walnut and the gray-stained maple veneer for the interior of his Jaguar.

Sometimes it’s hard to know where you stand, given the shifting nature of alliances in the agent game. Several years ago, Matt became aware that Scott Boras’s group was hawking Jerome Williams and Tony Torcato, two San Francisco minor leaguers represented by the Levinson brothers’ agency in New York. So he called the brothers with a heads-up, and Sam Levinson thanked him for the courtesy. Not long after that, the Levinsons took Mets outfielder Jeff Duncan from Sosnick-Cobbe, while claiming, naturally, that it was strictly Duncan’s initiative.

Other veteran agents have taken turns providing counsel to a kid with ambition. Tommy Tanzer, who represents Steve Finley, John Burkett, and others, encouraged Matt in the early going, and Joe Bick, a former Cleveland Indians front-office man who now runs a successful agency in Cincinnati, listened patiently when Sosnick was frustrated by several client defections and needed somewhere to turn.

“He had some issues that were bothering him, and he asked me for opinions on how he should handle it,” Bick says. “He seemed like a nice enough guy, so I tried to give him my thoughts.”

The fraternity usually isn’t this collegial. Talk to almost any agent, and he’ll quickly point out that he works longer hours and has higher standards and a more devoted client base than the competition. The agent will recoil with horror at the slightest negative commentary about his own business practices, while gladly pointing out that Agent B has the emotional and moral depth of your average protozoan.

Professional wrestlers are more inclined to say nice things about each other. Tony Attanasio, who’s represented big leaguers since the early 1970s, appeared on a talk radio show several years ago when the host stumped him with a question: If you had a son about to enter pro ball, which agent would you choose to represent him?

“Once I got past Ron Shapiro and Barry Axelrod, I couldn’t think of anybody,” Attanasio says.

Furthermore, if you had a dollar for every agent who said, “You know, I was the real basis for the movie Jerry Maguire,” you wouldn’t have to invest in a 529 plan to fund your kids' college tuition.

Given the tendency for agents to undercut each other and players to change allegiances so cavalierly, it’s no wonder that insecurity abounds in the profession. At the All-Star Game, where baseball’s best and highest-paid players congregate, agents walk around with their heads on a swivel to make sure rivals aren’t sampling the merchandise. A Major League Baseball official recalls an All-Star tour of Japan several years ago, when agent Adam Katz was so hyper about competitors stalking Sammy Sosa, “You wanted to shoot him with an animal tranquilizer.”

When Paul Cobbe was doing his early research, he came across a profile of David Falk, the king-making agent who represented NBA pillar Michael Jordan. Falk seemingly couldn’t ask for more, but when the interviewer asked him to identify his biggest regret, Falk didn’t hesitate. He said it was difficult for him to get over losing out on Grant Hill.

It struck Paul as odd that an agent could represent the greatest player in basketball history, yet feel such remorse over not representing one who was merely very good. The anecdote showed Paul that for the big boys, maybe it wasn’t just about money after all.


Matt has never operated under the illusion that he would find many friends or mentors in the agent business. For most of his life, he’s regarded his father as his best friend and sagest counsel. Ron Sosnick is a gentle, big-hearted man who ingrained a sense of industriousness and obligation in his son. On the rare occasions when he showed anger, it was prompted by lapses in judgment or the abdication of responsibility.

Late in Matt’s senior year at USC, he called his father and said that he was dropping accounting and wouldn’t be graduating until the following semester. Ron Sosnick got as mad as his constitution allowed. “Here’s what you’re going to do,” Ron told his son. “You’re going back to USC and pay the tuition out of your pocket and you’re going to graduate, and I don’t even want to talk about it anymore.”

Ron also believed that his boy should spend a year on his own before joining the company business, so Matt took a job selling fax machines for Lanier and wowing his customers with personal service. He knew that all the machines were basically the same, so customers would be inclined to buy from the salesman they liked the most. He took them to concerts and tended to their needs, and they overlooked the fact that his fax machine expertise began and ended with knowing how to plug one into the wall.

Matt’s next step was running his uncle Howard’s company, a Silicon Valley electronics firm called Allied Electronic Recovery that recycled used computer parts. He hated the job, felt antsy and bored, and knew he was destined for something more.

An escape route was ultimately provided by his mother, the novelist. Victoria Zackheim was living in France in the late 1990s when she befriended the brother of David Morway, a sports agent living in Utah. Victoria believed there was something cosmic about the link, and she passed along a phone number to her son under the assumption that he’d feel similarly.

Within days, Matt made an appointment with Morway and traveled to Utah, where he heard a tale that was both cautionary and uplifting. David Morway had graduated from law school and worked in the San Diego Padres’ front office in the mid-1980s before taking a blind leap into athlete representation. He built a client roster that included Junior Seau in football and Tony Clark and Esteban Loaiza in baseball, and he handled marketing deals for a number of golfers and volleyball players.

Morway gave Sosnick what he calls his “10-cent speech” on the hazards of the industry. He talked about client stealing and the risks inherent in the business model. If you sold pens for a living, Morway told Matt, you could recover from a bad stretch by working harder and selling more pens. If you were an agent and crapped out on the draft, you had to wait a whole year to try again. The only alternative was luring players from established agents, and good luck doing that.

The agent business was also an emotional grind. Agents, no matter how accomplished, had to kiss athletes’ asses all the time. It was degrading when you made phone call after phone call on behalf of a player and still couldn’t find him a job. And just try feeling like a hotshot when you were talking to the general manager and one of your players happened by and asked, “Have you picked up my dry cleaning?”

Morway’s speech should have deterred Matt, but it only served to invigorate him. Determined to become a baseball agent, Matt rushed out and recruited his first client, a San Francisco–born infielder named Lou Lucca who’d been drafted by Florida in the 32nd round in 1992 and kicked around the minors for 6 years. When Matt spirited Lucca away from Reich, Katz & Landis, the firm’s agents didn’t care, because they barely noticed.

David Morway has since left the agent business and is now a high-ranking official with the National Basketball Association’s Indiana Pacers, and Matt calls him regularly with updates.

“I’ve had tons of people do what Matt did,” Morway says. “I just try to give them an honest feeling about what they should expect -- the risks and ramifications. He was the one guy who came back for more. He went after it and did it. That’s the amazing thing. He actually did it.”

Copyright © 2005 Jerry Crasnick

Reprinted from: License to Deal: A Season on the Run with a Maverick Baseball Agent by Jerry Crasnick. Copyright © 2005 Jerry Crasnick. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098. Available wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher by calling (800) 848-4735 or visit their website at www.rodalestore.com


Krasnick Posted by Hello
Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com Baseball Insider, has covered the game since 1988, when he followed Pete Rose and the Reds as a beat reporter for the Cincinnati Post. He has since worked for the Denver Post and Bloomberg News and written columns for the Sporting News and Baseball America. He lives in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, with his wife and two daughters. License to Deal is his first book.

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