28 January 2010
Pro Star Management, Inc. was founded in 1986 by Joe Bick and is now operated by Joe and his son Brett Bick. Unique to Pro Star is the fact that both Joe and Brett Bick have experienced baseball at its highest level from “both sides of the fence,” having worked for both teams and agencies. Our negotiating “style” is best described as low key, professional and tough, not confrontational or controversial. Our job is to solve problems for clients, not create them. Over the past twenty-three years, Pro Star Management has been fortunate to represent not only All-Star caliber players, but first-class guys as well; Retired players such as Paul O’Neill, Brook Jacoby, Rob Deer, Buddy Bell and Duane Kuiper, and current players such as Kevin Youkilis, Aaron Cook, Brett Gardner, Nick Swisher and Red Sox prospect Jeremy Hazelbaker.
BL: Joe... you once worked in the front office for the Cleveland Indians, but left to pursue a career in athlete representation. What made you decide to make the change?
Joe: Leaving the Indians in June, 1980, was a very difficult decision for me. I was 29-years-old, and the Assistant to the President (Gabe Paul) of a Major League club, and was doing what I had planned to do since learning of Ohio University's Sports Administration graduate program when I was a junior in high school. Things had worked out very well since joining the Indians as an intern in February, 1975. However, I guess I still had a "player's spirit" in my blood! Gabe would frequently tell me, "You like the damn players too much!" And, he was probably right, at least in terms of how many "old school" baseball executives viewed the players.
At any rate, I just felt the player representation business was going to expand greatly, and that it was the right route for me to go. Duane Kuiper, now a San Francisco Giants broadcaster, and Buddy Bell were riding me constantly about going to work with the man who represented them, Ed Keating, and I finally did so. I worked with Ed six years, then founded Pro Star in August, 1986. Looking back, I certainly made the right choice.
BL: Kevin Youkils is probably the name most Red Sox fans recognize from you Client List. I assume Kevin’s Ohio roots were a major factor in signing with Pro Star, but can you tell us how you met Kevin?
Joe: I first saw Kevin play his senior year (1997) at Sycamore High School, and he was playing against a player I was going to advise in the June draft that year, Hamilton High School star, Aaron Cook, currently of the Colorado Rockies, and a 2008 N.L. All-Star (that one worked out pretty well, too!). Hamilton went on to win the Ohio High School State Championship that season, and Aaron was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Ohio (was 10-0 with a 1.23 ERA, and batted about .550!), and was the best high school pitcher I had ever seen. The Rockies drafted Aaron in the 2nd round in June, 1997. But, in that game, Cookie could not get Youk out! If my memory's correct, Youk went 3-4 with a double, 2 HRs and, of course, a walk, along with 6 or 7 RBIs. Hamilton won the game something like 16-8, but Youk certainly made a lasting impression. I continued following his wonderful career at the University of Cincinnati, met him there, and he's turned the relationship into a tremendous ride!
BL: Youk seems to be a good example of the type of client Pro Star works with. Do your potential clients seek you out or do you scout and recruit new clients? If so what do you look for in a client?
Joe: The majority of our new clients come to us after we've served in an advisory role during their draft process. There's no obligation for them to commit to us after they've been drafted, but the vast majority do. Most of our draft advisory business is with players that have Midwest connections, so we get a lot of clients with Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and West Virginia connections. We get leads on those clients in numerous ways, and from numerous people. We seek good players who are good people, and who are driven to succeed. They may be "under the radar" a bit in some cases, but we have confidence they're willing to perhaps work a little harder than most to reach their ultimate goal of a successful Major League career.
BL: You mention on your website that you use “MLBPA certified software” during statistical analysis. With Bill James on staff, the Boston Red Sox appear to be a leader in the field when it comes to statistical analysis. Having recently negotiated a new long-term deal for Youk, can you tell us how important the stats were during those negotiations? Do the Red Sox put as much emphasis on statistics we think they do?
Joe: We need to update our website! As of this season, the MLBPA statistical program went web-based instead of software-based, and it's terrific. It's a much more efficient, thorough and complex system, even though the "old system" was great. Fortunately for me, my son/partner, Brett, is probably the most knowledgeable individual out there in terms of knowing the "new system" operation, and the research, comparison, analysis and evaluation work he does is tremendous. Stats are always important, and are the foundational element of every negotiation, as they should be. Guys are paid based on performance, and, in baseball, that performance is accurately depicted statistically. And, yes, the Red Sox are very good at it!
BL: I often hear from older fans that “stats have ruined the game.” Having worked in professional baseball for over 30 years, can you talk about how this new emphasis on statistics has affected you as an agent?
Joe: A player's stats have always been important, and I don't think the game is ruined by over-analysis of those stats. Because of the computer age we live in, the capability is there for the stats to be different, more thorough and more easily trackable. They've always been there, but can now be picked apart to a higher degree, and are easily accessed by more fans.
BL: On your site, you also describe your negotiating style as “low key, professional and tough, not confrontational or controversial.” Scott Boras, seems to work with the exact opposite approach. Can you talk about why you feel your style works best for Pro Management, Inc.?
Joe: I can't pretend to be something I'm not. We strive to do what's right for our guys, and do it in a professional, ethical manner, largely behind the scenes. We want the spotlight to be on our players, not on us. We do our homework. We know what our guys are worth. We always do our best to negotiate the best deal possible for them, in the manner they'd like to see us do it. And, please understand the approach that works best for us has nothing to do with Scott. I have a lot of respect for the fact that he's been the most successful individual in the history of our business. But, his approach isn't for everybody, and neither is ours.
BL: Some have argued that Boras’ style has resulted in contracts that have set the bar too high for current and future players. As a fellow agent, do you agree, or do you feel that Boras is simply works hard to get the best possible deals for his clients?
Joe: I absolutely agree that Scott works hard to get the best possible deals for his clients, just as we do. His philosophy may be different than ours related to career points where those deals are negotiated, but, yes, all of us want the best possible deal available at a given point in any player's career. In terms of setting the bar too high, it's not like Scott has free reign to establish a player's salary. If I'm not mistaken, there's always a team involved that must also agree to a deal. And, to the best of my knowledge, he's never used a weapon in that process!
BL: I hate to refer to the film Jerry McGuire, but the plot of that film raises an interesting question: Have you ever lost a potential client to another Agency or Agent? If not, can you name the player you pursued most aggressively in your career?
Joe: Anyone who's been in this business for any length of time has lost a client at some point. Fortunately, there have been few in my case, and when it has happened, it hasn't been due to baseball-related dissatisfaction. Sometimes people simply aren't the right fit for one another.
In terms of the "pursued most aggressively" part of this question, Red Sox fans will absolutely love my answer...former Yankee great, Paul O'Neill! When Paul, a Columbus, OH native, was first placed on the Reds 40-man roster (1984, I think!), I called Reds' General Manager, Woody Woodward, and asked him for the organization's assessment of Paul. He said, "Do you have a chance to represent Paul?" I told Woody that I was most interested, and intended to contact Paul soon. Woody said, "The only scouting report you need on him is to go sign him! He's going to play in the big leagues for 15 years, and he's going to be pretty damn good!" I called Paul's home that night (no cell phones then!), spoke with him, and asked him to come visit us in Cleveland the next day. He and his wife, Nevalee, made the trip, signed on with us and the relationship remains intact today, nine years after an absolutely fabulous career.
A heartfelt thanks to Joe Bick for taking time to talk with us during his busy offseason schedule.
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