Secret Agent Men
You probably haven’t heard of Houston’s Randy and Alan Hendricks, but pro players and team owners know they’re the real dealmakers.
YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO KNOW TOO MUCH about brothers Randy and Alan Hendricks. The Sporting News may put them in the top tier of baseball’s power brokers, but the Houston-based agents aren’t anywhere near as well-known as their counterparts in the NBA (David Falk) or the NFL (Leigh Steinberg). Maybe that’s because in a world in which the media is used by players and team officials as a form of carrier pigeon, the Hendrickses have no reason to be out in public. Indeed, since they founded Hendricks Sports Management in 1971, they’ve called a grand total of two press conferences. The first was in 1987, to announce that one of their clients, star pitcher Roger Clemens, was returning to the Boston Red Sox after ditching training camp over stalled contract negotiations. The second was just a few months ago, as part of the public soap opera starring Clemens, the Toronto Blue Jays, and the Houston Astros. If you’re going to have only two press conferences in three decades, they’d better be good.
The second one was especially good. In case you don’t read the sports pages, the Blue Jays had a deal with Clemens that gave him the right to both demand a trade and dictate its terms, meaning he could renegotiate his contract and approve which players his new team could give up to get him. The Astros were interested in the five-time Cy Young Award winner, but general manager Gerry Hunsicker balked at his unprecedented leverage and angrily announced to reporters that the team was withdrawing from the bidding. Naturally, this did not sit well with the Hendrickses. “It’s a big ol’ poker game, and with Roger, we had the upper hand,” says Randy, who then gathered reporters of his own and, with Alan at his side, fought back. Months later, although Clemens was dealt to the world champion New York Yankees, Randy is still miffed at Hunsicker: “You don’t call a press conference to say ‘I don’t like the way the other guy played his cards.’”
Poker metaphors aside, what Randy and Alan do is more complicated than simply negotiating contracts. Baseball’s multilayered hierarchy of minimum salaries, time of service in the major leagues, arbitration eligibility, and free agency thresholds means there’s a lot more to the process than simply “show me your best offer.” On any given day the job of an agent can be that of financial adviser, scout, psychologist, career counselor, or courtroom tactician. Randy, 53, is a lawyer by trade and essentially remains one in his current role, while Alan, 56, whose background is in banking and real estate, is the diplomat. Legend has it that Randy does his job the same way Clemens does his: He prepares feverishly, putting in hundreds of hours of research before a hearing or a negotiation. And when it’s time to go to work, watch out. “I’m the German shepherd, growling, and then there’s old Alan, holding the leash,” he says, parroting the conventional wisdom.
But ruthless Randy has a deeply reflective side, whether he’s discussing baseball, spirituality, or why he prefers the ephemera of The Thin Red Line to the more obvious visceral thrills of Saving Private Ryan. And friendly Alan can be perfectly tough. He’s also plenty loquacious, though you wouldn’t know it when he’s in the same room as his brother. Writing in this magazine in 1981, Daniel Okrent described Alan as “a large, garrulous man who spins digressions off digressions . . . [but] by comparison to Randy, Alan is as silent as Arlington Stadium in January.” (Substitute “the Ballpark” and the line still works today.) Their reputations aside, the Hendrickses actually have fairly amicable relationships with both sides of the baseball biz; according to Baseball America, they played a “vital behind-the-scenes role” in getting the 1994 strike settled.
Another thing to know about the Hendricks brothers is that they work hard. Though they live out every baseball fan’s dream of spending the entire month of March at spring training, for them that means sixteen- to eighteen-hour days: meeting with general managers, keeping an ear to the ground for possible trades, soothing a client who’s worried he might be moved to the bullpen or lose his job to a rookie. “You’re outside and you come back with a suntan, so everybody says, ‘Aha! Your life sure is tough!’” Randy jokes. Still, if you get him and Alan going about the old Kansas City Athletics—they grew up in K.C.—you realize that they’re still a couple of fans, filled with the same fervor, spirit, and love of trivia as your average bleacher bum.
The brothers first came to Texas to attend the University of Houston; when they began working as agents in 1970, it was on behalf of a fellow alum, football player Elmo Wright. Over the years they’ve come to focus on baseball exclusively and pitchers more often than not, though they’ve also got sluggers like Jay Buhner of the Seattle Mariners; in total, they have 64 major league clients and 40 minor leaguers. Obviously, operating out of Houston certainly hasn’t hurt business. In 1983, one of their breakthrough years, all four pitchers from the University of Texas’ national championship team signed up. That was the season Clemens made his name at UT, though the real ace of the rotation was Calvin Schiraldi.
Are you asking yourself, “Calvin who?” Well, that’s as good an explanation as any for why agents will do anything they can to deliver their players a maximum payday. For every Clemens, there are half a dozen journeymen who play for five or six years and then go get jobs like the rest of us. When the opportunity is there, the players are going to go after whatever they can, especially because they got so little for so long. In 1976 Major League Baseball’s total payroll was just a few million more than Clemens’ current three-year, $24.75 million deal.
“I always kiddingly tell the players that the other side creates the demand for us,” Randy says. “I can remember when our presence was greatly resented.” He compares baseball’s old ways with the not-so-golden age of the Hollywood studio system, when actors and directors were allowed to work for only one company.
The best analogy, however, may be the most obvious one: baseball. “You show up, put on your uniform, work to prepare yourself physically and mentally, and go one on one against somebody else,” Randy says. “Everyone is maneuvering. That’s what makes it competition, and that’s what’s great about this business. We play our own version of the game, and what makes it great is it’s for real.”