License to Deal: A Book Review
- Updated: February 3, 2009
When Moneyball by Michael Lewis came out about five years ago, many thought they would never see a book about baseball that provided the same unique perspective on the game. Jerry Crasnick has done with agents in License to Deal what Michael Lewis did for general managers in Moneyball. By giving a day to day account of what really goes on in the mysterious profession, Crasnick illustrates that it is definitely not all fun and games to be a real life Jerry Maguire.
Crasnick’s book follows a year in the life of an upstart agency run by Matt Sosnick and Paul Cobbe. The two were friends in elementary school and went their separate ways for most of their lives until they each decided, around the same time, that they were not happy in their current careers and wanted to try something else. They created a sports agency called Sosnick and Cobbe and started to get the ball rolling on what they figured to be their new calling.
Throughout the book, Crasnick does a great job showing both the good and bad traits of the two agents. While there was more good than bad, he showed their downsides in a way that illustrated that they were not above the law.
Much of the book is spent on the culture of agents and the morals of the profession. Crasnick compares agencies such as Scott Boras’ to those of Sosnick and Cobbe frequently to show what smaller agencies are up against when they get into the game. Client stealing is a very prevalent part of this profession and it can happen at any time and in any place. One of the major transitions throughout the novel was how Sosnick and Cobbe changed how they reacted to losing a player. At the beginning of their agency, they would frequently lose players to larger agencies due to the fact that Boras and others could convince players that if the player had to go to arbitration, Sosnick and Cobbe would not be able to provide them with the best help. When they would lose these players at the beginning, both agents would be devastated by the news and allow it to ruin their week. Throughout the course of the book, Crasnick shows that both Sosnick and Cobbe have gotten to a place where they understand the business of losing clients and they don’t let it bother them as much as it once did.
While many agents may just be around when players need something handled with an endorsement deal or through free agency, Sosnick and Cobbe had a different kind of approach. They were out to create a lasting business and friendship relationship with the players that they represent. This is exemplified in the book by three players, one of who is current Tigers pitcher Dontrelle Willis, who decide to get the Sosnick and Cobbe logo tattooed onto their arm. The two agents acknowledged that this was a sign of loyalty that was not frequently seen in that side of the business.
Sosnick and Cobbe also took a different road in how they dealt with clubs in contract negotiations. While some agents try to bully their way through negotiations in order to scare the teams into giving out more money, Sosnick and Cobbe want to create a lasting relationship with members in the front office. The thinking is that if they are willing to work together with the members of front offices across the league, they will be able to work out the best deals that benefit both sides.
While most of the book is spent on Sosnick and Cobbe, a sizable chunk of it is used to examine Scott Boras and his conglomerate of an agent corporation. If there is a rock star of sports agents, Boras is probably it as he seems to be the only agent name that most casual baseball fans can recite from memory. In describing his agent tactics, Crasnick once again does a great job of showing both sides of the coin.
Due to the fact that Boras was featured in the book because of the trouble he creates for smaller agencies by stealing their players, he does come across as a bully at points. This is not to say that Crasnick does not show the elements of Boras’ business that make him so helpful to his players.
The differences between the two agencies really shine when Crasnick chronicles the draft. When one of Sosnick and Cobbe’s players is taken by the Yankees with the 41st pick overall, they quickly have a deal done with the Bronx Bombers that is slightly above slot value. Doing it quickly shows their ability to work with a team and also gets their player on the field as fast as possible so he can start his climb to the majors.
When one of Boras’ players is taken on the other hand, he makes them wait three months to get the most money out of the club as possible. The upside to this is that his player probably takes home an extra $10,000, but he also misses an entire season of professional baseball.
Overall, Crasnick’s work does an excellent job chronicling the differences between these two agencies in a work that is truly a must read for those who want to understand all sides of the business of professional baseball.
The Grade: 4.75/5
Crasnick is currently a senior writer for ESPN.com. License to Deal, his first book, was published in 2005.
Bill Jordan is a contributor to BaseballReflections.com. He can be reached by e-mail at BillJordaniv@yahoo.com.