SBJ/November 12 - 18, 2001/Labor Agents

104 players seek free agency on first day of 15-day filing period

Last year 10 Major League Baseball players filed for free agency on the first day in the 15-day free agency filing period. This year, as the collective-bargaining agreement expires and players face an uncertain future, 104 players filed on the first day.

Gene Orza, associate general counsel of the MLB Players Association, said the union did have some discussions with agents about filing early.

"We didn't order anyone to do it," Orza said. "We just advised them that it was possibly more advantageous to file before the expiration of the agreement than after it."

Orza would not say why the union gave such advice. Some agents said late last month that they were planning to file in an effort to try to protect the rights of their clients under the old collective-bargaining agreement.

Legal experts are divided on whether filing would protect a player's rights under the old system. Agents did not file because they were fearful of any particular change the owners may be looking at in negotiating a new agreement. Rather, they were just worried about the uncertainty.

The labor agreement expired Wednesday, but players were able to file for free agency Nov. 5, the day after the World Series ended.

Altogether this year 163 players were eligible to file for free agency. It is not clear how many will be free agents this year, because 26 are under contracts where there is a club option, player option or mutual option to stay with the club or exercise free agency. Last year, 139 players filed for free agency.

Among the MLB players who filed on the first day this year were Barry Bonds, Bret Boone, Jason Giambi, Juan Gonzalez and John Smoltz.

REICH BUSY WITH LEMIEUX DEALS: Nine months after giving up his status as a certified NHL player agent, Steve Reich is busy signing deals for his one client, Pittsburgh Penguins owner and player Mario Lemieux, including publishing a book and completing a number of endorsement deals.

Out this month in bookstores is "Over Time," a glossy, 215-page coffee table book detailing Lemieux's life story, including his struggle with Hodgkin's disease, his battle to buy the Penguins and his return to the NHL as a player. The book is co-published by Team Power and Reich Publishing & Marketing — Reich's new company.

"We are extremely proud of the book," Reich said. The book is co-written by hockey journalists Chrys Goyens and Frank Orr and Lemieux, who participated "quite a bit" in the writing, Reich said. "So much has happened to him over the last few years, and Mario had time to reflect on all of it, including the comeback."

The Lemieux book is what Reich hopes will be the first of many big books chronicling the lives of major sports figures, and not just hockey figures. Reich said there have been talks with other athletes, whom he would not identify. "We want to create books that players and agents are proud of," Reich said.

Lemieux also has signed some endorsement deals and appears in a television commercial for Campbell's Soup now running in Canada. Lemieux recently signed an endorsement for EA Sports' 2001-02 hockey game, Reich said. As part of the EA deal, Lemieux will meet a fan who wins a sweepstakes at the NHL All-Star Game.

Reich said he is in talks with a major communications company about an endorsement deal for Lemieux. He did not reveal the company.

Reich was forced to choose between representing Lemieux and being an NHL agent by the NHL Players' Association earlier this year because of the union's concerns about potential conflicts of interest, since he represented a player who was an owner.

"I was sorry that I had to make a choice, because I did enjoy what I was doing," Reich said. "There was nothing that gave me more pleasure than to recruit a young guy at 16 or 17 and seeing them succeed on the ice. But you know, it is also rewarding to build something new again."

TUCKER SIGNS CASSELL: Charles Tucker, sports agent, clinical psychologist and owner of Sports and Psychological Consultants, has signed Milwaukee Bucks guard Sam Cassell for representation.

Tucker, who represents 17 athletes including NBA and NFL players, said he met Cassell through Bucks forward Glenn Robinson, another client.

"He [Cassell] liked the way I dealt with Glenn Robinson's contract and that I am just usually there for him," Tucker said.

Contact Liz Mullen with agent and labor news at lmullen@amcity.com.

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