February 11, 2014
An Agent's Take
Three Ways to Work in Baseball
Joshua Kusnick is an MLBPA-certified agent who periodically writes about his experiences representing professional players. You can subscribe to his podcast on iTunes, and reach him via email at JoshuaKusnick@aol.com and on Twitter @JoshuaKusnick.
When one decides he or she wants to have a career in baseball, one must have a crystal clear idea of which area of the industry they would like to work in. Let’s start with the area I know best, player representation. If someone of any age were to write me a letter asking me for a job, the first thing I’d look at would be their writing skills. Communication is what this job is about, and if the person writing me wants to be an agent, they have to be able to communicate at the highest level.
Next I look at the person’s experience level. Lack of experience can sometimes be an asset, since veterans tend to be set in their ways. Here is where the line between failure and success becomes evident. If you are inexperienced and can problem solve with some guidance, you have a chance to work as an agent. But if someone were to email me a list of questions when asking me for a job, such as “How do you secure endorsements for players?”, “How do you recruit amateur players?”, and “Do minor league players get endorsements?”, I would likely pass on that person—just not for the reasons you might think. All of those questions are quite reasonable, but they are far down the line and have nothing to do with securing a position in an agency.
That leads me to another very important point: In order to be an agent you have to be able to scout. You cannot solely rely on publications or word of mouth to discover players; you have to know as best you can how to scout all by yourself. You have to know what you’re looking at, what you’re investing your time and money in, and what you’re devoting your life to.
Clients are not fantasy baseball players or video game characters. Among my clients, Michael Brantley (who just signed a long-term extension) was a groomsman at my wedding, and I attended David Herndon’s wedding last year. To agents, representing players isn’t just a hobby or a game. It’s our lives, and if anyone wants a chance to work on the agent side of the industry, it needs to be their whole life as well. The bottom line is that you have to give up everything to have a chance at success, and if you want to get hired, you need to be honest, outwork everyone, and generate money.
And lest I forget, education is also important. I enjoyed my time at FSU, and I absolutely loved Tallahassee. I signed my first players there and would never have “discovered” Michael Brantley, Lorenzo Cain, Darren Ford, Jaye Chapman, Barret Browning, and Steve Clevenger had I not lived there. I will also say this: Nothing I learned within my sport management major at FSU helped me at all in my career, so I can look back and say how useless that degree ended up being. In fact, it was an affront to education, with one class, “Facility and Event Management,” that was taught by a Volleyball Hall of Fame coach and loaded with athletes who concluded our final exam with the important question, “List your five favorite stadiums (25 points).” At that point, I knew that my degree probably couldn’t help me do what I wanted to do with my life, and a lot of what I learned I had to learn on my own by going to the games and being around the fields.
If you do land a position with a team, your trials are just beginning. I know from experience how hard it is to work for a ballclub. The hours are long, the money is terrible at the entry level, and it’s hard to advance, because at some point you price yourself out and end up getting replaced by people who are the same age you were when you started. Teams always have the advantage when hiring, because so many people are willing to work for next to nothing just to get their foot in the door.
The way I got started involved an incredible amount of good fortune. As a teenager, I started selling autographs in lieu of working at Wal-Mart. I soon realized that going to A-ball games was a good strategy for securing more autographs; if I just got the right guys to sign stuff, I could make a lot of money. (It’s why I have 10,000 autographed cards in binders.) I inadvertently taught myself how to scout at a very young age with a lot of guidance from a lot of wonderful scouts such as Joe Butler of the White Sox, Murray Cook of the Tigers, Jay Lapp of the Brewers, and Tom McNamara, Tony Blengino, and Jack Zduriencik in Seattle. These are titans of the industry in my estimation, and without Joe Butler I never would have had my career. He was the first scout to give me his business card, and he stayed in touch with me all through college, even before my agency opened. And it all began because we started chatting at a Jupiter Hammerheads game in which Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera were playing.
With 12 years of perspective, I’ve learned that supporting a player and then seeing him make it is the biggest reward of all, beyond the potential financial rewards that being an agent can bring. I will never be able to put a price on being at several of my clients’ MLB debuts. I even attended a game in which a client hit his first MLB home run. In a full suit, I ran to the right field bleachers, found the fan, and reacquired the baseball.
Another piece of information that convinced me to give up on the idea of working for a club is that for all that scouts mean to teams, they are criminally underpaid. I have enormous respect for all scouts at all levels because of how much work they do for such little recognition or financial reward. You have to know that scouting is definitely what you want to do before you jump into it.