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Losing Some Pals Over Furcal

Rafael FurcalThe biggest sports agent related news of last week had to be the battle of words between the executives of the Atlanta Braves vs. the agents at Wasserman Media Group.  And it was all over Rafael Furcal.  At the beginning of last week, I remember reading a headline in one paper that read something along the lines of the Braves signing Furcal, but could not find any other source to back-up that information.  In fact, ESPN’s news wire reported that Furcal was likely to become a Dodger later in the same day.  What the hell was going on?

The Braves were under the impression that Furcal was going to be representing the tomahawk next year in Atlanta, GA, but last Thursday, the Furcal signed a deal with the LA Dodgers.  Arn Tellem of WMG said that Furcal and the Braves never reached a deal.  The Braves said that Paul Kinzer, who along with Tellem represents Furcal for WMG, agreed to a deal with the Braves on Monday.  So who was telling the truth?  The Braves were confused, WMG was confused, and baseball fans in general had no idea what was going on.  What could be done to make the situation more clear?  Finger pointing!

This was said on Thursday by John Schuerholz, President of the Braves:

“Having been in this business for 40-some years, I’ve never seen anybody treated like that. The Atlanta Braves will no longer do business with that company — ever. I told [agent] Arn Tellem that we can’t trust them to be honest and forthright. I told him that in all my years, I’ve never seen any [agency] act in such a despicable manner.

“It was disgusting and unprofessional. We’re a proud organization, and we won’t allow ourselves to be treated that way. I advised Arn Tellem that whatever players he represents, just scratch us off the list. Take the name of the Atlanta Braves off their speed dial. They can deal with the other 29 clubs, and we’ll deal with the other hundred agents.

WMG being completely cut off from a professional club?  Those were pretty powerful words spoken by Schuerholz and directed at the company with the #1 position in Jason Belzer’s 2008 Sports Agency Power Rankings.  Arn Tellem could not let Schuerholz make a statement like that without submitting a rebuttal.  His statement included seven main points:

1. There was never an agreement reached between Rafael Furcal and the Atlanta Braves.

2. In fact, the Braves were fully aware that Furcal was not prepared to make a decision but had requested an opportunity to sleep on it, before deciding.

3. Moreover, the Baseball rules which all agents and teams operate under are clear that no deal exists between a player and a team unless and until: (i) there is a signed and executed player agreement or; (ii) the Player’s Union and the Commissioner’s office have otherwise confirmed the deal.  Neither occurred here.

4. Furcal ultimately decided to accept the Dodgers’ offer, taking into consideration a number of factors the most important of which was his desire to continue playing short-stop and not make the position change to second base that the Braves were requiring.

5. Losing out on an all-star player like Furcal is always disappointing, and we understand the Braves’ frustration with the outcome of this negotiation, but it does not change in any way the fact that we conducted ourselves with integrity and complied with all rules of major league baseball throughout this process.

6. Our primary obligation is to serve our client’s best interests, and we will continue to do so in accordance with all relevant rules governing MLB negotiations and the utmost integrity.

7. If it serves our clients we will continue to present opportunities to the Braves, which in accordance with the rules governing Major League Baseball, the Braves must entertain. We hope that once emotions have subsided, the Braves will act in a manner consistent with not only their obligations under the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the National Labor Relations Act, but also the best interests of the franchise. In short, we would not want this incident to color their better judgment.

Without taking sides, I think that Tellem made a very well crafted statement.  It is very easy to read, cuts straight to the point, and was timely made.  Will it make Braves executives any more willing to deal with WMG and its agents in the future?  It depends on how limited of a memory Schuerholz and others in the organization have.  After Schuerholz’s statement, though, you better expect the MLBPA to keep a close eye on the Braves’ actions concerning WMG clients in the future.  If there is even a slight inclination that the Braves do not sign a WMG client based on the fact that said player is represented by Tellem or Kinzer, the MLBPA will be right on the case.

Will Brinson of AOL Fanhouse believes that the Braves should sue Arn Tellem for fraudulent trade practices.  I say that both sides decide to take this into a closed room, away from the media, and somehow come to an understanding over what transpired, how it may be corrected in the future, and how both entities can work together amicably.  The finger pointing, name calling, and public outcries need to stop.  It’s not good for either party, and does nothing to build the image of baseball or sports agents.

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.

2 replies on “Losing Some Pals Over Furcal”

What precedent is there to sue on? What is the cause of action? What laws specifically were circumvented? Where is the fraud? Maybe the Braves could sue on the theory of “I’m embarrassed because the guy we thought we had didn’t actually want to play for us, and between the lines this makes it look like we can’t do our jobs properly”?

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