SBJ/November 5 - 11, 2001/Forty Under 40

Casey Close

Casey Close had all of one client and barely a half year's experience as an agent when the mighty IMG came calling in 1992.

The firm had recently lost its veteran baseball agents, Tom Reich and Adam Katz, and was looking to start a new baseball division from the ground up. At the time, IMG did not have a single major league player under contract.

"I wanted to build our baseball practice with a grassroots effort with our own guy that we could train," recalled Peter Johnson, senior vice president of team sports.

Close was the guy.

Inexperience aside, there was something about the twenty-something Close that impressed Johnson. "I thought he had a terrific work ethic, and he played the sport and I thought he could relate to the kids we were trying to sign," Johnson said.

Less than 10 years later, that gamble has paid off.

Today, Close has a practice with about 35 players, and he has led a division that has negotiated more than $250 million in contracts. He also represents one of sport's top properties, Derek Jeter, who last year signed the second-largest contract in sports — a 10-year, $189 million deal with the Yankees. Close was able to get the Yankees to pay that much despite the fact Jeter had let it be known that he wanted to stay in New York.

Some of Close's other major league clients include Eric Milton, Kenny Lofton, Richie Sexson and Ben Sheets. Since '92 he has represented 23 first-round picks in the amateur draft including three this year, potentially setting himself — and IMG — up for even bigger success in the future.

Another coup in the last year was the signing of client Drew Henson to a six-year, $17 million deal with the Yankees. Projected to be the No. 1 pick in this year's NFL draft had he stayed in college, the former University of Michigan quarterback chose baseball after consulting with Close.

"He loved playing college football," Close said, adding that "we went back and forth" on the decision. "But in the end, if you are great in football versus being great in baseball, it's a no-brainer with the earnings being better in baseball."

On top of Close's client base, Johnson calls him "one of the best managers at IMG," no trivial compliment considering the firm's heavy-hitting divisions for golf, tennis and football, among others.

Not bad for a guy who, unlike most agents, is not a lawyer and who spent the first five years of his post-college life traveling the minor league backroads in hopes of reaching the big leagues as a player. Close spent three seasons in the Yankees' farm system and another two at the Class AAA level for the Seattle Mariners.

As Johnson says, being a former player has helped Close as an agent. As for not being a lawyer, Close said other agents have tried to use that against him in recruiting clients. Close is quick to point out that, attorney or not, what matters is an agent's ability to negotiate.

Close best showed that ability in his $5 million salary-arbitration victory for Jeter in 1999, the largest ever for a position player. Close was the first to use the idea of fan appeal in winning the case, successfully pointing out that his client was one of the most marketable players in the game.

Rival agents rarely give each other compliments, but even one of Close's fiercest competitors, his IMG predecessor Reich, acknowledges what the 38-year-old has accomplished.

"Casey Close basically came in as a young man to develop the practice at IMG and has done a fine job of doing that," Reich said. "He is a young veteran and respected throughout the industry."

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