A lull will exist in baseball for the next few weeks until we get past the Super Bowl, Spring Training opens, and the arbitration hearings move into full swing. So, it’s a good time to move away from the field and look behind the scenes a bit at the business side of baseball from a players perspective (if that’s possible).
A couple of days ago, we took a snapshot of salary arbitration as it plays into the salary process for a player. Now, let’s switch focus to look at the role of the player agents with a few key points to keep in mind. First, Babe Ruth never had an agent. Neither did Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle – so player agents are relatively new on the baseball landscape. Second, the role of the player agent extends far beyond the negotiating table for a contract. And finally, let’s remember it’s all part of the business of entertainment which I stressed the other day in a post. Put simply, if you’re an entertainer you have to have an agent…..otherwise you are a nobody……….but how did it all come about in baseball…….
As mentioned before, player agents are a new phenomenon in baseball. And as we look back, it’s striking to realize that fans and the media were largely blacked out and not even aware (or maybe didn’t even care) about who made what. The players of old put on a uniform for six months and then went scavenging for a off season job to make ends meet. That all changed quickly with two events in the late 1960’s. (is anyone surprised that a revolution in baseball would take place in the Sixties?).
In 1965, you may recall that the Dodgers swept the Yankees in the World Series. That following Spring an earthquake struck baseball. Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax, operating without an agent, decided that the Dodgers in the name of Buzzie Bavasi (right) was “playing” them in their contract negotiations. These two pre-eminent pitchers got together over dinner and formed a pact between them – they decided to “hold out ” and not play until they both were signed. Going a step further, they demanded the unheard of sum of $1 million over three years.
Koufax and Drysdale did indeed hold out with each not pitching the first month of the 1966 season. But during that time, they succeeded in catching the attention of both the media and the baseball public. They even appeared on the very popular Ed Sullivan Show singing (sort of) “We’re In The Money”. In the end, they signed for $125,000 and $100,000 respectively (which doubled their previous salary) but the die was cast and a new day was dawning in baseball.
Next, the “We’re not gonna take it anymore” swell on the part of players reaches its apex the following year when a young and relatively unknown man would step up and change the landscape of baseball forever………….