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March 30, 2010

An Agent's Take

Flexible Morality

by Joshua Kusnick

Everything in baseball tends to run in cycles. Players come and go, money comes and goes, children become fans and fans later have children, who also become fans. Teams win and lose and players are gods for a day, then sit at home the next day. Even the agent world tends to be cyclical. A generation of agents has its reign over the industry while the next group anxiously waits its turn to run things.

It’s hard breaking into this industry; I don’t think anyone would dispute that. Being an agent takes equal parts technical skill and showmanship. You can have an agent who is the most 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 won't have any clients, either. I have worked very hard at having a balance of flash and skill. Some days, I struggle with keeping the flash in check. Other days, I’m all business. If you’re not careful, it could be very easy to forget who you really are.

One of the major issues I have had to deal with in my career is the issue of "professionalism." You know what I have to say to all that? Fine. It's 2010 and everyone has a certain way of running their business and doing their job. I have seen many agents in my career, and I don’t want to become them. 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. 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 it’s total BS. I know how deep I get into my players' lives, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve been fired and I’ve cried over losing a player, but 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. You learn from each experience, but the hurt never truly 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 him down.

The movie Thank You For Smoking has a tremendous concept within the film and I believe it applies to being an agent as much as it does the cigarette industry. It's called flexible morality. Morality, in its descriptive sense, refers to values that helps 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. It is an absolute concept. Thus, the idea that it could be somehow flexible is a flawed concept. Yet I have seen many instances where an agent could be considered to have flexible morals. There are things you do as an agent that you would never carry over into 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 also cheat on his wife? Can you be a bad person but be a good agent? Better yet, can you be a good person and a bad agent? I don’t have the answer to those questions; 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 it has mentally and professionally. However, I haven’t really discussed some of the uplifting things that this job has allowed me to experience. I think the most fulfilling part of my career is experiencing the totality of a player's career on and off the field, starting in high school and ending in the big leagues. I get to experience a great deal of self-discovery every day that I work in baseball. I have been so fortunate to learn so much about myself at such a young age I can't imagine what my life would be like without having done so.

Before I was an agent, I started a small company that sold autographs and trading cards of professional athletes. I would go to the local baseball card stores shops and shows. It was there that I learned how to negotiate. Around the time I was 14, I realized that it was far too difficult to acquire major-league player's autographs, so I started to attend Class-A Florida State League games. The closest team to where I lived was in West Palm Beach, then an affiliate of the Montreal Expos. In the very first game I attended, I watched Brad Fullmer, Hiram Bocachica, and some skinny outfielder by the name of Vladimir Guerrero. The visiting team was the Lakeland Tigers that sported a lineup of Daryle Ward, Juan Encarnacion, and Mike Darr. Several years later, all six of those players were in the major leagues, and I had not only seen them play before they were major-leaguers, but I had also met them and obtained their autographs. Experiencing this process was arguably the biggest thrill of my teenage years. Research a player, scout him in person, get an autograph and then repeat. Though the process was time-consuming, it was substantially rewarding. It’s hard to put into words what it's like when your scouting efforts are validated.

As an adult, the process hasn’t changed much for me. Instead of starting in the minor leagues, I begin watching kids in high school. Instead of determining the future value of a player's signature, I try to determine a player's actual value. The one constant feeling between the two experiences is that of validation. Knowing you were right about a player and his abilities is a feeling that can't be duplicated. Scouts, teams, and agents are wrong about players more often than they are right, so in the rare chance you get one right, it results in 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 first negotiated baseball card contracts for my clients. As a kid, I was a huge autograph and baseball card collector. I probably have 10,000 autographed trading cards in storage from 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 forget making 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 portion 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 the process was to me personally. I almost take getting card deals for my clients for granted these days. I've done hundreds of deals for my clients over the years and even secured a trading card deal for ESPN’s John Buccigross. Now, it's just another part of my job with scouting, traveling, and negotiating. I don’t think the job has jaded me 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 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 player's career is when they get their first card. I still remember the first time guys like Michael Brantley, Lorenzo Cain, Darren Ford, and Luke Montz saw their first cards. It’s one of the last pure moments of a player's career. You can see it in their faces, that childlike curiosity and the shock that the card that they are staring isn't one of a childhood hero but their own card. Helping make that dream come true is absolutely one of the best parts of my job.

 People within the industry have their opinions of me. Some people think I’m crazy, some think I have a ton of potential, and others don’t even know I exist. None of that really matters. 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 I have never sold out to compromise what I believe in to excel at this job. I have always stayed true, no matter the cost. 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.   

Joshua Kusnick is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joshua's other articles. You can contact Joshua by clicking here

Related Content:  The Who,  The Process,  Autographs

31 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

FlagrantFan

Excellent piece. I wish you luck as an agent. You taking any writer clients? heh.

As a fan, I'd love to have more insight on these types of relationships beyond just a Tom Cruise movie. More please.

Mar 30, 2010 07:57 AM
rating: 1
 
JoshuaKusnick

Thank you

Mar 30, 2010 10:48 AM
rating: 0
 
serviceoutrage

Morality is definitely not an absolute concept.

Mar 30, 2010 08:41 AM
rating: 2
 
JoshuaKusnick

I maybe didnt write that as clearly as I had had to. I probably should have used Kant as an example there but I guess I got lazy. Sorry for any confusion.

Mar 30, 2010 10:50 AM
rating: 1
 
Richie

I'm getting a whole lot of what it's like to be 'Josh Kusnick, Agent', and very little on agents in general. What they do, how they do it. What difference they make.

'This Agent's Take' would be far more accurate. Which is fine, I just think you should be more upfront about it.

Mar 30, 2010 09:36 AM
rating: 1
 
JoshuaKusnick

How can I possibly write about anything beyond my own experiences?

Mar 30, 2010 10:45 AM
rating: 1
 
Ben Solow

I think the original poster may be suggesting that it would be interesting for fans to know what goes into negotiating that card deal that originally had mystique for you -- what is an average card deal worth for a minor leaguer? Top prospect? Major leaguer? Do you pitch your player to the card companies, or do they come to you looking for completeness of their set of cards? Is there a standard fee, or is there some wiggle room?

The business of being an agent is extremely interesting in general terms, but, and I mean no offense by this, I'm not really interested in anything in the last paragraph, for example, of this article. I know it's extremely relevant to your future, but I don't really see how it's of general interest (although others may reasonably disagree). Same goes for talking about how much you care about your players (a running theme which comes off a bit as a marketing ploy) or mentioning how you've had to deal with issues of "professionalism" without discussing it in even a general context.

Mar 30, 2010 15:11 PM
rating: 2
 
JoshuaKusnick

In the very large interest of self preservation talking about specific dollar figures with respect to contracts does not at all seem intelligent.In addition to that, how can I even begin to discuss specific contracts while the players I represent are still active and the people I have to negotiate with are still in the game. I am writing as much as I am able to talk about without blowing up my career. Do you think a trading card company would work with me in the future if I were specifically discuss how they did business with me? As for discussing the evolution of my professionalism how that would be remotely interesting.....This isnt a memoir where I can just talk about everything, the scope of what I can discuss is still very much limited because I still have a job to do first and foremost ahead of a bi-weekly column. I'm terribly sorry if it's not enough. I also make no apologies for my affinity for my clients. It's no marketing tool, none of my clients read this (sorry BP) so who am I trying to impress with that? It's just the way I prefer to do my business and my writings honestly reflect that. I'm not hiding anything here but again, I am limited on what I can openly say because of my career. Generalities unfortunately will be abundant.

J

Mar 30, 2010 15:30 PM
rating: 0
 
Ben Solow

Unfortunately, you seem to have misunderstood most of the point. I'm not looking for specifics (neither are the others, I imagine), as I think parts of these articles are far too specific to how Josh Kusnick feels about being an agent, rather than what the business of an agent is like.

Do you really think that any trading card company would refuse to work with you if you said "Usually, card companies are interested in assembling as complete of a set as possible, and thus will contact ..." or "While it is fairly routine to negotiate a deal, agents usually need to show initiative in contacting card companies ..."? I also don't care to know specific contracts, but it should be fairly easy to talk GENERALLY about the business -- I have a guess as to what a card contract might be worth, but the whole point is that I don't have good information to base that off of and would be interested in knowing the ballpark figures. Is it thousands? Tens of thousands? A simple number of digits would be more information than you provided.

Again, you seem to have missed the boat with regards to the discussion of professionalism -- I don't care about the evolution of your specific professionalism unless you're going to make a point about it. But given that, why are you pontificating for 2-3 paragraphs about professionalism and flexible morality when you give no reason why it's important? I just don't understand why professionalism is "a major issue [you] have had to deal with" when you don't give any examples, hypothetical or otherwise, of having to deal with the concept of professionalism.

I challenge you to reread your last paragraph and explain how that could possibly be of interest to anyone who isn't personally connected to you. Please don't misunderstand the criticism, though -- I think you could write a series of wonderful articles, and I think the criticisms being made here are trying to push you to realize that potential. One suggestion would be to read 3 articles by Gary Huckabay called "Adventures in Consulting" (first part here: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=7237) and think about writing in that style, which conveys no specifics about individuals or teams, but nevertheless sheds light on the industry.

Mar 31, 2010 06:51 AM
rating: -1
 
JoshuaKusnick

This column is how I feel about being an agent and what it entails. I am glad I have stirred enough debate that you were compelled to write 4 paragraphs in response to me. That was not my intention at all but take this for what it is. My take on how things are, and if it isnt interesting enough then I dont know what I can do. I'm sorry.

Mar 31, 2010 18:13 PM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

Perhaps to build on this piece of valid feedback. Doug Glanville has a blog/column on NYTimes.com in which he discusses sports from a player's perspective.

He obviously most heavily uses his OWN experience, but will most often create a linkage from his own experience to that of other players, players in general, or to a broad topic within baseball.

In this series, I get a LOT of good and interesting information on Joshua Kusnick's experiences and perspective. I'd like the articles even better if they used your experiences as a launching pad to discuss issues common to agents, to up-and-coming baseball players or to other baseball-realted matters.

Mar 30, 2010 20:21 PM
rating: 1
 
JoshuaKusnick

He's retired as noted, he can say what he wants, I am limited by my job and I am limited to my own experiences. Take it for what it is and come as you are.

J

Mar 30, 2010 23:24 PM
rating: 2
 
chriscaroy

so you propose to change the name from "an agent's take" to "this agent's take"? wow, that would be so different! seriously, accusing the author of not being "up front" about anything here is absurd.

also, if you read some of josh's past work on this site you might get some answers to your questions.

josh, if you haven't figured it out already, there's always a bit of a "zing the guy not named sheehan" vibe around here...

Mar 30, 2010 12:43 PM
rating: 1
 
sho044

Wow, please everyone, enough with the Sheehan references. One way or another. The guy doesnt work for BP anymore, move on.

Apr 02, 2010 22:07 PM
rating: 0
 
WholeLottaGame

I think the title of the piece was kind of misleading. The bit on flexible morality seemed to be almost an aside, and not the main focus of the piece. Just an observation. So far, I've liked these columns.

Mar 30, 2010 14:27 PM
rating: 3
 
JoshuaKusnick

I have no control over the titles of the articles. I merely write my piece send to my editor and leave the rest up to them.

Mar 30, 2010 15:08 PM
rating: 1
 
Richie

"How can I possibly write about anything beyond my own experiences?"??? What do you think every other writer on this baseball site does?

You have no idea how agents in general do things?

ScottyB has nailed it. Writing (a la what Glanville does re players) on 'issues agents face' and how they in general (differently or not)face them would be a great addition to the site. I understand why I get little-to-no details regarding actual negotiations. But this is like reading your professional diary. I have no idea how unique or common anything you do is to agenting in general.

Mar 30, 2010 20:40 PM
rating: 1
 
JoshuaKusnick

Doug Glanville is also retired and has absolutely nothing to lose. Please point me towards an active player or agent that is willing to do what you suggest. If there is an example to be found I would be happy to learn from it. As for learning from a retired players perspective....I cant.

Mar 30, 2010 23:23 PM
rating: 1
 
R.A.Wagman

Dirk Hayhurst, maybe?

Mar 31, 2010 20:23 PM
rating: 0
 
JoshuaKusnick

No knock on him at all because his site is totally awesome, his book is amazing, and he seems to be a genuinely wonderful guy, I aspire to be more than the Dirk Hayhurst of agents.

Apr 01, 2010 07:48 AM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

No worries - I've enjoyed the articles thus far - just passing a suggestion on how it *can* be done

Apr 01, 2010 14:19 PM
rating: 0
 
JoshuaKusnick

Thank you for reading, I really do appreciate it.

Apr 01, 2010 23:26 PM
rating: 0
 
JoshuaKusnick

My email address is posted at the end of each article if there are any suggestions for future topics please send me an email. I would be more than happy to attempt to answer whatever questions come my way and maybe I could write articles covering more of the unknown. My door is always open

Mahalo

Mar 30, 2010 23:58 PM
rating: 1
 
ZacharyRD

I agree with several of the posters above who said they are interested in more of the business side and less of the human interest side of being an agent. But I really like your writing in general.

Mar 31, 2010 10:58 AM
rating: 1
 
Brian24

Add mine to the chorus of voices saying these articles have a lot of potential but not much payoff so far. You mention that "professionalism" is a big issue for you, but don't mention how it has been. Frankly, I'm not even sure what you mean by "professionalism." Same with "flexible morality." I don't really know what you mean by the term, since you don't explain how morality enters into your job, or how you can be flexible with it.

I really don't think anybody is asking you to reveal anything confidential. For example, would a sentence like "baseball card contracts can mean tens of thousands of dollars a year for the average player" have been a violation? We, the readers, have no idea if that is the right ballpark or not, and it would be of more interest to us than more (admirable) sentiments about how much you care about your players.

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

Mar 31, 2010 15:50 PM
rating: 2
 
JoshuaKusnick

I think the next article is a bit different than the ones before it, mostly has to do with dealing with the media.

Mar 31, 2010 18:10 PM
rating: 0
 
chunkstyle

Thank you for a very interesting and insightful article.

I feel that your article does shed light on the "business" side of your career, insofar as you reflect on your particular and personal approach to your work. I tend to think I can imagine the types of practical tasks and ethical dilemmas that are involved in performing your type of work. As such, this article adds a human element to that, which is an enormous aspect of executing any type of professional employment and the type of fulfillment one extracts from the work.

So....thanks!

Mar 31, 2010 20:08 PM
rating: 0
 
JoshuaKusnick

Thank you, I appreciate the nice words. I was surprised at the reaction to these pieces at first with respect to my relationship with my players etc.... Anyone who has seen me in the field or anyone who knows me knows that my relationship with the players and their families is significantly closer than most people in the industry and I do that by design. If I am giving up my entire life to do this job then I am going to be ingrained in these players lives completely. Im sorry if it comes off as a sales pitch but Im not exactly recruiting anyone from BP am I?

Apr 01, 2010 07:51 AM
rating: 0
 
greendrummer

hey josh, just keep in mind who's reading this stuff - we're on the site because we're detail oriented nit-pickers

you've got a lot of balls from my perspective even writing this stuff
as a salesperson also dealing with large amounts of money, families and careers/companies, i understand the importance of forming that spiritual bond with a client. otherwise it is way too easy to let the mechanics of the job take over your heart.

your articles have been interesting to me, and more importantly, have brought a heartfelt approach often lacking in this website's writing

Mar 31, 2010 21:00 PM
rating: 1
 
JoshuaKusnick

Thank you

Apr 01, 2010 07:53 AM
rating: 0
 
sempris

I just started as Agent in Latin America, and I have already a couple of prospects signed and a few to be signed next year (mostly, july 2 type of prospects). I've found that in this industry you have to be very personable. If you get players and families to trust you, then you'd better deliver. There rest is just BAU (business as ussual).

As a rule, I work hard to make families understand that with me, they have gotten moral ceirtainty!

Nov 05, 2010 10:03 AM
rating: 0
 
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