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License To Deal
By Jerry Crasnick
In "License To Deal: A Year in the Life of a Maverick Baseball Agent", longtime Baseball America columnist Jerry Crasnick chronicles the life and career of Matt Sosnick, who runs an upstart baseball agency with his partner, Paul Cobbe. Their story also serves as a jumping-off point for a review of the history of baseball agents. In this exclusive excerpt, Crasnick takes us through draft day 2004 from a different point of view: that of the agent:
Cory Dunlap, selected No. 88 by Los Angeles, slipped through baseball's cracks. As a high school senior, he scared off big league teams when his weight ballooned to almost 300 pounds. So he enrolled at Contra Costa Junior College and took control of his future. With encouragement from coach Marvin Webb and former big leaguer Willie McGee, Cory eliminated sweets and sodas from his diet, began running regularly, hit the weight room, and dropped 70 pounds. He transformed himself from junk food junkie to a relatively lean, mean, line-drive-hitting machine. And the scouts who had previously ignored him suddenly began to take an interest.
According to his mom, Cory also graded high in the all-important “makeup” category. He was 9 when his father, Charlie, a 20-year Navy man, died in a car accident. Three months later, his paternal grandfather died, but Cory never allowed himself a shred of self-pity.
“Baseball and my church family kept him focused,” Clovis says. “Cory is a very outgoing, friendly, happy-go-lucky person. He doesn’t meet any strangers.”
Two days before the draft, Dunlap was among 35 prospects invited to Dodger Stadium to work out for scouting director Logan White and the team brass. He showed impressive power and uncorked some strong throws, and Tommy Lasorda offered him tips during batting practice. White, a respected talent evaluator, dissected Dunlap’s swing and thought of Tony Gwynn. Gwynn had the ability to wait long enough to snap a single the opposite way just as the catcher was reaching out to snatch the pitch.
Something about Cory’s personal story also touched Logan White’s heart. Here was a bright kid from the Oakland projects who’d worked hard to pursue a goal and improve his family situation. Clovis suffers from fibromyalgia, a chronic arthritic condition, and has had back problems since a fall in 1991.
Cory has made an oral commitment to UC Irvine in the fall, but he clearly wants to play pro ball. As a third-rounder, he stands to receive a bonus of at least $400,000. That’s a lot of money, given that his mom is living off disability checks and finds it a chore to climb a flight of stairs.
Even though there’s not much wiggle room for bonuses, Cory will pick an adviser to guide him through the process. Choosing one after the fact is the tricky part, because now that the Dodgers have selected Cory in the third round, agents are coming out of nowhere to court him.
That includes Matt Sosnick, who drives across the San Mateo Bridge to meet with Cory in the sports bar at the Oakland Airport Hilton. Jason Hoffman, Sosnick-Cobbe’s new associate, accompanies Matt to help with the sales pitch. They order soft drinks and get down to business at a small table near the popcorn machine. Cory, a burly black kid from the East Bay, is wearing a Brooklyn Dodgers cap, a throwback jersey and a stern look, because he knows he got drafted by the Dodgers without the help of an adviser. Heck, a few days ago, he was the Invisible Man.
Matt was among those who overlooked Cory, but now he wants a piece of the kid’s future. The air is thick with a sense of misgiving that might be uncomfortable if Matt weren’t so quick to acknowledge it. He speaks to Cory in a tone so candid it’s disarming. He left his tap-dancing shoes at home.
Matt tells Cory that he typically charges a 5 percent commission, but will represent Cory for 1.5 percent because frankly, that’s all he deserves. Matt acknowledges that he didn’t call scouting directors on Cory’s behalf, or schmooze Cory up a few spots, or tap into the buzz after Cory’s Dodger Stadium workout. A few years earlier, it turns out, Matt met Cory at one of Dontrelle’s basketball games. But he didn’t give the overweight teenager a second thought.
“It’s not like I’m trying to do you a favor,” Matt tells Cory. “If you were a 12th-round pick instead of a third-round pick, I’m sure I wouldn’t even be talking to you right now.”
Cory leans back in his seat, head cocked to the side, and eyeballs this exceedingly well-dressed white dude. For the better part of 10 minutes, he barely speaks. But as Matt later observes, Cory maintained eye contact the entire time.
“He’s a street-smart kid,” Matt says, “and he wasn’t going to be bulls---.”
Cory’s biggest problem, at the moment, is a previous commitment with another adviser. In the weeks preceding the draft, he began speaking with Miles McAfee, an aging black lawyer and former college baseball coach who represented Rickey Henderson, Chili Davis, and several other prominent big leaguers back in the day. Miles McAfee has stature in the black community--and goes by the designation “Dr. McAfee”--but he needs to attract some young talent if he wants to be relevant as an agent again.
Just a few hours after the Dodgers chose Cory, McAfee showed up at Clovis Burton’s doorstep with an authorization form to formally designate him as Cory’s representative. An amateur athlete who signs with an agent automatically relinquishes his college eligibility. But Clovis and Cory, in a judgment made of ignorance, fear or a combination of the two, sign the form. Now Cory doesn’t have the option to play at UC Irvine even if he wanted. And without the leverage of college, he’s vulnerable to being squeezed by the Dodgers if they learn of his predicament.
But Matt and Jason are able to talk Dunlap into working with them anyway. In exchange for acting quickly, for a 1.5 percent cut, Sosnick receives a commission of $6,450. More important, he now represents a promising first baseman with Tony Gwynn–like hitting tendencies. If all goes well, Cory Dunlap won’t get picked off by one of the monster agencies when he joins Double-A Jacksonville or Triple-A Las Vegas, and Matt will still represent him when he arrives at Chavez Ravine in 2008.
Matt is happy, Cory’s happy, and the Dodgers are happy when the kid boards a plane a week after the draft for Ogden, Utah, in the Pioneer League. Matt books a flight and hotel for Clovis, as well, and she makes it to Ogden for her son’s professional debut.
The only person who feels slighted is Miles McAfee, who appears at Clovis Burton’s doorstep the day after Cory signs and vows to file a complaint with the commissioner’s office. McAfee, agitated by the current state of affairs after 25 years in the profession, promises that some “heavy controversy” is imminent.
“I’ve enjoyed the business,” Miles McAfee says. “But it’s one of the crookedest, most unprofessional things around. No one polices the situation. If you’re an agent and I’m an agent and there’s someone you want to go after, you just go after them.”