Baseball Men - The Agent

Interview with Randal Hendricks, personal representative for Roger Clemens and other All-Stars.

In a very old ball game, it's rare to find a true original. Randal Hendricks may be one of them.

 

When Hendricks and his older brother, Alan, first began representing professional baseball players in the mid-1970's, there was no-easily defined function for player agents. In the days before Marvin Miller's union demolished the old reserve clause system in 1976, ball players had no guaranteed right of outside counsel, much less any right to refuse anything but my-way-or-the-highway salary offers. Stripped of any free market leverage, player's minimum salaries hovered at $19,000 per year and the average salary stood at just over $55,000.

 

No wonder the Hendricks brothers were joined by, at most, a dozen player reps in those early days - there just wasn't much to represent. But, my, times have changed.

 

Now that today's Major League stars are empowered with iron-clad rights to negotiate through arbitration and, of course, free agency, their multi-million dollar contract negotiations are the stuff of multiple in-season trades and the Hot Stove League signings. Any fan who wants to know who's going to move, and the where, why, and how of the latest mega-deals has to know about the players' closest advisors. And those hardy few agents who scraped over a few thousand dollars back in the old days? For better or for worse, they're among the most important power brokers in the modern game.

 

Alone among those first player agents, the Hendricks brothers have lasted over the decades, and their unprecedented longevity is largely the product of an unsurpassed reputation. It's said that no one works harder to learn the law and economics of the game from every possible angle. That no one's more in touch with the players and the decision makers alike. That no one has come close to compiling a better, long-lasting record for winning, whether it comes to arbitration cases or client deals now totaling hundreds of millions of dollars.

 

The bottom line - no one this side of Scott Boras can compare to Hendricks Sports Management's influence on player negotiations.

 

Randal Hendricks frequently comments on the professional fate of clients like Andy Pettitte, Al Leiter and the one and only Roger Clemens, but rarely takes the time to talk about his own job. Just recently, however, he provided an insider's perspective on the unique business of baseball, his collaboration with a young stats guy named Bill James, and the arts of his many deals.

 

 

When did you first get interested in sports representation?

 

My brother and I were students at the University of Houston in the 1960's when we had incredibly gifted athletic teams. Our baseball team went to the finals of the College World Series, our football teams were almost always in the Top 10 or 20, and our basketball team was in the Final Four with Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney. Those were glory years - the town was electrified.

 

We heard about famous players, players that were not doing well off the field, and we basically asked ourselves who was advising them. Were they professionally qualified? So we said we would give it a try if an opportunity presented itself. And it did through Elmo Wright, a University of Houston All-American wide receiver. I was 24 years old when I started out as an agent.

 

When did you get started in baseball?

 

We worked exclusively in football until the Messersmith-McNally case [in 1976]. After that decision, I told Alan we needed to start representing baseball players as well. So we did, starting with John Lowenstein and players like Dave LaRoche, Alan Ashby, Larry Andersen, Alfredo Griffin, Tom Grieve. We focused on young players like Don Robinson and Charlie Lea. This in turn, lead to more young players, like Doug Drabek, John Smiley, George Bell, and, oh yeah, Roger Clemens.

 

Who were your fellow travelers in those days? What was your motivation in getting started?

 

Tom Reich, Dick Moss and Ron Shapiro. All of us were accomplished lawyers. We did what we did because we liked sports and athletes. When we sit down today, we talk about baseball's labor history and personalities and play baseball trivia games for hours.

 

One of my goals in life has been to make sure that Monday and Friday don't feel differently, to do something I felt passionate about, something that motivated me. So I worked 16 hour days - I did it routinely and happily- because I was doing something I liked.

 

I loved baseball, the money was good enough, but it was mostly about sports and lifestyle. I didn't want to wear a suit to work everyday in a law firm, but I wanted to be a lawyer. Today, most of the time, I'm in shorts, short sleeves, and sandals.

 

Was it difficult for you to establish a rapport with ball players, especially in those early days?

 

My ability to communicate with players came easy. I guess I think like one and try to understand the game the way they do. I talk shop with them, to this day, and we're talking about match ups, situations, mental approaches, mechanics, umpiring. All the variables that come into play.

 

Put it this way- I identified with the players. While I never had the ability to become a great pro, I was a good local player; I knew how to play the game. There were players like me all across America. I still identified with the player working hard to make it in the big leagues.

 

Another reason my brother and I picked baseball - ball players grow up. They live on their own, often married, working two jobs, dreaming of the big leagues. There's no college booster slipping them money. You never hear about corruption in NCAA baseball, for heaven's sake.

 

How were you able to recruit among the first free agents and the players in that era?

 

Back in the `70's, I used to kid that a prerequisite to becoming a General Manager was insensitivity. That was the common trait, I thought - you couldn't be a GM unless you didn't care how the players felt. You could just be a tough guy. Therefore, the best recruiters for agents back in the early days were General Managers. The way they treated players, in general, was so poor that the ball players just flocked to us.

 

Let me give you two names: ‘Randy Hendricks' and ‘Jerry Maguire'.

 

(laughs)  The idea that I don't know who I am, that I'm trying to figure out life and love . . . Are you kidding me? I came from a big family of go-getters, where we had to go out and earn all our discretionary income. I was married at age 19.

 

(laughs)  Being somebody's buddy and hanging out, that's not what representation is all about to me. It's about being a professional, period. If you do your job right, the players will like and respect you.

 

Was it hard for you to adjust to thinking of baseball as a business?

 

No, it's never been hard for me to deal with the business part of the game. I never approached the work, at least, from a fan's perspective. I approached it from a business and professional perspective.

 

It's worth noting that both my brother and I have undergraduate degrees in finance. We consider ourselves businessmen and have a lot of respect for the teams and what they go through. We don't lack an appreciation for risk capital, management issues, and so forth. It has not been hard for us to put ourselves in the position of a team owner or General Manager.

 

That being said, I often tell them, ‘My job is to get a player his market value or better. Your job is tougher- you've got to keep an eye on the budget and the other eye on the winning. You have to sometimes give me the contract I want, because that's what you need to do to get the player you need to win and drive attendance and prove why you're  in this line of work in the first place'.

 

Clubs should be about building a winning team as well as making money. I really feel very strongly about that. If I were running a team and I had a great player, it wouldn't bother me to give him a good contract. I'd know that I'm going to have to pay some players to win, and they don't come cheaply, so I'm wouldn't spend any time worrying. It comes with the territory.

 

I guess that, even today, agents are still considered outsiders to the game's establishment. On the one side are ball players and executives, even owners, writers and so forth, and then on the other side are these other guys, the agents.

 

I hesitate to dignify those kinds of comment with an answer. In my fourth decade in the profession, I'm still hearing the same questions- ‘Why are you here? What are your motives?' Only these questions seldom come from insiders these days. Mostly they come from the uninitiated.

 

I gotta tell you this- it's a joke I used for years and years. It would annoy a lot of General Managers who made agent comments. I'd say, `Why are saying this? You're just the agent of the owner'. The General Managers are agents of the owners - that's all they are. They're people the owners hired, with certain skills, in order to advance the owners' interests. Players hire us for the same reason.

 

Here were these guys who were, in essence, agents for one group, complaining about agents for a different group. What was all that talk about, then? A changing landscape. They were unhappy because things were changing. On a less philosophical level, they were unhappy because they no longer had an unfair advantage in manipulating players' insecurities to achieve their results. They had to deal with player agents, people with equal or better professional skills, meaning that they had to pay more and deal with more challenging negotiations.

 

It would be like a hitter starting against a really good pitcher, complaining. Here comes Clemens, Martinez, Carpenter, Pettitte, take your pick. Or you can take a no-name with no track record. Who would you want starting against you tonight?

 

How do you respond to the allegation that many agents are unprincipled?

 

It's both easy and difficult. No one side has all the principles. No one owns the game.

 

If someone says, ‘lawyers are dishonest, all of them are out just out for themselves, they're a bunch of sharks', I take umbrage. They've included everyone, including you and me. If a critic says, instead, ‘I have a lot of problems with lawyers who put their own interests ahead of clients' interests, or put money ahead of principles', my response is, ‘me, too!'.

 

There's no question that there are people on both sides of the fence who cut corners. Their word isn't necessarily their bond, so the truth and what they say aren't necessarily friends. I could name you two or three General Managers who make a practice of going around agents all the time in order to get to players. And they're well regarded in the industry. That's just the way they are and I have to deal with it. Do I consider them ethical? It depends on how you define ethics. You and I know that if it were a legal dispute, if they were lawyers, they'd be in trouble with the Bar. But some front offices don't look at it that way. They view it as their job to get the players signed. And they view them as employees. So, all is fair to them.

 

Now, some teams still vilify agents, but agents can be their own worst enemies. Sometimes players want to change representation just like they might want to go to a different doctor, but agents who lose clients can be sore losers, guys who tend to slight the competition, to present the other guy as a bad guy who did something wrong. So, all of that whining just fuels the stereotype.

 

Agents are certified by the union these days, and there are other regulations. Many are members of Bar Associations. Do I believe there are some agents breaking rules, with some being unqualified, doubtful characters? Yes, but they're in the minority. I also know they don't last in this business. They get found out and they get fired. I'd rather concentrate on the guys who have done a very good job for a long time.

 

Do you think that the negotiation process with ball clubs has grown more difficult over the years?

 

Generally speaking, no.

 

I can't overstate this:  there was a tremendous collision, in the 1970's and well into the 1980's, in the culture of baseball. That was when free agency came in, when General Managers were first faced with the possibility of losing players, signing free agents and being forced to make trades. For the most part the General Managers of the era were crusty old guys, former players who often weren't very well-educated, to be quite blunt. Their skills weren't in formal education but in talent evaluation and toughness.         

 

The GMs often didn't adjust well to the new era, which required them to decide which players to sign and when to make moves. They had to deal with the new uncertainty that they didn't control their roster anymore. But, things have evolved to the point where pretty much everyone knows the rules of today's game. There's a lot more respect, a lot better communication. There's much better maneuvering in the landscape in terms of budgets, talent evaluation, arbitration, deal terms, multi-year contracts, the many choices. [Modern General Managers] have been to charm school and they know we have a job to do.

 

Still, from time to time, you might hear about so-and-so agent is tough or impossible to deal with, that ball clubs aren't interested in his clients as a result.

 

From time to time you might hear a player or agent might have a gripe or grudge against someone else. And vice versa. This process can still get acrimonious, but it's a different kind of conflict - it's not anywhere close to what it used to be when there was a cultural clash between General Managers and agents. (laughs)  It's almost like, now we're considered a part of government.

 

For myself, I generally don't carry grudges, because it's counterproductive. I learned that from my mom, and she was right. She said a grudge only hurts the person who carries it. It works against you. Just move on. Live for today and tomorrow, not for yesterday.

 

Have escalating salaries made negotiations between management and ball players more difficult?

 

I wouldn't say so.

 

Years ago, we might try to get to $70,000 when a player was being offered $50,000. You might say, ‘boy, you really had a full-pitched battle over $20,000'. In fact, we did. Chris Knapp walked out on the California Angels back in the late ‘70's, and it was over a lingering $20,000 dispute.

 

People today might say ‘oh, that's not much', but back then, when adjusted for inflation and purchasing power, it meant a lot. Anyway, it was for relative justice. It was a battle over relative pay, about ‘I'm just as good as this guy and this is what he makes'.

 

One thing that seems to have grown less acrimonious is the arbitration process.

 

It's always been an error to air dirty laundry or the inside business deal in public. You know, ‘this guy's greedy; this guy's a bad guy'. It used to happen a lot more than it does today.

 

Greg Swindell was one of our clients. The Indians argued in an arbitration case [in 1991], basically, that Swindell was no longer a front-line starting pitcher, that he wasn't all that good. They had Frank Casey argue the case at the time, and Frank's reputation was pretty much to trash the players and create doubt. At the end of the case they said it was nothing personal, but it had been a pretty rough case. Later, when Greg was close to becoming a free agent, the team ended up making four or five offers, but he had been so offended by the arbitration case that we never countered. I said, ‘You don't understand. Greg doesn't want to play for you anymore. He was the best pitcher for a not very good team. In this case, he did take it personally'.

 

[Former Indians General Manager] John [Hart] has said that the Swindell situation was a watershed moment. It was after that negotiation that the team started avoiding arbitration and started signing up a nucleus of good young players.

 

That's another change that's occurred over the years - teams seem more eager to either nontender their young players or try to lock them up in long term deals.

 

I argued that this was the solution to the clubs arbitration gripes long before they started doing this. I guess I'm proud of the changes I've helped bring about.

 

Historically, the teams just wanted to play it out with a player and wait until he was a free agent. After our [Doug] Drabek case [in 1991], it slowly became expected that superior young players would get big salaries. Let me tell you why that was important - it gave ball clubs the incentive to sign them to long term contracts. Not without a battle or two, the industry slowly changed its perspective.

 

For example, how did Albert Pujols get a great long term contract after his first three years? I'll tell you how - look first at what he produced in his first three years in the league, and how infrequently it's been done. That's why he filed a huge number in salary arbitration, and properly so, and turned it into a huge contract. So it was done right. And no one doubts he's worth it. And St. Louis is glad to have him. And there is no debate in St. Louis over ‘will he stay or will he go?' So, everyone won.

 

It's so difficult to find a player who's excellent, who has the right value system, who's self-motivated, who's a good presence in the clubhouse. His team should always jump on signing that player to a long term contract. Nowadays, that's become a standard practice.

 

Well, one of the reasons you won the Drabek arbitration case, and many others, is because you started working with this obscure stats guy after the 1979 season.

 

We were the first people to hire Bill James. He used to come down from Winchester, Kansas to my house in the country for a couple of weeks every year, working those cases.

 

The way it happened was that Bill had published a homemade book, and had advertised it in The Sporting News. We bought it, read it, called him up, and asked him to work with us on arbitration cases. I don't know if we discovered him, but we certainly put him in the big league arena.

 

Creativity isn't a quality that people would ordinarily associate with lawyers, but we created our own stuff. Why would we hook up with Bill James? Because he asked questions and used quantitative analysis. All he did was hold notions up to rigorous standards. ‘He's a clutch hitter?' we'd hear. ‘Well, what's the definition of clutch? Let's find out'. And we added Steve Mann to our team in the mid-1980's. So we had something going for us, that's for sure.

 

As I understand it, many of the theories and figures that were later found in the ‘Historical Baseball Abstract' books, and all the writing they've influenced over the years, first turned up in your arbitration cases with Mr. James.

 

We were arguing that on-base percentage was more important than batting average 20 years ago. Because it is. We took a reasonably firm position on the importance of stuff like slugging percentage and a pitcher's league ERA differential. We looked at defense, but that was like turning a Rubik's Cube. We also looked at performance in context, instead of a vacuum. We argued that a started pitcher's won/loss record was highly dependent upon offensive support, defense, and the bullpen behind him. That was heretical at the time, but we won those cases.

 

We weren't bashful about arguing our stuff. We won a lot, but all of us do get beat. It's inevitable in an arena with good competition. I've always said, ‘Show me a lawyer who's never been beat and I'll show you a lawyer who's never tried a tough case'. We hated to lose, but we weren't afraid to fail as long as we had prepared a good case and were trying things against convention.

 

What was it like coming up with the statistics and arguments for those early arbitration cases?

 

In terms of the systems we used, try a calculator and a typist!  When we had something, we typed them up and hoped we didn't make too many typos or mess up the Xerox. Thank God for those IBM Selectrics with the self-correcting white-outs and overstrikes.

 

Those were times when we'd work on a chart for three hours and say, ‘aw, this doesn't work. Good thought, but it doesn't work'. Today you can do the same stuff in, like, 30 seconds on a computer, probably less. What's happening now is the use of computer laptops with databases where the sides are challenging each other with charts they're producing, literally, in the middle of the case - instant gratification. It's been a fun evolution.

 

The most interesting time was an interim period, where I'd go to New York, stay for three or four days, and run as many as five terminals at once off a master computer. I'd just go from one terminal to the next to produce a chart while the others were processing.

 

How did you feel about the later influence of your work throughout the game?

 

Oh, people stole from us like you wouldn't believe, but I'm not griping. When someone uses your ideas, it's a compliment. Plus it said a lot about the arbitrators that they accepted our unconventional arguments and analysis, although, as I said, not always. And it's just possible that we didn't always have the best position. (laughs)

 

Within the last couple of years, star players like Gary Sheffield and Curt Schilling have acted as their own agents for free agent contract negotiations. Do you think that's ever a good idea?

 

[Agents and team executives] will disagree when we are valuing a player. That's an inevitability. Just as sure as the Yankees want to beat the Red Sox, and vice versa.

 

However, for the most part, teams will admit that they'd prefer to talk to an agent rather than a player, because they can just get down to a clinical discussion of the market and the player's strengths and weaknesses. Many of them appreciate the value we bring to the equation. There are always exceptions to any general rule, but players should play and agents should negotiate. After all, knowing net present value is not a requisite for becoming a great baseball player.

 

Do any executives stand out in your mind in the way they approach contract negotiations?

 

[Former Blue Jays, Orioles, and Mariners GM] Pat Gillick and I have always gotten along well, even when we disagreed. The relationship had nothing to do with him giving me a break or me giving me a break, because we had to do our job right, just as if we were playing against each other. You know what? The respect was so profound that we didn't try to fool each other. That relationship, once it's formed is a strong one. And Pat's partner in Toronto, Paul Beeston, had the best people skills I've ever seen in the game. They were the reason Toronto signed so many players and won two World Championships [in 1992-93]. I give both of them enormous credit.

 

The same with [former Athletics GM] Sandy Alderson. I knew where he was going and he knew where I was going, there was respect for the way the other guy plied his trade. We both knew when we were doing the ‘right' thing even when it was unconventional and could put ourselves above our narrow interests and look at the entire system. We did a PBS Show with Charlie Rose where Charlie expressed surprise that we agreed on so much. But we were analyzing the system, so neither of us were surprised. It was a lot of fun. It had nothing and everything to do with what a particular player was worth.

 

And, of course, there were other outstanding individuals on the management side. Too many to name. There are a lot of fine young ones operating today. And all they have ever known is a system with agents.

 

How do you generally go about advising your clients when you receive an offer from a team?

 

I try to present the options. The pros and cons. I try to play a sort of best case / worst case / in-between scenario for a particular team proposal and ask them how they would feel in each case. Alan and I independently value the player, so all of that information is presented.

 

You know what? Usually, the way they feel in each particular case leads their decisions. I'm convinced that many judges and most juries make their decisions on how they feel about the facts. I never took a course in psychology, although I've read extensively on the subject. I'm fascinated by the whole nexus of sports, law, psychology, and strategy. But it is often about how people ‘feel' about their decision rather than how they ‘think' about it. But an important part of our job is to make them think about how they feel. (laughs)

 

In the 1980's and 1990's especially, your clients were known for breaking salary records. Did you have any particular strategy in pushing for the higher numbers?

 

Coming out of collusion, there was no question we pushed the limits. I was greatly disturbed about collusion; that salaries had been repressed, and I was going for it. I was accused of going for it and I said, ‘that's right, I am'. I was going for records.

 

One of the things I worked for was a breakdown in the baseball's seniority system in pay. Back in the `80's, ball players still had to bide their time to get paid more money. I wanted a merit system - if you have a great young player, pay him. ‘What do you mean we have to wait ten years? He may not be around here in ten years'. I made a distinction between superstar players, front line players, and what I called good-but-replaceable players. I felt the real game was in relative comparisons. So we had to have good markers, and I created some.

 

Of course, that helped spur a marketplace where ball player salaries are sometimes considered ‘obscene'.

 

I wish I could cite you the numerous columns I have seen over 35 years that make the same general point. All you would have to do is change the numbers, say, from $22 million this year to $400,000 in the mid-to-late 1970's. Mostly, it shows a lack of knowledge about the baseball salary structure or a lack of knowledge about the revenues in the game. Our client Rance Mulliniks used to say ‘Well, you tell me what a ball player is worth and how you got there'.

 

I also have this theory - fans really don't want to hear the debate in the first place. Movie fans don't really care what Tom Cruise gets to make a movie, they just want to enjoy the movie. Did you ever go to a movie theatre and think, ‘I don't want to go to that movie because the star got paid too much?'

 

Why do you think there are still so many complaints about ball player salaries, then?

 

Ball players are easy targets for critics from an emotional or subjective basis. Anybody can get on a radio talk show and rant and anyone can write a column and vent. That doesn't mean I have to react to it. It's like fans booing at a ball park. It's predictable.

 

What's the criteria? The criteria is- ‘I'm a fan, make me happy'. If you win and smile and sign autographs, they love you. If you don't win, they want the team to fire you. It's an extreme set of circumstances, so I always tell players, ‘remember, they cheer what you do, not who you are'. That's just my way of saying that a player is never going to get unconditional love at the ball park.

 

Look at it this way - my clients haven't hired me to do anything other than to advise them regarding their careers, execute on a plan, and achieve some results. I don't have a duty to mollify critics. I don't want you to think that I'm cynical about fans, because I'm a huge fan myself. I always have been. It's just that one has to have a thick hide in this business, to have a larger perspective, in order to do the job.

 

Finally, a lot of fans played baseball when they were kids, so they think they would play for free if they were good enough to play in the Major Leagues. It just doesn't work that way in reality.

 

The situation that draws the most criticism seems to be when a popular, home-grown player decides to leave for more money elsewhere. The common sentiment seems to be that there's plenty of money to be made by just staying put.

 

My response is in those situations is to ask, ‘why didn't the former club meet the market?'

 

I have to tell players all the time that they don't have any real friends on the other side; that they have to stand up to a lot of pressure in order to get their top market value. It may seem cynical, but it is generally true. If a player feels pretty happy and wants to stay where he is, 95% of the time the team will use his good will against him. They'll use that to try to underpay him. It's a major mistake for a player who wants market value to announce, ‘I don't want to go anywhere else'. The player has to make the club understand he might leave, in order to get paid. That's the way it is, most of the time.

 

In an ideal world, a noble player who loves his home town ball club would be rewarded with a fine and high salary. It seldom works that way in practice.

 

You mentioned a client's desire to seek market value, but I know there have been other situations where your clients have turned down millions to go in another direction.

 

It has happened with more frequency than you know. Life is not just about money. Andy Pettitte, there's a man who walked away from over $20 million, and perhaps $28 million, $29 million to go back to his hometown [of Houston for the 2004 season]. I really didn't see very many articles written about what a great human being he was for doing that.

 

His theory was, ‘I have enough money'. I told him, ‘You think you do, but life is full of twists and turns. You might live another half century. I need to point out to you that what you think is enough may not be enough'. That's all.

 

At the time, I played a rhetorical game in his living room:  ‘If I come into this room in two years, sit down, you might tell me ‘it wasn't fun, the pressure on me was unbelievable, everybody thinks I'm a bum, my friends and relatives wanted tickets every day, there was no peace and quiet'. You better not tell me, ‘why did you let me come home for less money?'  He and Laura looked at each other with a knowing look, but still decided that the possible downside was worth it, because of their growing family situation. That was absolutely fine with me, because they had a realistic look at the possible downside. It's their life, not mine.

 

The other, more controversial situation in your career came during the 1996 - 97 off-season, when the Red Sox claimed they offered Roger Clemens the best possible deal to stay.

 

Peter, people rewrite history. Nothing could be further from the truth. No such thing ever happened or came close to happening. The fact is that the Red Sox didn't want Roger back - there isn't any doubt about that. They made token offers to keep him after ‘96 and they weren't even in the same state, let alone the same ball park. At the very end, [Managing General Partner] John Harrington called to jump in, but after we'd already made a deal with Toronto, one which hadn't yet been announced.

 

Well, when we make a deal, we keep our word. You can't find anybody in the game of baseball, in thirty plus years, who can say that we don't keep our word. Once we make a deal, it's as good as gold. It's never been a matter of, ‘oh, we haven't actually signed the contract, let's throw it out'. Chalk it up - another urban legend.

 

You've represented several high-profile players, but your most famous client is Mr. Clemens. After 22 years as his agent, what would you say about him as a ball player and an individual?

 

Roger is a Phi Beta Kappa in baseball. He is the smartest baseball player I've ever been around. He gets everything. He's such a keen observer that he gets the subtleties and nuances unbelievably well. He was the first player I'd ever heard of to put together a book on umpires, so he could be familiar with their strike zone. Today he's so mechanically sound that, out of 100 pitches, he'll throw 96 of them dead solid perfect in terms of mechanics and command.

 

What people don't appreciate about him is that he's so much smarter than tough. Rather than him thinking ‘I'm going to throw my best fastball past a great hitter, he's studied his opponent and he's thought about his best opportunity to get him out. Last year I saw Mike Piazza hit a game-changing home run off of a talented young pitcher who later said ‘I wanted to see if my best could beat his best'. Well, that pitcher lost the match up and the game. The contrast is that Roger is willing to work around hitters' strengths and maneuvers and think. If you love baseball, it's a thrill to see him work and to be around him.

 

As a person? He's a fine, fine person and a great teammate. Now he does have a sense of greatness about him and what's interesting is that today everyone acknowledges it. When he was a younger player some of his teammates didn't quite get it, and it would always tickle me. I don't want to name names, but some of them said ‘who does this young guy think he is?' (laughs) I thought to myself, ‘he thinks he's Roger Clemens, buddy, and you're going to find out who he is'.

 

He wasn't a prima donna - it wasn't necessarily what he said or did - but he always carried himself like he expected greatness. His legend has grown as he's become an elder statesman, but he wasn't that much different as a younger player. Like the rest of us, he's just a more mature, wiser version of who he was when he was young.

 

Finally, his sense of duty is off the charts. Look what he did when his mother died. She told him the night before, ‘whatever happens, I want you to pitch tomorrow night'. That should tell anyone all they need to know.

 

Do you have an ongoing relationship with your clients, where you assist them in non-financial situations?

 

Our philosophy is to try to talk to our clients on a regular basis. Encourage them to check in if something's wrong, so we can try to steer them in the right direction.

 

For example, we have often sent clients to Dr. Jim Andrews, who's been very good and reliable over the years. This was before second opinions were considered the norm in baseball - in fact, teams resisted this early on. There are other good physicians, of course, but he's proven to be the best and we know he understands ball players. In another example, we might help a client find a good estate planning lawyer in his local city.

 

I don't think any boutique or big agency can do everything its clients need, but our strategy has been to offer advice and try to guide our clients to the best people available.

 

Do you also advise players in on-field issues?

 

We don't try to be a coach, but we try to be helpful. I sure don't go around to each and every player and say, ‘hey, listen, I'm a guru, here's what I know that is good for you'. We study and analyze each player and we talk to the team and let things take their course on the field.

 

With players' off-field issues, we'll try to be interventionist where that makes sense, but we don't lecture our players like they're schoolboys. They don't hire us for that, but we do talk about consequences. For instance, we know that when ball players walk into a public bar late at night, there's trouble to be found. Out of a population of 100 males in such places, the odds are pretty good that one or more are going to try to prove a ball player's no better than they are, and then here come the police, civil lawsuits, and so on. The players have a big target on their backs in those places and those situations and that's the world we live in. My advice - avoid those places and those situations!

 

The role we try to play is more like someone's favorite uncle. My concept of a favorite uncle is a man who gives support while not judging, so you find it is easy to talk to him.

 

Have you ever severed a client relationship due to personal issues?

 

Some people simply do not want to be helped, but we try. We don't believe in abandoning a player. Maybe that is why we have represented so many of our clients' relatives and sons.

 

One of the unique aspects of Hendricks Sports Management is the fact that you work so closely with your brother Alan. How would you describe your professional relationship?

 

Oh, I used to kid and say we're like those old tag-team wrestlers. Sometimes when we need another look, we just tag the other brother and send him into the ring.

 

Mainly, we're just looking for the right match up, situation, personality. Sometimes it's Alan, sometimes it's me. We'll keep our eye on the goal - results. False pride is not an element we've had to overcome. That is why a lot of professional associations break up; they don't have enough focus on results.

 

How do you decide whether to establish a client relationship with young players?

 

We're looking for a player who we believe can play in the Major Leagues. Personally, I am fond of the overachiever, the gamer-type player, a guy who can help you win in everything they do. Those are the guys who might become the next Rob Mackowiak, the next Brian Giles. Take Eric Bruntlett of the Astros - we respect the fact that he can play almost every position on the field. Of course, everyone wants a Clemens, but it is not so easy to predict who will be one. Look at all the first rounders who didn't make it, then look where Andy Pettitte was drafted.

 

Even if a player doesn't project to be the greatest, I'll take him if he demonstrates a superior understanding of the game, has discipline, and has the ability to adjust to game situations. Makeup is what I'm really talking about. The clubs look for that as well, of course.

 

Generally, we also look for players from good families, from good value systems, players who are bright, self motivated, and know how to avoid distractions. They're the ones most likely to succeed. That's our prototype.

 

Give me bright, self-motivated guys, and I'll take my chances, because there are so many roads to the Majors. In pitching, especially. How many times have you seen someone add a new pitch or change his arm slot, then go from OK to pretty good to superb? We've all heard those stories. It's amazing. Suddenly a guy finds a way to throw better, so he feels a little more confident, so he starts throwing even better, then he stays ahead in the count . . . the next thing you know, a guy who's struggling in the Minors is dominating and will soon be in the Majors.

 

I definitely have more of a bias toward ball players over guys with raw athletic skills. Some might look at a young athlete and say, ‘Look at his tools'. Well, most of the time one of the tools is an inability to hit a Major League curveball.

 

We're not looking for the next Roger Clemens, although we'd like one. You don't prove you're a Major Leaguer because you dominated everyone in high school. In fact, you can probably find plenty of guys who dominated the competition, but never got any better - I ought to know, because you're talking to one. The average big league pitcher - he's just a guy who was always pretty good, then got better and better and better. It's maturation, physically, mentally, emotionally. Players that find a way to continually refine their game, those are the guys who get better and succeed.

 

I don't claim to be a scout, but I believe my record for assessing talent will stand up well against just about anybody. That means, like everybody, I'm wrong on some players. But the majority of the time, I'll hit it. It's all relative, like most everything else in life. So you compare your evaluation to others, not against perfection.

 

Have player-agent relationships changed over the years?

 

What's changed dramatically is the recruiting. In the early days, we recruited strictly in the Majors. But as new competition came in, they found they couldn't compete against the top agents, so the newer agents went looking for prospects in AAA, AA, A and  college. Nowadays you hear stories about XYZ agency chasing kids who are still sophomores in high school. These are usually very immature, very impressionable, far-from-finished players.

 

All of that can go to the kids' heads. Meanwhile, they can feel the weight of the world on their shoulders, to succeed or else, because, in addition, many parents live their lives through their kids. It can be excessive in every respect.

 

Just from talking to you now, I get a sense that you really admire baseball players on a personal level.

 

Of course. They're the best in the world.

 

Now, do I see a player sometimes act like a jerk and say to myself, ‘how can this guy be this good, make that kind of money, and think this way?' I say that more than I'd like, but I also see players do some great things that are never acknowledged. I'm very proud of all the players in professional sports who have responded so well to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. You have all types of people, but a lot of good ones when it comes to character.

 

But, more to the point - I like being around competitors. It's a lot of fun being around guys who are competitive, who are intense, who set high goals. They're saying, ‘I want to be a big league ball player. I want to win'. They're very positive people for the most part, as opposed to someone sitting around with the attitude, ‘life is cruel. My wife doesn't understand me. My boss is mean'.

 

A lot of people in this world don't want to compete, that's what I perceive. They're afraid to go where the pain is, they're afraid to lose and feel inadequate.

 

The fact is, everyone is as insecure as can be, but the difference is, competitors make themselves fight through it. It's sort of a club of fellow travelers from all professions, of competitors, people who will go where other people won't go. The opposite of that are people who live in the past, act like victims, and always blame someone else.

 

Do you enjoy the modern game?

 

I probably love the game more than ever. I used to watch between 250 and 300 Major League games a year. Over the last couple of years, it's been between 200 and 250, including every playoff game.

 

Well, I understand your personal involvement in the game is pretty extensive. Hendricks Sports Management's slow pitch softball teams (also the Houston Texans) have won numerous national and world championships in the Major Division over the past decade. Even today, as you approach age 60, you're still on the roster.

 

(laugh) Of course. If I don't deserve to be on the team, I'll hang it up.

 

I'm still playing it, I'm living it, I'm sweating it, literally. I'm in dugouts with competitors who love the game. Heck, I like the players on the other teams, for the most part. We need each other to make it happen, to crank up the adrenaline. Heck, I'm an adrenaline junkie and I know it.

 

Why do I play ball with the best? Because, for the most part, the best ball players hold themselves accountable. You know you have a great team when after a loss, every single player will think or say, ‘here's what I didn't do for us to win'. You know you have a lousy team when after a loss, players will think or say, ‘we lost because that guy did this or didn't do that'. You need a group where everyone's taking responsibility for the outcome.

 

‘Me first', `I've got to be an All Star'- take a hike. You have to thin the herd to get to the team guys. That's why I respect guys like Orlando Palmeiro and Jose Vizcaino on the Astros, because they know their role, they're for the team, and they're always ready. They may get beat, but they don't blink. They may not win every time, but they compete.

 

In essence, the same kind of makeup and commitment we look for in our clients, we look for in our softball team. The same for our company. I think that's one of the reasons we've thrived over the years.

 

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