When Bob McClaren crossed over in 2002 from being the Houston Astros’ President of Business Operations to becoming a sports agent (he founded McClaren Sports, along with partner, old-college roommate and respected former Texas high school basketball coach Tommy Thomas, in May 2005) he was met with a rather ominous forecast. “You’re going to the dark side,” his friend and now fellow-agent Barry Axelrod told him. “[And] if you come over to the dark side, you may never be able to go back.”
McClaren certainly had intimate knowledge over the years of Axelrod’s lifestyle and what it would take to succeed. Two of Axelrod’s most prized clients were, in fact, two of Houston’s biggest stars in Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. He also knew he was bucking the industry trend, so to speak. “Most of the agents that I have met in baseball and basketball would very much prefer to be on the side of the team and would love a position with the team instead of being an agent,” McClaren admitted. “In my case, it was going from a team to the player representation side of the business. From what I gathered, that was very unusual. I never left the Astros because I was dissatisfied. We had done a lot of things during the 10 years I was there.”
That’s putting it mildly. As the Astros’ President of Business Operations, McClaren was responsible for all revenue functions of the team, financial disciplines, customer service, legal affairs, ballpark operations, technology and media relations. He also played a leading role in the team’s move to Minute Maid Park in 2000. And he hasn’t even yet completely severed ties with the club. He was a consultant during the team’s general manager and manager searches last year, and also served as its legal counsel during the Mitchell Report inquiry into steroid use in baseball. But the preponderance of his time is now spent facing and negotiating with baseball executives instead of acting as, or advising, one. And that includes the Astros. Last summer when the team drafted Russell Dixon in the seventh round out of Auburn, for example, McClaren negotiated his client a $123,000 signing bonus.
McClaren’s current client roster is a rather eclectic mix. For baseball, in addition to Russell, McClaren also represents Chicago Cubs minor leaguer Kyle Reynolds, son of former Astro Craig Reynolds. Basketball clients include Antanas Kavaliauskas (Texas A&M) and Warren Carter (Illinois), both of whom are currently playing overseas. He just signed a trio of college players—Joseph Jones and Dominique Kirk of Texas A&M, and Brian Randle of Illinois—in preparation for next month’s NBA draft. There’s Kansas head coach Bill Self. And oh yeah, someone named Deron Williams for the Utah Jazz.
McClaren credits Thomas for helping the firm land Williams, as well as former client Bracey Wright, both of whom were former players of Thomas’. But Wright’s departure underscored the lesson that not all relationships are meant to last. McClaren seems intent now on keeping his client roster not only relatively small, but also stocked full of good characters, not just good talent. “If guys really want to do something with their life, professionally and personally, we think we have a lot to offer,” he says.
The dark side just got a little brighter.