TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

Athletic Support: A History of Sports Agents

TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

Though he hadn’t yet stepped on to a professional playing field, Harold “Red” Grange, the nationally known star of the University of Illinois football program, had already gotten a crucial piece of advice from his agent, Charles “C.C.” Pyle: wear the raccoon coat.

Grange was making his first public appearance since announcing he would be dropping out of college to join the Chicago Bears and the National Football League. It was 1925, and team sports were still very much an organized form of athletic exploitation: owners received the lion’s share of the revenue and players had no aptitude for negotiation. Grange’s teammates on the Bears were making between $100 and $200 per game; his college’s faculty wondered why he’d give up his education for such little reward.

Grange, however, had no intention of playing for a pittance—Pyle had seen to it. A former movie theater manager who had met Grange during a film screening, Pyle was a born salesman who thought he could monetize Grange’s professional debut. With Grange already a fixture in newspapers around the country thanks to his collegiate performances, his league introduction would be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Having Pyle negotiate his contract with the Bears netted Grange a staggering $100,000 his first season, thanks in large part to getting a percentage of ticket sales. Pyle also handled Grange’s personal investments, movie roles, and public appearances—right down to telling him how to stand out in the crowd at the Bears game with his peculiar choice of apparel.

Grange and Pyle couldn’t have known it at the time, but they were setting up a radical power shift in sports. The player’s representative, not the league, would be calling all the shots. And thus, the sports agent was born.

Grange signs a film contract; C.C. Pyle is on the far right. Wheaton

Frank Scott was no C.C. Pyle. He didn’t represent athletes during contractual negotiations and didn’t have a say in how they could obtain any additional financial reward while wearing a team uniform. But what Scott did was arguably just as influential: he taught players how to take advantage of their celebrity everywhere else.

In his role as a traveling secretary for the New York Yankees in the 1940s, Scott saw first-hand how players were being asked to make appearances or have their image reproduced for little compensation: Yogi Berra, he found, got a cheap watch every time he fulfilled an off-field obligation for the team. It rubbed Scott the wrong way. Soon, he was representing players like Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Willie Mays to secure commercial endorsements. In addition to a $30,000 salary for playing, Mantle found he could earn $70,000 for commercial spots. (Scott’s roster eventually grew to 91 players; he’d take 10 percent of their income.) While leagues still resisted negotiating with agents for salaries, athletes at least had new revenue opportunities.

The advent of television in the 1950s and 1960s brought with it additional endorsement offers, which called for a greater demand for business-savvy advisors. While Mark McCormack disliked the “agent” label, he’s widely regarded as magnifying Scott’s success a thousand times over. Armed with a law degree from Yale, McCormack signed golfer Arnold Palmer in 1960 and proceeded to market him across every conceivable platform, from engine oil to rental cars to speaking engagements. Palmer, who had been making $50,000 annually golfing, was reporting $500,000 in revenue within three years.

Seeing Palmer and McCormack’s partnership pay off, numerous agencies began springing up to help athletes handle endorsements. But their business savvy couldn't be directed at league negotiations. Team owners were under no obligation to deal with agents, and many simply hung up whenever they called. That would all change in 1975, when the take-it-or-leave-it ideal abused by the front offices would be brought down by a single player.

At the time Scott and McCormack were reaping rewards from ancillary income, agents didn’t have any real incentive to meddle in negotiations between talent and the clubhouse. Baseball in particular exerted a tyrannical hold on players, binding them to the first team they signed with for life unless they were traded. Without the opportunity to test the waters in the open market, they had no leverage when dealing with owners. Most evaluated deals themselves, or asked their fathers for advice.

Curt Flood was not a fan of the system. When the St. Louis Cardinals informed him he’d be traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1969, Flood responded with a word no major league office was used to hearing: no. He wasn’t going to go.

“I do not regard myself as a piece of property to be bought or sold,” Flood wrote to baseball’s commissioner, Bowie Kuhn, that year. Whether Flood—a black player who had seen his share of prejudice—intended the statement to be metaphorical or not, the intent was clear. He was tired of not having a voice.

Flood sued Major League Baseball for violating antitrust laws. “The team that makes me the best offer” is the one he wanted to play for, he said.

The controversy cost Flood his passion for the game: He quit in 1972, the same year the Supreme Court ruled against him. But their decision indicated that collective bargaining could put an end to the monopoly; public opinion began to turn against corporate monopolies. After two players started games without contracts in 1976 and were ruled free agents, the dam burst open. Agents could now shop players, playing sides against one another.

Change was already taking place in other sports, as well. In the NFL, quarterbacks were receiving unprecedented attention. When draft pick Steve Bartkowski was at a contract impasse with the Atlanta Falcons in 1975, he reached out to a college friend named Leigh Steinberg. Steinberg got the now-defunct World Football League to bid on his services, forcing the Falcons to cough up a record $625,000 for a rookie signing. Steinberg went on to become one of the most successful agents in the business, increasing awareness of the potential for lucrative deals. Sports leagues were beginning to profit handsomely from broadcast rights to games—beginning with Monday Night Football on ABC—and players were looking for their share.

With richer revenues from television, team owners were going to have to embrace the idea of profit-sharing if they expected to bolster their line-ups with talent. In 1979, Nolan Ryan signed baseball’s first contract worth a million dollars a year.

That would turn out to be a bargain. In the coming decades, salaries would swell, culminating in agent Scott Boras scoring two of the richest deals in baseball in 2001 and 2008 for client Alex Rodriguez: the contracts were in excess of $250 million each. In 2014, Excel, a management company out of Tampa, accrued $700 million in off-season contracts.

Not all agents have acted as cash dispensers. When NFL prospect Ricky Williams entered the league in 1999, he had rap artist Master P’s agency come to the table on his behalf. Williams walked away with a one-sided deal that left him to chase money based on performance incentives.

Today’s agencies are often huge conglomerates that deal with everything from sneaker branding to advising athletes on investments. In the 1980s, the ProServ agency helped turn Michael Jordan into a household name, multiplying his league salary several times over in endorsements and turning athlete management into an art. By the time they secured a Nike deal for Jordan in 1984, the sports agent had become a fully integrated part of an athlete's career.  

Many agents engage players on a personal level, telling them exactly how many times they need to bench 225 pounds in order to impress at the NFL’s Scouting Combine; Jordan's agency cashed his checks and gave him an allowance. Thanks to pioneers like Pyle, McCormack, and the rest, players today can enjoy a level playing field, focusing on performance while letting someone else clash heads with management.

And while ruthlessness in an agent isn’t a prerequisite, it doesn’t hurt. C.C. Pyle’s initials, after all, stood for “Cash and Carry.”

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20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
15 Things You Might Not Know About The Sandlot
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

What, you haven’t seen The Sandlot? You’re killing me, Smalls.

OK, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get down to business. Roger Ebert got it right: The Sandlot is like the summer version of A Christmas Story. They’re not penned by the same screenwriter and they don’t share a director or even actors, but both make you feel nostalgic for a childhood you probably didn’t even have.

No matter how many times you’ve watched Squints execute his plan to get to first base with Wendy Peffercorn, there’s bound to be something you don’t know about this modern classic. On the 25th anniversary of the movie's release, here are 15 of our favorite The Sandlot secrets.

1. IT WAS ORIGINALLY CALLED THE BOYS OF SUMMER.

Originally called The Boys of Summer, the film's name had to be changed because there was already a famous baseball book by the same title.

2. IT WAS PARTLY AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL.

The movie was inspired in part by a childhood experience co-writer/director David Mickey Evans’s brother had. Some older boys wouldn’t let Evans play baseball with him. When they lost a ball over a brick wall, he thought he could get on their good side by retrieving it for them. When he hopped the wall, however, he found a giant dog named Hercules waiting for him—and he was bitten.

3. IT WAS A QUICK SHOOT.

It was shot in just 42 days.

4. THE KIDS WERE SUPPOSED TO BE MUCH YOUNGER.

Casting directors originally wanted the kids to be 9 to 10 years old, but as they began casting, "it became obvious real fast the kids were much too young," Evans told Sports Illustrated. "So I said, 'We've got to make them 12 or 13.' We knew it was the right decision instantly, because the first kid that we interviewed was Mike Vitar [who played Benny Rodriguez]."

5. THE GIANT OAK TREE THAT HOLDS THE TREEHOUSE WAS SALVAGED.

The cast of 'The Sandlot' (1993)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

The production crew had been agonizing over how they were going to pull off a tree that size—"We were looking at having to buy an oak tree, and a specimen that big, if you can even find one, is hundreds of thousands of dollars," Evans told Sports Illustrated—when they happened to notice one being chopped down not far from the production offices. The 100-year-old oak was interfering with the foundation of the house it was planted next to. The man removing it agreed to give it to the crew, and Salt Lake City’s utility companies took down power and telephone lines on certain streets so the tree could be hauled safely to the empty lot where filming was taking place. It was cemented into the ground there and became an iconic part of the movie.

6. YEAH-YEAH ORIGINALLY READ FOR BERTRAM.

Marty York, the actor who played Alan “Yeah-Yeah” McClennan, originally read for Bertram. Not only did York not get the Bertram role, he wasn’t the first choice for Yeah-Yeah, either. The kid cast for Yeah-Yeah got sick just as the movie was scheduled to start filming, and York replaced him.

7. THE CHEWING TOBACCO WAS MADE OF LICORICE AND BACON BITS.

The chewing tobacco from the carnival scene was really made out of licorice and bacon bits—and that, the actors later said, combined with riding the carnival rides for so many takes, made them as sick as their fictional counterparts got. (The vomit from that scene, by the way, was a mixture of split pea soup, baked beans, oatmeal, water, and gelatin.)

8. IT WAS DANGEROUSLY HOT.

It was so hot during the daytime shoots—upwards of 110 degrees—that the actor who played Scotty Smalls, Tom Guiry, got weak from running around in the heat and fell into one of the cameramen.

9. IT WAS ALSO REALLY COLD.

On the other hand, the famous pool scene was actually freezing. The day was overcast and the water was just 56 degrees. Evans says you can actually see Squints’s teeth chattering while he’s staring longingly at Wendy Peffercorn from the pool.

10. SQUINTS WAS GIVEN A STERN REMINDER.

Speaking of the Squints scam: Evans had to give actor Chauncey Leopardi a stern reminder before the scene was shot: “You keep your tongue in your mouth, you understand?”

11. WENDY PEFFERCORN WAS BASED ON A GIRL NAMED BUNNY.

Wendy was partly based on a girl Evans remembers from his childhood—a lifeguard in a red bathing suit named Bunny.

12. THE KIDS WERE EXCITED TO MEET DARTH VADER.

The kids were super impressed that Darth Vader was on set—James Earl Jones, of course, played junkyard owner Mr. Mertle. (They were almost as taken with Marley Shelton, who played Wendy.)

13. THE CAST SNUCK INTO A SCREENING OF BASIC INSTINCT.

When the young cast wasn’t acting, they were getting into the kind of shenanigans that their Sandlot alter egos surely would have been proud of—they snuck in to see Basic Instinct.

14. THE BEAST WAS PARTLY PUPPET.

The Beast—a.k.a. Hercules, an English Mastiff—was played, in part, by a puppet. It took two people to operate. If you don’t mind ruining the movie magic, you can see the behind-the-scenes photos on Evans’s blog.

Some scenes with the Beast called for a real dog (two, actually). When Smalls and Hercules make friends at the end, they got the dog to lick his face by smearing baby food on one half of Tom Guiry’s face. "That scene where I’m looking to the side, the other half of me is just slathered in this baby goo. That dog had a field day on my face," Guiry told Time. "I’m a dog-lover though, so it didn’t really bother me.”

15. THE MOVIE WAS AT THE CENTER OF A MAJOR LAWSUIT.

The Sandlot was at the center of a lawsuit that eventually had a major impact on Hollywood. A man named Michael Polydoros sued 20th Century Fox, claiming that his former classmate, David Mickey Evans, had based the character of Michael “Squints” Palledorous on him, and that it caused him embarrassment and humiliation. A judge decided that there wasn’t enough similarity to justify the lawsuit, meaning that movie studios could continue using characters inspired in part by real-life people.

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STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images
10 of the Most Valuable Baseball Cards in the World
STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images
STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images

If baseball is America’s national pastime, then collecting baseball cards is a close second. Closets, crawl spaces, and attics across the country are full of cards from every era—from the days of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams to Derek Jeter and Albert Pujols. But not all of them are going to pay off your student loans or put you in a new house.

Baseball card values depend on many factors, like age, condition, scarcity, and the collectible market trends at the time. With all that in mind, we're taking a look at 10 of the most valuable baseball cards in the world.

1. HONUS WAGNER, 1909-1911 ATC T206 // $3.12 MILLION

If you know anything about baseball cards, it won't come as a shock that this Honus Wagner card sold for a staggering $3.12 million in 2016, besting its previous high of $2.8 million from 2007. Widely considered to be the "Holy Grail" of baseball collectibles, the card's value is forever tied to its backstory. It was originally produced by the American Tobacco Company and was included in packs of the company's cigarettes. But, for reasons that still aren't completely clear, Wagner made the company pull the card from the market, resulting in anywhere from only 25 to 200 ever being released—and more than 100 years later, the scarcity has made it a landmark in sports collectibles.

2. MICKEY MANTLE, 1952 TOPPS // $1.13 MILLION

Joining Wagner in the more-than-a-million-dollars card club is none other than Mickey Mantle. More specifically, it's his 1952 Topps Major League card that went for $1.13 million at auction in 2016. Its Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) grade, which scores a card's condition, is an astounding 8.5 out of 10, making it one of the most attractive Mantle cards out there. But even copies with lower scores have gone for significant amounts, with grades of 6 and 7 regularly going for more than $100,000. But in a few weeks this list might need updating—another 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card is up for auction in April, this time with a PSA grade of 9. Its pre-auction estimate is a mighty $3.5 million-plus.

3. BABE RUTH, 1916 SPORTING NEWS // $717,000

Babe Ruth’s Sporting News card from 1916 (his pre-Yankee days) sold for $717,000 in a 2016 auction. It was far from the only auction that featured this card of a young Bambino, though. In 2017, the same card with the same PSA grade fetched around $550,000. It's just another example of how selling at the right time and finding the right buyer can make a six-figure difference.

4. PETE ROSE/PEDRO GONZALEZ/KEN MCMULLEN/AL WEIS, 1963 TOPPS // $717,000

So how did a card like this wind up taking $717,000 at auction? It's not nearly as old as a Ruth card, yet it went for just as much money. Well, for one, it features Pete Rose on it, and anything with "The Hit King" is going to get some interest. Another reason is that it was graded a perfect 10 by the PSA, which is exceedingly rare for any card of its age. It's the only copy of this particular card ever to get that rating, and for collectors, that's a big deal. This one won't fetch nearly as much in any other condition, though, as a 9 grade might get around $70,000 at auction.

5. "SHOELESS" JOE JACKSON, 1909 AMERICAN CARAMEL // $667,149

"Shoeless" Joe Jackson was the most high-profile baseball name to be linked to the notorious Black Sox Scandal, but that hasn't hurt his worth on the collectible market. In 2016, a PSA grade 8 copy of what's considered to be Jackson's rookie card sold at auction for $667,149. In 2008, the same card with a lower grade went for $86,975, so it just goes to show that a card's condition can make all the difference.

6. NOLAN RYAN/JERRY KOOSMAN, 1968 TOPPS // $612,359

Like the Rose rookie card, this Nolan Ryan/Jerry Koosman combo piece was rated a perfect 10 and was rewarded with $612,359 at auction, far higher than it would have been otherwise. In fact, of the 8000 Ryan/Koosman rookie cards that have been submitted, it's the only one to receive a perfect score. And that pristine condition is exactly why it commanded that price—when you put a 9 grade on the same card, for example, its value goes down to around $20,000 to $30,000.

7. BABE RUTH, 1914 BALTIMORE NEWS // $575,000

It shouldn't come as a surprise that the Babe wound up on this list twice. This time, the Sultan of Swat is seen as a minor league pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles, well before his home run prowess was realized. In 2012, Robert Edwards Auctions sold a PSA 2 graded copy of the card for an impressive $575,000. And if you want a rare card, this is it: It's generally agreed upon that there are only around 10 in existence.

8. WILLIE MAYS, 1952 TOPPS // $478,000

In 2016, Heritage Auctions held a Sports Collectibles Auction that over three days sold $11 million of memorabilia. The single most valuable item sold was a $478,000 Willie Mays card. While not his rookie card, it was the first Topps card to feature the legendary centerfielder.

9. ROBERTO CLEMENTE, 1955 TOPPS // $478,000

All-time great Roberto Clemente, a member of the 3000-hit club and the Baseball Hall of Fame, died tragically in a plane crash en route to Nicaragua to contribute to earthquake relief in 1972. In 2012, his 1955 rookie card—graded a rare 10 by PSA—sold for $432,690. But four years later (showing that timing can be more important than grade), a 1955 Roberto Clemente card that was graded a 9 sold for $478,000 (however, the same card with a PSA grade of 8 is worth around $30,000). An interesting note about the 2012 sale is that the card was owned by former big leaguer Dmitri Young, who auctioned a large portion of his impressive collection in 2012 for $2.4 million.

10. JOE DOYLE, N.Y. NAT'L, 1909-1911 ATC T206 // $414,750

“Slow Joe” Doyle might not be the most famous player on this list, but he has one of the most notorious cards on the market. First off, this particular card is over 100 years old, so there are reported to be less than a dozen in circulation. But most importantly, there was a printing error on the card, listing Doyle as playing for New York's National League team, rather than the correct American League team (he was a member of the New York Highlanders, which would eventually become the Yankees; it’s thought the confusion was due to Larry Doyle being on New York’s National League team). The error was quickly fixed, so a majority of them hit the market with the correct wording. The card has come to auction only a few times in recent years, bringing in anywhere from $64,099 to a staggering $414,750. Not bad for a pitcher with a career record of 22-21.

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