I have covered baseball agent Barry Meister of Meister Sports Management on this website multiple times in the past, but never had the opportunity to speak to him. The circumstance surrounding my first communication with Meister is an unfortunate one (the passing of one of his colleagues), but I am thankful that Meister reached out to me with grace in the immediacy after his friend’s death. In a short amount of time, I have been able to get a better understanding of Meister and the variety of reasons why some of the best players in the game of baseball put their trust into Meister Sports Mangement’s hands. The following is an interview that I recently conducted with Barry Meister. Enjoy.
Darren Heitner: When did you start Meister Sports Management (MSM)? Had you represented athletes prior to starting your own firm? What inspired you to set up your own shop?
Barry Meister: I started MSM on February 1, 1992. I was a partner in the 100 lawyer firm of D’Ancona and Pflaum specializing in labor law. I had started representing players through the firm in 1987, but the practice grew exponentially and become a full time job. I realized to have a full service agency I would need to specialize and set up my own shop. My first client was 1983 St. Louis Cardinals first rounder Jim Lindeman, who was a summer teammate of mine on a Chicago semipro team. I had graduated law school in 1979, but continued to play in the college summer league in Chicago.
Darren Heitner: Tell me a little bit about your educational background.
Barry Meister: I graduated from the University of Illinois with a BA in accounting and passed the CPA exam. I attended law school at Northwestern and received my JD from Northwestern.
Darren Heitner: How has working at a prominent law firm, specifically in its Labor Department, helped you in your sports agency practice?
Barry Meister: Having practiced “large firm,” law gave me a great legal background to understand the needs of my clients and also gave me a broad understanding of MLBPA legal issues…invaluable in understanding the Basic Agreement and how it affects players’ individual rights.
Darren Heitner: Tell me a bit about your two baseball player sons. Any chance that you will represent them some day?
Barry Meister: My wife was a professional figure skater and we were blessed with two athletic sons. My oldest graduated from the Farmer School of Business at Miami of Ohio where he pitched for 4 years. He signed with the Washington Nationals and in his first year had a 1.86 era without issuing a walk all year! My youngest accepted a scholarship at St Louis University and is a RHP. We are just happy to have healthy boys and want them to follow their dreams, in or out of baseball.
Darren Heitner: I recently covered the sad story of Dick Robinson’s passing. Dick had been a member of your team at Meister Sports Management. What can you tell my readers about Dick that they may not know from what has recently been written about him?
Barry Meister: I was devastated to lose Dick Robinson as a friend and colleague. He was rich in life experience and always saw all sides of every issue. Lincoln said, “it’s not the years in your life but the life in your years” and Dick lived a life! In his life, he ran and biked 30000+ miles and is a legendary presence in Lexington Kentucky. Players lost a true friend. Dick was 71, but still involved in mentoring young men
Darren Heitner: Tell us about some of the other members of the team that makes up Meister Sports Management.
Barry Meister: Former client and major leaguer Jim Bullinger has recruited some of our bright young stars like Cory Luebke, Jonny Giovatella and Joe Smith. Bill Taylor is a former college coach who recruits the East and has found players like Anthony Varvarro and Steve Garrison. Former client Ben Shaffer has worked with Todd Wellemeyer and a number of our Kentucky clients. We also maintain a full service agency for our 90+ baseball clients and Broadcasters.
Darren Heitner: You represent a lot of very talented, big name players including Casey McGehee, Roy Oswalt, and Edgar Renteria. What went into recruiting your more talented clientele and what types of services do you offer them now?
Barry Meister: The best part of my work is representing players of character. I have promised players honest and heartfelt advice, and that has always been the touchstone of what players like Wakefield, Johnson, Counsell, Mcgeehee and others have sought. We offer our partnership and friendship, and players seem to appreciate we will do whatever it takes to provide them the resources they need to succeed in baseball and life
Darren Heitner: What are your thoughts on the MLB Winter Meetings? What are some of the better moments and the not so great parts of attending?
Barry Meister: I enjoy the Winter Meetings because it gives me the opportunity to connect face-to-face with colleagues and club officials. It is by far my favorite time of year and the free agent process is especially challenging there. I also like how quickly deals can come together. Recent free agent deals for Brandon Lyon and Kyle Farnsworth came together in a few hours. There is nothing better than calling a client and starting a conversation with the words, “you better sit down for this.” I can’t tell you how great it is to set a player and his family for life with a long term Winter Meeting deal.
Darren Heitner: Have any of your players been through an arbitration hearing? If so, how involved were you in the process leading up to the hearing and at the hearing itself. Any good arbitration stories?
Barry Meister: I have prepared over 100 arbitration cases and have been fortunate to settle most without hearing, since the process is designed to foster agreement. I have not participated in a losing case since 1997 and am often asked by other agents to present and help prepare cases. It’s a throwback to my days as a labor lawyer and I reply enjoy it. My favorite arbitration case involved an Astros pitcher in the 90s. The Astros were determined to go to trial and no settlement seemed possible. After the case, but before decision, the Astros GM pulled me aside told me we had absolutely made our case, and as I remember, they settled way on our side of the midpoint. It reinforced how preparation results in success and makes arbitration a real weapon for our clients!
Darren Heitner: How big of an issue is agents paying young players from Latin America in order to strengthen their chances at signing them as clients? What can be done to correct the situation?
Barry Meister: What is going on in providing things of value and loans to clients is a travesty and an embarrassment to our profession. It certainly violates legal ethics and the spirit of all the MLBPA Regulations. There should be zero tolerance and expulsion for any agent who does it, no matter who they are.
Darren Heitner: What advice would you give to anyone hoping to become an agent, specifically in baseball?
Barry Meister: My best advice to anyone interested in becoming a representative is to go to law school and go to work in the business world first. There is no substitute for life experience. The more life experience you have, the better you can determine what a client needs and how to solve his issues. I have a plaque on my desk which reads, “treat every client as your only client,” and that is our mantra. Learn to focus your attention and there is a solid place for a committed young person in our profession. We do not have internship because of the way we are structured, but I always am available to help direct someone who is interested.