Going Deep: Casey Close

So you think no one's hit any home runs since the end of the World Series? Casey Close just connected for a whopper that rivals anything by Ryan Howard, and that's no coincidence.

By becoming Howard's agent now, Close continued his long and steady climb from Michigan All-American to one of baseball's most influential player representatives. I spoke with him in New York about snagging Ryan Howard, other clients like Derek Jeter and (formerly) Josh Hamilton, and being married to a former Miss America.

ALAN SCHWARZ: You just signed Ryan Howard, the hottest young player in baseball and one on the verge of signing a nine-figure contract. What is that like, and what is your job at this point?

CASEY CLOSE: He's not eligible for arbitration yet, he's not eligible for free agency, but we're thrilled at the opportunity. I think our job is to match Ryan and his family's goals with however they want to be perceived both on and off the field, and match up with what the Phillies are going to do with him. I think there are a lot of unique opportunities that are going to be presented, and I think it's a challenge that we welcome. We've traveled these roads before.

SCHWARZ: He could just get renewed unilaterally--after 58 homers and 149 RBI's be told, "You're making $400,000, tough luck."

CLOSE: Given that he's already been through this process once before, it's a little easier than someone who's going for the first time. He understands the leverage process with regard to players who are eligible for salary arbitration--the family and Ryan both understand what rights he has now and what rights he will have at the end of 2007.

SCHWARZ: There's a great rivalry between Ryan and Albert Pujols these days, and Albert's contract--$100 million over seven years after his third season in the league--is probably something Ryan wants to beat, too.

CLOSE: At this point we haven't targeted any specific numbers--we're still trying to get the framework of where the Phillies and Ryan will match up in regard to their future intentions.

SCHWARZ: But it's safe to say it will be more than $85 million (the long-term contract just signed by Howard's teammate, Chase Utley).

CLOSE: (Smiles) I think it's safe to say that it will be a number that exceeds that.

SCHWARZ: Do your clients even know that you were Baseball America's 1986 College Player of the Year? Do they believe you?

CLOSE: I'm not afraid to take a jab at myself. I always refer to myself as the Gino Torretta of college baseball--I look at the Baseball America listings each year and I look at the list of award winners, and I see those big names for 15 or 20 years, and there seems to be one aberration in there--one name stands out more than any other. What I did in college didn't necessarily transfer into professional baseball.

I went into professional baseball thinking that I was going to be a very good major league player. My contemporaries, Hal Morris or Will Clark or Rafael Palmeiro, I matched up with fine. I had two great summers in the Cape Cod League. But I was undrafted as a junior and went in the seventh round as a senior (to the Yankees). I found out in a couple of years that professional baseball, while I liked it--and I've shared this conversation with Billy Beane on several occasions--maybe I wasn't suited for professional baseball the same way I was for college baseball. The playing every single day, the ups and downs, putting too much pressure on myself, dealing with failure.

SCHWARZ: After you were released in 1991, you became a player agent at ProServ briefly before moving to IMG in 1992 and helping start their baseball division. You signed Derek Jeter soon thereafter, when he was still in the low minors--how many attempts have there been to steal him from you since?

CLOSE: Probably numerous earlier. But when you're with Derek and his family, I never felt that I was in jeopardy, I never felt that I was being leveraged, I never felt that there was a chance or possibility as long as I was doing my job, that we would maintain that business. It's a huge credit to Derek and his family, because we didn't have the biggest clientele at the time and we weren't getting the biggest contracts.

SCHWARZ: Agents' behind-the-back poaching of clients is a pretty big topic these days.

CLOSE: It's a very competitive landscape. Given the low barriers to entry for our particular field, the number of players, the guaranteed contracts that are in our sport as opposed to other sports, you're going to draw a lot of horses to the water. There are a lot of excellent agents, and there are a lot of people that are in it for other reasons.

SCHWARZ: How do you deal with any suggestion that you stole Ryan Howard from Larry Reynolds, right before Ryan's big payday?

CLOSE: In an industry like this, as small as it can be sometimes, over time people find out what really happens and what the reasons are. We've lost clients in the past and I can't think of any agent of any stature that hasn't lost a client in the past. I think that happens to everybody.

SCHWARZ: What was it like being Josh Hamilton's agent during all his troubles?

CLOSE: Josh is a terrific kid, and I wish him the best--hopefully the situation works out with Cincinnati. It was very difficult and sad to see a young man filled with so much promise have it taken away at a young age from the use of drugs. We felt like we did everything possible for him, whether it be intervention or sticking up for him at times where it would have been easy to run away. It just shows you the power of drugs. He decided to make a clean cut (as a client), and clearly I had no problems with it, because at night I could sleep and think that we did everything humanly possible to help him.

SCHWARZ: How do you think he'll do in camp this year as a Rule 5 pick who probably isn't ready? Is this dangerous?

CLOSE: It throws him under the microscope, and I hope that the microscope doesn't bring out the demons like it has in the past. I think he's a good kid, a good man, but I think that's where the problems arose in the past. The more the microscope was on, the more problems he had. I'm just hoping that he's over those things.

SCHWARZ: Speaking of attention, your being Derek Jeter's agent or a College Player of the Year can't compete with being married to a former Miss America. (Close is married to Gretchen Carlson, Miss America 1989, who currently is the host of the "Fox & Friends" morning program.)

CLOSE: We met on a blind date, and my contact was telling me, "I think I found the perfect person for you because you're young, you're single, you work too hard, you're never around on the weekends," and she was doing a lot of the same things. And they said, "Oh, she does the news for the Cleveland weekend shows, she's a former Miss America . . . " I remember saying to myself, "Whoa, back up a little bit. Why is she having a problem getting a date?" And sure enough, it had nothing to do with her, she was working from 3 p.m. to 11 at night.

SCHWARZ: This reminds me of one last question my female friends forced me to ask you: Can I have Derek Jeter's address, please?

CLOSE: (Laughs) Well, you'll have to wait in line. I have a few calls to return to the Post and the Daily News first.

You can reach Alan Schwarz by sending e-mail to alanschwarz@baseballamerica.com.