Title: License to Deal
Author: Jerry Crasnick, ESPN baseball analyst
Publisher: Rodale
Pages: 312

In the winter of 2000-01, the Alex Rodriguez sweepstakes were in full swing. Scott Boras told everybody including the media, the GMs, and the people that he passed on the street, that his client was the best player ever. When Tom Hicks lavished Rodriguez with over a quarter of a billion dollars, many baseball fans finally learned what power agents held in the game.

The movie Jerry Maguire depicts an agent, played by Tom Cruise, who enjoys the good life reaping the benefits of his commission from his clients. However, this is not exactly what an agent’s life is exactly like. Even guys like Scott Boras have to work their tails off to get their clients the best possible deal.

Jerry Crasnick’s book details a year on the run with baseball agents Matt Sosnick and Paul Cobbe, partners in business. The story begins with Sosnick coming up with a crazy idea: starting a baseball agent business with the idea of developing close relationships with their clients. The agents hope that this bond will help hide their lack of experience arguing arbitration cases and scoring big contracts. For some clients, like pitchers Dontrelle Willis and Mike Hinckley (in the Nationals organization), this is enough. For others, among them being pitcher Bobby Jenks and first baseman Travis Hafner, Sosnick and Cobbe are just stepping stones to the big time.

The biggest part of the agent business is stealing other people’s clients. The majority of the novel discusses how clients from bigger firms, like Scott Boras, steal Sosnick and Cobbe’s clients such as Jesse Foppert, a promising pitcher with the Giants. But the big companies don’t always steal from the smaller ones. Jeff Moorad takes clients from Scott Boras and vice versa. Other small time agents, called “hobbyists” by the Player’s Union, steal from each other as well.

Another thing that many fans don’t know about the agent business is just how all these clients accrue talent. Travis Hafner came from a small town in South Dakota in which there were only nine people in his graduating class. However, his baseball playing skills have never been questioned. Sosnick and Cobbe, as well the big guys, travel from Smalltown, Oklahoma, to whatever field the biggest talents are playing on. Finding young players that will bring in the big bucks for commissions is difficult, if not nearly impossible.

After a person like Matt Sosnick or the minions of Beverly Hills Sports Council finds a player before the draft, he spends countless hours pampering his player. Sosnick orders gloves and cleats for his players, flies them to San Francisco for a “clients’ night out,” and does many other things, just so the player will remain loyal to the organization. The relationship becomes so much that agents are the first person a player turns to for guidance. I need help buying a house. I need help filing my taxes (Dennis Tankersly of the Royals). Pretty soon the player doesn’t do anything without his agent’s help, and he has found someone to represent him for life.

The book also gives an autobiography of sorts on Dontrelle Willis, Sosnick and Cobbe’s most recognized client. The lefty has a tattoo of the organization’s emblem on his arm to show the extent of his loyalty. The first few chapters explore how Willis went from a car accident that should have killed him to being a player that was largely responsible for the Marlins’ 2003 World Championship and how owner Jeff Loria won’t pay Willis his fair share of money.

Crasnick writes the book brilliantly and proves his knowledge of baseball. He spent years as the beat reporter for the Cincinnati Reds and has written for Sporting News, Baseball America, and ESPN Insider. In the words of Peter Gammons, “License to Deal is the best independent look at the baseball agents’ world ever written.”

I give this book a rating of 3.5 balls because it is such a tremendous read.

Our Rating System is based on a four ball system as follows:
One Ball: Average. It has something to say but is nothing special.
Two Balls: Something men usually have - also means its a cut above average, and worth reading/owning.
Three balls: Stands out from its peers and is highly recommended.
Four Balls: More than just what two men have when hanging out together, it means it is an exceptional book that truly earns a walk - straight to the local book store to get a copy.