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THE SUNDAY PROFILE : Batting 1.000 : Even with millions of dollars at stake, sports agent Jeff Moorad has no use for written contracts. All it takes for him to sign some of baseball's top talent is a low-key approach and a handshake.

August 07, 1994|STEVE EMMONS | Los Angeles Times

Another baseball strike looms, and you're ticked, right? The average player salary is $1.2 million, and that's not enough? Gimme a break, you say?

OK, calm down. Let Jeff Moorad explain it to you. Moorad has been explaining the players' side for 12 years, using his friendly, reassuring baritone to negotiate contracts that have made jillionaires out of jocks. Have a seat on the sofa in his Newport Beach office. He'll be with you as soon as he's off the phone.

Then he'll amuse you with an anecdote. He'll small talk about the people who have called that day, dropping familiar names like acorns. He'll confide in you about this deal that's about to close. He'll flatter you by telling his assistant to take a message when the league office calls. He'll chuckle at something you say and join in the kidding.

And then, rather suddenly, he will slide into business. The Caring Voice of Reason (which has become the Moorad service mark around the leagues) will help it all make sense.

It's ironic, he says, that society has an easy time accepting that a sports franchise owner gets millions "yet a very difficult time understanding why an athlete, who after all is the chief entertainment component of that owner's profit-making, (is) making millions of dollars himself."

No one complains about what Clint Eastwood makes, because he's an entertainer. "I think it's important to remember that big-time sports today have become pure entertainment. The games survive as competitions, but the business surrounding those games are billion-dollar industries."

Players received about half of baseball's $1.8-billion gross revenues last season, he says. "Who (better) to receive those dollars than the people who are bringing the fans through the turnstiles, to the TV to watch the broadcast--the players themselves?"

He'll show you the 1914 portrait of his grandfather, Frank Shaw, in a Modesto Reds uniform, bat in hand, pretending to await a pitch. "He was a professional baseball player, and he was invited up to the big leagues once. But he didn't go--because he had to support his family."

Moorad chuckles at the irony. So do you.

Ten minutes of this and you may not be converted, but you don't feel like fighting anymore. Certainly not with a nice, friendly guy like Jeff. You are confident that if you call back in a year, in five years, he will remember you and invite you over to the house on Balboa Island.

And that, say the people whom he works for and against, is the difference and the secret of Jeffrey S. Moorad, 39, the quiet although not silent partner of Steinberg & Moorad, home of some of the biggest bucks in the sports-agent business.

"He is as good at the schmooze as anyone, although that's a belittling term that doesn't really apply here," says Larry Baer, executive vice president of the San Francisco Giants.

"He uses sugar instead of vinegar," says another team's general manager, who asked not to be identified. Make that molasses, he says, since it moves so slowly.

"I mean this literally: All a negotiation needs to take is 10 minutes. But this year, most of Jeff's guys were the last to sign. In my opinion, he wanted his deals to look better than the other deals, so he strung them out."

Bob Quinn, general manager of the Giants, agrees. "Jeff does not like to strike a quick deal because it would give the appearance to the (player's) family that they could have done it themselves. It's all posturing--needless posturing, I might add."

Still, concedes Tom Grieve, general manager of the Texas Rangers, "He's a very good negotiator. He gets solid deals for his clients. His goal is the same as any other agent, but he's pleasant to deal with. His style is very low-key."

*

Moorad joined the firm in 1985 and became a partner four years later. But while his partner, Leigh Steinberg, has repeatedly been profiled in print and on TV, Moorad seldom appears except to explain the terms of a just-sealed deal. While Steinberg basks in the description "super agent," a term he helped inspire, Moorad prefers the title "sports attorney."

And while Steinberg is known for guiding NFL quarterbacks, it was Moorad's success in baseball that made him the jigsaw fit in the partnership. He now handles football and broadcast negotiations as well, but at Steinberg & Moorad, he is still Mr. Baseball. When the Dodgers play the Giants, eight of the players and broadcasters are Moorad's.

Among his clients: the Giants' Matt Williams ($30.75 million over five years), the Rangers' Will Clark ($30 million over five years) and the Dodgers' Eric Karros ($6.15 million over three years) and Cory Snyder ($3 million over two years). Also Greg Olson (Atlanta Braves), Ray Lankford (St. Louis Cardinals), Mike Macfarlane (Kansas City Royals) and Kirt Manwaring (Giants). Moorad has also enlisted a flock of minor-league hatchlings for whose potential big-league teams have paid high-end six- and even seven-figure sums. (A baseball agent typically receives 4% to 5% of a player's major-league salary.)

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