THE AGENT WHO SWITCHED SIDES

By Murray Chass

May 24, 2009

About 10 years ago a baseball reporter for a New Jersey newspaper, Moss Klein, was talking to a man in a blue suit on the field before a game in Milwaukee. When he finished his conversation, which had been observed by other reporters covering the Yankees, one of the younger reporters broke from the group and approached Klein.

“Who was that you were talking to?” he asked Klein.

“Bud Selig,” Klein replied.

Selig had been the Brewers’ owner for nearly 20 years. Any reporter, old or young, should have recognized him. Not so with many owners today.

The owners held their quarterly meetings in New York last week, and many of the faces in attendance were not readily identifiable. No George Steinbrenner (though son Hal was there), no Ted Turner, John McMullen, Walter (or Peter) O’Malley, Gussie Busch, Ray Kroc, John Fetzer, Ewing Kauffman, Calvin Griffith.

Which owners were at the meetings? Among others, Bob Nutting, Bob Casetllini, William Neukom, Stuart Sternberg, Mark Attanasio, Jim Pohlad (his father Carl died last January), Ed Rogers III his father Ted died last December).

“I don’t think it’s much different than before,” said Selig, now the commissioner. “As franchise values have gone up, that’s what you have. Very rarely do you have one person owning the team.”

Here is one difference. Never before Jeff Moorad did Major League Baseball have an owner who began life in the game as an agent.

Agent to owner? That’s more unlikely than Rick Ankiel being unable to throw strikes across the plate as a pitcher and then throwing strikes to the plate as an outfielder.

Moorad, a part owner of the San Diego Padres, became an agent in 1983 and represented, among others, Manny Ramirez, Shawn Green, Eric Karros, Ivan Rodriguez, Matt Williams and Pat Burrell. He negotiated Ramirez’ eight-year, $160 million contract with the Boston Red Sox in December 2000.

Not long after Moorad went into the agent business, he and Leigh Steinberg became partners with Moorad primarily representing baseball players and Steinberg focusing on football players. They sold their sports agency in 1999.

“At that time,” Moorad said, “I began to romanticize about the possibility of owning a team, but I really didn’t think about it seriously for a number of years. I’d say in 2003 and early ‘04 I began asking some friends and confidants their views of the possibility.”

Moorad said he considered buying a number of franchises, including an N.B.A, and an N.H.L. franchise. As a step along the way, Moorad joined the Arizona Diamondbacks in August 2004 as a general partner and chief executive officer.

“The Diamondbacks opportunity stemmed from an effort a partner and I made to buy the Phoenix Suns,” Moorad related. “We actually had a deal with Jerry Colangelo for the Suns. The sale was conditional on working out something on the Diamondbacks side.

At the end of the day Jerry’s partners on the baseball side were not supportive of the deal and we chose not to go forward with it.”

However, that venture led to the next one.

“Jerry’s partners who learned of my interest through the Suns’ process circled back with me and told me they were going to walk away from Jerry and asked if I would run the club for them in Arizona,” Moorad said. “That’s how the Diamondbacks thing began.”

The Diamondbacks, though, were only another step along the way to Moorad’s ultimate goal. Scott Boras’ ultimate goal is to get the biggest contract from the team he is dealing with; Moorad’s was to get the team.

When Moorad attended last week’s owners meeting with the Padres, he had already been going to those quarterly meetings for three years, from the time he was approved as the c.e.o. and a general partner of the Diamondbacks. He had crossed the line successfully, though, a few of his new colleagues might have cast a wary eye, the fox in the hen house sort of thing.

“I think we crossed that hurdle long ago,” Selig said of Moorad’s acceptance by the owners.” When he came into the Diamondbacks, there was a certain sensitivity, but we’re past there.”

“I think I was received well,” Moorad said of his initial ownership experience. “Once I began attending meetings I never sensed anything but openness and support. As the business began to turn around in Arizona and the team on the field continued to improve, the feelings became totally supportive and offered assistance when necessary.”

How was his relationship with the commissioner? “Outstanding,” Moorad said. I have nothing but respect for Bud, who not only supported me in 2004 but backed the transaction that John Moores and I put together in the past several months. I’m solidly in the unwavering support of the commissioner’s column.”

The Moorad-Moores transaction is not the typical baseball deal. Moorad and his group of a dozen investors, including Troy Aikman, a former client and Hall of Fame quarterback, have purchased about a third of the Padres from Moores (above) and will assume control of the rest of the team in the next five years. Moorad owns about 40 percent of his group’s share.

The Padres became available when John and Becky Moores began divorce proceedings. Moores will continue as chairman for at least three years while Moorad, as c.e.o., will operate the team on a daily basis.

Moorad, who lives in Newport Beach, Calif., said the deal became possible through “my friendship with John Moores and my instinct that there might be a transition plan that could work for all concerned. I had a terrific platform in Phoenix and would have considered giving it up only for something as unique as returning to southern California. For that reason I made the inquiry initially and thankfully it worked out.”

Jan Moorad, Jeff’s wife, is pleased with the development. “The new opportunity in ownership is much better for our family than being an agent,” the mother of their three sons said. “When he was an agent he was all over the map.”

Moorad has made the transition from one side of the negotiating table to the other seamlessly.  He has even handled matters involving a former competitor, Boras (right).

“We were aggressive competitors,” Moorad said, adding candidly, “We really didn’t get along. I certainly had respect for Scott, but we competed regularly for clients.”

Like many agents, they snatched clients from each other. “It worked both ways,” he said. “I took Juan Gonzalez from him, he took Pudge Rodriguez from me. We regularly traded blows at all levels of the representation business.”

Most of their competition, Moorad said, came on the draft-choice level, and it’s conceivable that they could compete again. Stephen Strasburg, a San Diego State pitcher, is the top prospect in the June 9 draft, and his – or Boras’ – price tag could scare off the two teams that draft ahead of the Padres.

“I’m confident he’ll be on our draft board,” Moorad said. “I can’t comment on Strasburg on any level and won’t, but I’ve had a successful record of overseeing Boras draft picks starting with the signing of Stephen Drew. He was drafted before I was with Arizona, but I was involved in his signing.”

Moorad doesn’t figure to be involved in the signing of any of Boras’s high-priced free agents, but he won’t be able to avoid some of the agent’s amateur clients as he seeks to improve his new team.

DRAFT CHOICE ROLLBACK

Bud Selig has repeatedly cautioned clubs about the economy, and at the owners’ meeting last Thursday he told them he was doing something about it and sternly advised them to listen. The commissioner told the owners that his office planned to roll back the recommended signing bonuses for the June 9 amateur draft by 10 percent.

The rollback might be immaterial because most clubs ignore the numbers anyway, but Selig is trying. The clubs will mind the rollbacks only if they make it difficult to sign a draft choice. Agents of draft choices will be more bothered. Even if clubs exceed the slotted numbers, they will exceed them from a lower level.

The clubs will get their rolled back numbers this week. The slotting system is confidential, and clubs aren’t supposed to know what figures other clubs are allotted.

The idea of the system is for clubs not to exceed the numbers for each first-round selection, thereby keeping signing bonuses down. But clubs generally find that first-round draft choices – and their agents – want more than the slot numbers, and there’s nothing but Selig pressure preventing clubs from exceeding the slotted numbers.

Selig can’t order clubs to stick to the numbers because the slotting system has not been negotiated with the union. If Selig tried to impose the numbers on the clubs, the union would challenge the system and the owners might lose it altogether.

But clubs enrage Selig when they exceed their slotted numbers, and he lets them know his feelings. The system will come under immediate challenge this year because of Stephen Strasburg, a San Diego State pitcher, who will be the No. 1 pick in the draft unless the Washington Nationals decide they don’t want to pay him.

Boras, his representative, has said Strasburg should get $50 million. That figure would be slightly over slot.

Meanwhile, the owners had no business to conduct at their meetings last week, and Selig doesn’t anticipate any in three months so he has canceled the August meetings. One person who attended last Thursday’s meeting said the commissioner had to extend his speech by half an hour because he didn’t want the owners leaving at 11 o’clock.

COMEBACKS THAT DON’T MAKE IT BACK

Teams are so desperate that someone will sign Adam Eaton, a 31-year-old right-hander, who was released last Friday for the second time in less than three months. In fact, he has as many releases this year as victories.

Eaton’s attempted comeback with the Baltimore Orioles was short lived, lasting only eight starts from which he emerged with a 2-5 record and 8.56 earned run average. The Philadelphia Phillies, for whom he had a 14-18 record and 6.10 e.r.a. in two seasons, released him last Feb. 27. He had barely made it into spring training.

The Orioles, knowing the Phillies had to pay him the final year of his three-year, $24.15 million contract, signed him March 1. In his eight starts with them, Eaton (right) allowed four or more runs seven times and seven runs each of his last two starts.

Nevertheless there will be other Eaton comebacks to write about, just as there are other repeated comebacks to write about. Chris Carpenter, for example, is making yet another comeback, though from injury, not incompetence.

Carpenter has a 2-0 record in three starts for St. Louis. In the previous two years he was able to start only four games. In three years before that he collected 51 victories, and those years constituted a comeback because in 2004 he was not able to pitch.

Jeff Weaver didn’t pitch last year because he didn’t have a job, but in coming back with the Angels this year he has a 2-1 record in three starts.

Mike Hampton seems to be making a comeback every year, that is, if he is able to pitch. This season he is pitching for Houston and so far has stayed healthy with a 2-3 record and 5.23 e.r.a. in 8 starts. In the previous four seasons he made only four starts.

Kris Benson, who did not pitch the last two years, was making a comeback with Texas this year when he encountered an elbow problem and went on the disabled list. When he returned, he went to the bullpen. In two pre-injury starts he had a 1-1 record and 9.00 e.r.a.

The San Francisco Giants keep hoping that Barry Zito will make a comeback. In 7 seasons with Oakland before they signed him to an absurd 7-year, $126 million contract, the left-hander won 102 games and lost 63 for a handsome .618 winning percentage.

In his first year on the other side of the Bay, Zito had an 11-13 record and 5.53 e.r.a. He’ll pitch better after his team, league and geographical adjustment, the Giants figured, so the second year Zito had a 10-17 record and 5.15 e.r.a. Now comes this season, and Zito has a 1-4 record and 3.62 e.r.a.

If there’s hope for Zito and the Giants, it’s that in the last six of his eight starts, he has compiled a 2.21 e.r.a. The Giants won four of those games, though Zito got credit for only one win, and they lost a 2-1 decision.

As comebacks go, then, Zito’s has been relatively good. But he hasn’t done what Carl Pavano has done for Cleveland. After making a mockery of his 4-year, $39.95 million contract with the Yankees – 9-8 record in 26 starts and more injuries than he has body parts – he has rebounded with a 4-4 record in 9 starts for the Indians. And he has yet to be hurt.

WHO NEEDS HIM?

Maybe the Dodgers miss Manny Ramirez and maybe they don’t. Their record without Ramirez, through Friday, was an acceptable 8-6 (.571) compared with 21-8 (.724) before he was suspended for 50 games. But they had built their National League East lead by 2 games, from 6 ½ to 8 ½.

They certainly hadn’t missed Ramirez’s bat. Juan Pierre, who has replaced Ramirez and had been underused, was hitting .431 (28-for-58) in 14 games and had a .515 on-base percentage and .586 slugging percentage, a total of 1.101, not far off from Ramirez’s 1.133 (.492 and .641).

 

FIFTY YEARS LATER PERFECTION IS IMPERFECTION

When Fay Vincent was the baseball commissioner, he headed a committee that redefined a no-hitter. I didn’t agree with the new ground rules then and I still don’t.

Pitchers who had pitched fewer than nine innings or gave up a hit in an extra inning were deprived of their no-hitters. For example, Andy Hawkins, pitching for the Yankees in Chicago July 1, 1990, allowed the White Sox no hits in eight innings. But he didn’t get to pitch the ninth inning because the White Sox were winning, 4-0, and the game ended after eight and a half innings.

Hawkins initially was credited with a no-hitter, but he lost it when the Vincent committee changed the definition. The Elias Book of Baseball Records acknowledges such “no-hitters” in a separate section following the list of “legitimate” no-hitters.

There is yet one more list after that section: “no hits through nine innings, allowed hit in extra-inning.” Pedro Martinez, who pitched nine perfect innings in 1995 but allowed a hit in the 10th, is on that list. So is Jim Maloney, who allowed the Mets no hits for 10 innings but gave up two in the 11th, then nearly 10 weeks later pitched a nine-inning no-hitter against the Cubs.

That list is also where the best game ever pitched has been relegated. Fifty years ago Tuesday, May 26, 1959, Harvey Haddix pitched 12 perfect innings for Pittsburgh in Milwaukee, then the home of Henry Aaron and Eddie Mathews.

An error by third baseman Don Hoak ended the perfect game and a Joe Adcock home run ended the no-hitter and the game, except the hit didn’t count as a home run because Adcock passed Aaron on the bases after Aaron left the basepath.

No one has matched Haddix’s feat, but it was not a no-hitter or a perfect game. As a Pirates fan, I listened to that game on the radio. I have all the respect in the world for Fay Vincent, but he can’t convince me Haddix didn’t pitch a perfect game.

 

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