There is only one qualification to be a sports agent, and that is to have a client," says Richard Moss '55. Moss, who has represented over 200 Major League baseball players individually, including Hall of Famers and utility players, adds, "As for the law, I don't believe there is such a thing as sports law-it's law in the context of sports. I identify myself as a labor lawyer, and my experience with those issues has been very useful in functioning on behalf of players."
In the midst of frequent bicoastal travel to meet with clients and baseball officials, Moss has taught Sports and the Law at the University of Southern California Law School. He imparts experiences from more than 30 years in baseball that began in 1967, when Marvin Miller, the first head of the fledgling players union, the Major League Baseball Players Association, asked Moss to sign on as general counsel.
"From the time I came to the Law School, I was always interested in labor law, on the union side," says Moss. "I took Archie Cox's labor law seminar and wrote my third-year paper under his guidance." After HLS, Moss was drafted and spent two years in the Army. He then practiced for a brief time in a small Pittsburgh labor law firm before joining the Steelworkers Union, first as an assistant general counsel, and next as associate general counsel in charge of the legal department at the union's international headquarters. Then Miller, who had been the Steelworkers' chief economic adviser, asked Moss to join him, and he accepted.
"My mother thought I was doing a terrible, stupid thing, to leave a fine career with the union to become the lawyer for a funky baseball players' organization," Moss recalls. "At the time, the minimum salary for Major League players was $6,000-it had been $6,000 for 20 years-and the average salary was $18,000 a year. The players had been exploited for years by the team owners. The basic lesson players learned from us was that if they stuck together and functioned as a group, they had a lot of power; individually they had none."
During his 11 years with the Players Association, Moss was an architect of the salary arbitration system, and argued all of the union's legal and arbitration cases, including the momentous Messersmith case that ended baseball's onerous reserve system and created free agency for players.
"In financial impact, it was probably the biggest grievance arbitration case in the history of labor relations," says Moss.
"Over the years, the difference between winning and losing that case can be described in billions of dollars."
Moss left the Players Association in 1977 after arranging for his successor. He wanted to become involved in other things, but felt it would be fun to represent a few players individually, "just to show all those agents out there how it should be done."
Moss quickly discovered that he enjoyed the baseball negotiating "game" most of all, and has spent most of his time since as an agent. On five occasions, he has negotiated what was, each time, the largest salary in baseball, including "the first million-dollar-a-year contract for a player in professional team sports in the world," for Nolan Ryan in 1979. In 1982, he tried and won the first million-dollar salary arbitration case for his young client Fernando Valenzuela. More recently, last year, his salary arbitration victory on behalf of Tim Wakefield of the Red Sox was the only win for a player in 1997; Moss later converted that enhanced bargaining position into a three-year, $12 million contract for Wakefield. And in January Boston newspapers reported yet another Moss success, for Red Sox client John Valentin: a new contract guaranteeing the third baseman $25 million over the next four years.
With Moss's help, baseball players have gained considerable clout and steep salaries. The path has been rocky, however. In the late 80s, club owners colluded to shut out free agents, according to Moss and decisions by two arbitrators; the result, in 1990, was that the owners agreed to pay a $280 million settlement. Several lengthy strikes have also been costly to all concerned, and to the image of baseball. And the accumulation of "30 years of enormous distrust between players and owners" continues to dog the game, Moss says. But although he is critical of the quality of baseball's top management, he is confident baseball will survive and prosper because "it is a beautiful and enthralling game." -- Julia Collins